Paul Meincke harbored a dream to canoe the Mississippi River for more than a decade before setting out with friends this year to do so.
For around 70 days, Meincke, Tim Clark and Tom Lobacz paddled down the river starting May 24 in Minnesota and ending, more than 2,300 miles later, in the Gulf of Mexico on Aug. 2. Rowing for 10 to 12 hours a day, often starting at 4:30 a.m. and going to 4 or 6 p.m., was taxing.
“It was very different,” Meincke said. “We knew we would be physically and mentally exhausted at the end of the day, but the rewards made the difficulties of the day worth it.”
This isn’t the first adventure that Meincke, a “mostly” retired news broadcaster for ABC7 Chicago, has completed. In 2005, he and Clark whitewater canoed in the Northwest Territories of Canada and, in 2008, they summited Mount Kilimanjaro.
Meincke also has biked across the United States — twice.
To make sure this trip went smoothly, Meincke, Clark, Lobacz and Bill Baar — who joined the three for a leg of the trip before returning home — spent the better part of a year mapping it out. They created itineraries, looked at videos and joined the Mississippi River Paddlers Facebook group to connect with others who completed similar journeys.
The three encountered “great hospitality” along their route.
“There were three different times where people gave us their car keys so we could drive around and stock up on food or do what we needed to do,” said Clark, whose technical eye made him chief navigator. “There were great people from the top to the bottom, and they came through in so many ways.”
Lobacz, a Vietnam War veteran, got to return some of that good naturedness by giving stars of retired American flags to military veterans he met during the trip.
“There were no thank-yous when I came home, so it was my way of thanking them for their service,” Lobacz said.
Each star had a saying on its back that read, in part, “Carry me as a reminder that you are not forgotten.” Lobacz said he gave away around 200 stars, and it was “therapeutic” for others and for himself to do so.
Beyond the therapeutic nature of the trip for Lobacz, it also provided the excitement of meeting new people and hearing new stories, something that Meincke and Clark reveled in.
Meincke plans to rest for awhile before mapping out his next trip. He’s still adjusting to land and the fast speed of cars, but he said he’s kicking around the idea of biking from Chicago to Los Angeles along the remains of Route 66 because it “oozes history,” he said.
“You become part of this history and you learn all of these great stories and you pass them along,” Meincke said. “This is my outlet, [traveling] allows me to tell different stories and share what I learn. It’s not news, but it’s fun to tell these stories.”