Bob Herring and three friends spent the month of July reliving the lives of the early river travelers. The gang rode a retrofitted pontoon boat down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers from Cincinnati to New Orleans in search of a little history, a little adventure and their own solitude, peace and companionship.
“At first, I thought we didn’t have the right equipment and experience to do this,” Herring says. “I found out we could do it, and we did. It was wonderful. We were just four guys looking for a good time on the river and seeing what’s there. I really believe we’re connected to those who have gone before us, and I wondered, ‘What was that like for them?’ ”
Granted, they had luxuries like a gas-powered motor, river maps and binoculars for navigation. Their laptop computer, digital phone and camera for filing daily web dispatches—as well as a refrigerated cooler—were all fueled by a solar-powered generator on the roof of their hand-made hutch. Such modern conveniences made the trip a lot easier than what the early flatboat settlers experienced.
Still, says Herring, they got a taste of exploration navigating through swift currents and around giant barges, running aground once and befriending river town strangers, some of whom helped in the search for gasoline. They finished the trip on July 18, 10 days earlier than planned.
The idea began when Herring, a 1973 and 1977 graduate and principal of Nativity School in Cincinnati, and the school’s artist-in-residence were teaching students what happens to rainfall. A simple conversation became a plan to ride the rivers to the Gulf of Mexico.
The men prepared for the trip by talking to the U.S. Coast Guard, who warned them to be wary of bugs, snakes and country boys who like to shoot at buoy lights at night. They tied up often to refuel the boat and replenish food supplies. Herring filed daily briefings at www.nativity-cincinnati.org/river/river_trip.htm.