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Mississippi River adventure: Couple build raft for a journey

Veruschka Xox opens the sliding stern doors of Velvet Glove Cast in Iron, the 12-foot-by-20-foot raft he and Zelda Xox plans to float from Minneapolis to New Orleans this summer. They are building the vessel at Al and Cate Belleveau's home near Bemidji. Pioneer Photo/Molly Miron

"It's lovely to live on a raft," said Huckleberry Finn in Mark Twain's classic novel of a trip down the Mississippi River.

Veruschka and Zelda Xox (pronounced "Zocks") will learn the truth of that expression this summer when they launch their 12-foot-by-20-foot houseboat-raft in Minneapolis for a run to New Orleans.

Zelda, 21, a former student at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, and Veruschka, 23, a former student of the Montreal Center for Alexander Technique, have set up their boatyard in the driveway of Al and Cate Belleveau's home north of Bemidji.

Veruschka and Zelda are friends of Caleb Belleveau, a student at Concordia University-Montreal. When Veruschka talked with Caleb about his desire to build a boat for a Mississippi River cruise, Caleb mentioned that his folks live near the headwaters of the Mississippi. Al Belleveau was open to the idea of guests and boatbuilding, so the couple arrived and began construction about one month ago.

Zelda said they arrived in the middle of the night and were amazed the next morning to see the Belleveaus' property full of sculptures, some by Al and Caleb and some resting from their stint in the Bemidji Sculpture Walk.

"What did they expect Caleb's place to look like?" Al said.

"I didn't know what to expect, but I'm really impressed," Veruschka said. "His dad is so prolific and very open to have us here."

Zelda said she has wanted to live on the water ever since she was 3 or 4.

"My grandfather instilled in me I've got to live on a houseboat," she said.

Neither Veruschka nor Zelda could think of who first proposed building the boat and making the trip.

"It was a mutual product of both of us wanting to live on a boat," Veruschka said. "I don't feel like either of us proposed it."

Zelda said the Velvet Glove name for the raft came from one of her favorite books by Daniel Clowes.

They have decorated the sides of the raft with surreal paintings of imaginary animals.

"We wanted to be a little scary so people wouldn't bother us," Zelda said.

However, Veruschka said, from his research, people along the river are fairly benign and accepting of travelers.

He said he also has corresponded with various people who have made similar journeys to find out how long to expect their trip to take. He said there really is no answer to that as the rafters will determine their own pace - whether to motor straight through, stop for sightseeing or take off weekends to avoid heavy recreational traffic.

"They said, 'It's your trip,'" he said.

When completed, the Velvet Glove will be furnished with living quarters, camp stove and a steering mechanism attached by cables to an outboard motor and a trolling motor for added push. The couple also plan to take along a few chickens and ducks as egg suppliers.

They won't launch from the headwaters or Lake Bemidji because of several dams between here and the first locks. The raft is too big to portage. So, they are looking to rent or borrow a pontoon trailer to truck the Velvet Glove to Minneapolis. Anyone interested in the project or who would like to loan a trailer should call the Belleveaus at 243-2685.