It’s never too late to follow your dreams. When he was a boy growing up in Louisiana on the Gulf of Mexico, Joey Cargol developed a love of the Mississippi River.
Monday morning, June 1, he set off on a solo canoe expedition from the Headwaters of the Mississippi at Itasca State Park all the way to the Gulf.
“Every day growing up, I saw ships and barges coming and going,” he said. “I wondered where this great river came from. My childhood imagination ran wild and seeing where the mighty Mississippi started grew into a dream that never went away.”
His love of the water took him to many places. “I went into the Merchant Marines as a mate and worked my way up to captain,” he said.
Cargol has also sailed to Hawaii where he saw the lava flow igniting and over the rough waves of the north sea of Norway. He now works as a river pilot on the lower Mississippi, a job he says he plans to keep until he retires.
“I swapped time with other guys to have this time off,” he said.
Cargol named his journey from the Headwaters of the Mississippi “H2020,” standing for water (H20) and the year 2020. Before the COVID-19 outbreak, he planned to take water samples along the river, but with the water testing places now closed the focus of his journey shifted to a voyage of self-discovery.
“I hope to learn some of the skills Native people relied on years ago and also learn more about myself and about nature,” he said.
The boat that will take him from the Headwaters home to Louisiana is a restored 1947 Petersburg cedar canoe he bought 20 years ago from its original owner.
“She has been hanging in our living room for 20 years,” he said. “She’s more than 70 years old, so she has a few small cracks and holes. She’s an old girl and I’m going to push to her limits.”
For food, there is an ice chest for meat and enough non-perishable food to last about a month. Waterproof bags are used to keep food and clothes dry. Cargol also packed rain gear, a life jacket, a tent and sleeping bag on board. For entertainment, he will be listening to his radio and audible books. His only communication with the outside world will be by cell phone, when he can get a signal.
“It will be a solitary journey,” he said. “I had hoped to visit with people along the way, but due to COVID-19 it will most likely be just quick stops to camp each night with a longer stop to stock up on supplies in about a month.”
His wife, Katherine, is taking care of their four children: Joey (10), Garrett (9), Patrick (6) and Nellie (3).
“She’s the anchor of the whole thing,” he said.
Cargol has been a history buff since a young age.
“The Mississippi was named by those First Nation peoples who settled the land,” he said. “This was all Indian territory. I wonder if one of their canoes made it all the way down to the Gulf. The river connects the whole country. It feeds the world with corn, soybeans, wheat and so much more all shipped down the Mississippi. That’s one of the things that makes the river so special.”
Cargol said he hopes to average 40 miles a day on his journey. Departing from the Headwaters at 8 a.m. June 1, that means he will be arriving back home sometime around the beginning of August if all goes as planned. “We’re coming close to the full moon, so I hope to get in some moonlight paddling, too,” he said.
Cargol said his impression of Minnesota is that it is a place of natural beauty. “I was blessed with great weather here,” he said. “There was a loon calling across the lake. And an eagle flew right over me like a send-off for my journey.”
He also said he hopes his trip will encourage others to spend time outdoors.
“Never lose your sense of adventure,” he said. “Get out and do something. It’s never too late to go exploring.”
Cargol will be writing about his adventures on Facebook; search for Expedition2020.