Local rowers complete 2,340-mile journey down Mississippi River

A group of local rowers completed their most recent adventure in education on Nov. 25, when they reached the Gulf Mexico nearly three months after shoving off from Lake Itasca in Minnesota.

The four men, three of whom are University of Puget Sound graduates, rowed the 2,340-mile length of the Mississippi River stopping along the way to talk to students and collect research samples for a Louisiana State University professor.

“The river is beautiful from bottom to top,” said Jordan Hanssen, one of the rowers.

The team was greeted by 30-knot winds when they reached the Gulf. Their ride back to Venice, Louisiana, fell through so they had to row back up the river 22 miles on Nov. 26. They are currently recovering and celebrating their adventure in New Orleans.

The adventure started in canoes on Sept. 2 when they departed the headwaters in Lake Itasca, Minnesota. Former UPS rower and Bellingham physical therapist Greg Spooner joined the team in Minneapolis where the team transitioned to a pair of rowboats.

UPS graduate Patrick Fleming and Canadian film maker Markus Pukonen also made the trip, while others joined them for sections.

It’s the latest in a rapidly growing list of rowing adventures for the group known as OAR Northwest. Hanssen and Spooner were part of a foursome who earned a spot in the Guiness Book of World Records when they rowed across the North Atlantic in 2006. Two years later they circumnavigated the Olympic Peninsula.

In 2012, Hanssen, Spooner and Pukonen rowed around Vancouver Island. And in 2013 Hanssen, Fleming and Pukonen came within 900 miles of rowing from Africa to Miami. Their boat capsized and they were rescued by the Coast Guard.

The Mississippi River trip married their passions for challenging themselves and teaching young people. They spoke to 2,000 students and made 21 presentations along the way. They spoke at one or more schools at every state except Kentucky along the Mississippi.

They also collected 39 samples for LSU professor Cameron Thrash who is studying microbiology on the river.

Staying on schedule was no easy feat. Three sets of 60-mile days, cold temperatures and shrinking windows of daylight hours combined for what Hanssen called “an extremely difficult trip.”

OAR Northwest’s goal is to make “Adventure: Mississippi River” an annual trip that “inspires students to experience an adventure in their local environment, understand the potential environmental impacts of their actions, and engage the rich history and diversity of species along the Mississippi River and its immense watershed.”

Most of the crew will return soon from New Orleans, but on Dec. 3 Hanssen will get back in a boat with another friend and paddle to Mobile, Alabama, where he was born. He expects the trip to take eight days.