Tag Archives: wind

2340 Miles on Free Energy

In just over 1000 miles of paddling the Mississippi River, Ryan and Phillip have already used all three elements from the holy trinity of free energy: hydro, solar, and even wind. I’ll share the secrets behind how we are powering this epic American adventure.

Woah there, too fast now!
Woah there, too fast Ryan! (Photo Credit: Mike Longaecker)

When Ryan and I arrived at the Mississippi River headwaters at Lake Itasca, we found a tall, ancient marker warning paddlers that they will face 2552 miles before reaching the gulf. Apparently, the exact length of the river is not completely settled as the USGS estimates the total distance as 2340 miles. Who cares anyways…? It took me a couple weeks to tear myself away from counting every mile…I don’t think Ryan ever was counting.

Now that we’ve settled that, I have a confession to make. We haven’t gone 2552 miles (or even 2340) on free energy yet. Ryan is just over 1000 miles into the trip and the universe has already sternly warned him that deviating from the hydro/solar/wind strategy is not acceptable! So here is what’s happening and how we’re doing it:

First of all, we’re on a river so there is a certain amount of existing water current which varies from snail speed to the speed a newly-born baby can crawl. What I’m trying to say is that the water is really, really slow!!! We’ve been told it moves fast enough to kill us farther downstream and I can only hope that these reports are true. But even though it’s slow going at times, the truth is that we could sit back with a couple beers and eventually make it to our New Orleans destination with minimal paddling. To drive that same distance in my old Ford Explorer would cost about $200 in rotten dinosaur juice. Mississippi River FTW!

Many people (news reporters in particular) want to know why we are paddling down the entire river. Apparently they don’t believe anyone would be foolish enough to paddle just for FUN. But that’s not our only reason either: we’re making a movie of the entire trip. And making a movie takes a lot of electricity. We have a Sony HD camera with two batteries, a laptop, a GPS, two cells phones, and an electric lantern (recently deceased, RIP). All that gears uses a good deal of electric energy and it’s all free courtesy of the sun. Two solar panels combined with a 12V battery and inverter keeps everything juiced up. The only bad thing about electricity is that it doesn’t mix well with water, and I’m still not sure of the extent of damage to our solar charging system in Ryan’s recent capsize.

The sail stands tall. Photo Credit: Tom Keim
The sail stands tall. (Photo Credit: Tom Keim)

The last energy deity is wind, and there is plenty of it along the Mississippi corridor. At first we silently enjoyed the tailwinds while viciously cursing the headwinds. Then everything changed when Ryan ran into the team at Urban Boat Builders who helped him construct a sail for our inflatable kayak. That’s right Sea Eagle…we put a SAIL on one of your Explorer kayaks. According to Ryan it works too, and we’re talking with the good folks at WindPaddle Sails to see if we can improve our wind usage even more.

The recipe for a free trip across American from north to south is a lot of hard work, a little bit of current, a splash of sunlight, and a dash of wind. We don’t have a specific agenda of promoting eco-friendly transportation solutions, but it’s pretty cool that that such a long journey can be completed without the use of our traditional sources of energy in America.

You keep reading and we’ll keep writing…as long as the sun stays shining and this water-soaked battery starts working. I can dream, right?