It wasn’t long before Dave Cornthwaite spotted a black bear, creeping along the river banks.
It made no move to lunge or attack. Instead, the bear studied the London-native intently, mildly curious about the interloper standing on a floating board in the middle of the river.
“It was just staring at me,” Cornthwaite said.
Cornthwaite stared back for a moment. And then, with a wave, the unfazed adventurer was off, heading south from the Mississippi’s headwaters on down to the Gulf of Mexico.
The bear was just the beginning. Strong storms, crippling heat and humidity, a swarm of mayflies and a 30-meter whirlpool all stood in his path. But, to Cornthwaite, each hazard didn’t mean a potential loss of life or limb. They were obstacles to overcome and adventures to be conquered.
Cornthwaite paddled into Clinton on Sunday evening, another brief stop on his journey to the Gulf of Mexico. He will paddle the length of the Mississipi, all 2,320 miles, raising money for the AV Foundation, an initiative ton increase electricity and safe water availability in African nations, and CoppaFeel!, a breast cancer awareness charity.
He is also a Blue Project Ambassador, promoting the appreciation of nature through sport and exploration. The Mississippi River expedition is the fourth of 25 planned journeys, each one taking Cornthwaite at least 1,000 miles without the use of any motorized vehicles. He’s already skateboarded across Australia and ridden a tandem bike with a friend from Vancouver to Las Vegas.
Cornthwaite has some business sponsors, but makes his living predominantly through telling his story. He has written one book, with two more on the way, and records his every move with plans to put together documentaries of each of his excursions.
He interacts with fans, friends and followers through social media, and his website, davecornthwaite.com, and he speaks at conventions about his Expedition 1,000 project.
“All the way people have told me I’m going to die,” Cornthwaite said. “(They say) the Mississippi is the Devil in a river’s clothing.”
But the draw of America’s iconic muddy river was too great to be ignored. Cornthwaite said he has always been drawn to the Mississippi, since reading about it as a boy.
“This is my chance to be the next Huck (Finn),” Cornthwaite said.
He paddles by day, finding places to make camp in the fading light. He takes cover during the storms, as his oar is an excellent electricity conductor. Cornthwaite said safety is always a priority, as getting injured would throw a wrench into his plans.
His current journey is not just a great way to experience an exotic locale from one of his favorite stories, it will land him in the record books. Traveling the length of the Mississippi on his stand-up paddle board is a feat that has no equal world wide.
Cornthwaite should make it to the alligator-infested waters of Louisiana sometime this September after three solid months on the river, but he doesn’t plan on taking a lot of time off.
His next stop? Riding horseback across Mongolia. From there, paragliding through the Himalayas. But, though his journeys are each unique, there is one constant. He always keeps a phone nearby.
“My mum worries,” Cornthwaite explained.