River Semester Learning Continues on Land
Elias Wirz, contributor
We are nearly done with our river semester trip, having just spent the last 80 or so days sailing down the Mississippi River in homemade catamaran sailboats, taking a full course load, camping on river islands and covering 850 river miles. Our trip inspired a sense of curiosity about the world in us, and even though our time on the water has ended, we will continue our learning as we reflect on all that we saw and experienced.
Throughout our trip, there have been many memorable moments. While in La Crosse, we ran into a clown rock band playing on the corner. We coaxed them to play Teenage Dirtbag for us. In Memphis, we went into the world’s 7th largest pyramid: A Bass Pro Shop. We also were flipped over at least twice by street performers on Beale Street, and ate some amazing ribs to live music at BB Kings.
In Greek mythology, Metis can refer to a quality of wisdom and cunning. By this definition, we had many moments where metis came through. The first is referred to as “the twilight zone” by our humble river travelers. Our halyard, which is the line that lifts our sail to the top of the mast, came out of the pulley at the top of the mast while on the water. This meant we had to go back to our dock to try and fix it. After some maneuvering, climbing on top of a fence or two, and holding onto a support pilon for dear life, we got the halyard back through the pulley. All the while, a large riverboat cruise, by the name of the twilight, was inching closer to us, blaring a calliope.
Another example of metis came after a strong wind day and another macgyvered repair of our rudder went back on the water, confident in our repair, only to have it completely break off while sailing. There we were, barreling down on a stationary barge and tow, while two others passed us to our right, with no control of our boat. After a harrowing few minutes, and some very strong paddling, we made it to a safe shore. On shore, our options were to repair the rudder or be stranded on a river island. After some quick thinking, light cannibalizing of our boat, with lots of screws and sawing, we ended with a rudder twice as strong as before. We set sail again three hours later.
Just as rivers meander, so did our trip. Our itinerary is different than when we started, as is our course work. We finished off our time on the water with a final exam, an exam which was first thought up a month ago: the students had to run and plan the trip for three days. This meant we planned our meals, when we woke up, and when we landed. We even controlled the boats acting as captain, and we talked to the barges via radios.
Our time on the water may be over, but our adventures are not. We will spend nine days in New Orleans, doing coursework, and exploring the city, as well as four days near the gulf, swimming in brackish water. You can follow along for our final days via our blog at augsburg.edu/river/blog/!