FULTON, Ill. — Two canoe teams paddling the length of the Mississippi River last month inspired Traci Lynn Martin to do the same.
She’s not sorry.
“I had no idea the Mississippi was so beautiful,” Martin said Monday as she waited for a barge to clear the lock near Fulton. “I was actually thinking about paddling the Missouri, and then the two teams inspired me to do this.”
MMZero and Mississippi Speed Record attempted to set Guinness World Records for fastest paddle down the Mississippi by a team. MMZero now holds the record – just over 17 days – and Speed Record was on pace to break that record when it lost its boat in high waves and had to abandon the attempt.
Martin is attempting to set a record that is currently open.
Janet Moreland successfully completed a source-to-sea kayak journey down the Mississippi River on July 28, 2016 in 61 days, according to Love Your Big Muddy Expeditions. Moreland didn’t keep up the documentation she needed to be named in the Guinness Book of World Records, said Martin, so Moreland doesn’t hold the Guinness record.
Guinness requires a lot of documentation, Martin said. She has cameras and data recorders on her kayak and also has to provide photos and witness statements.
Martin doesn’t want to hold a record that someone has already beaten, even unofficially. “Sixty-two days is what I feel I need to beat,” Martin said Monday. “I felt I could do it in 45.”
Martin saw three-foot waves Sunday, but that’s not what took her off the river. Martin’s riding a Surfski, which is designed for big ocean waves, she said.
“The waves were crashing into me, ... but as long as I’m paddling forward, it drains.” When Martin stops, as at Lock and Dam 13, it takes on water, but never enough to sink or capsize.
South winds forced Martin to give up in Sabula about 3 p.m. Sunday, only 20 miles into the day. The winds were pushing the kayak upstream. At one point, while Martin paddled, her etrex showed her speed as 0.0 miles per hour.
“I had to pull off early. It was just too bad,” she said.
Rather than wear herself out and make no progress, Martin landed her kayak and got some much needed sleep – eight hours rather than the five she’s been getting.
Martin usually paddles until dark, she said, but she knew she had Pool 13 ahead of her, and the people who scouted the lake for her said it wasn’t safe to cross in Sunday’s winds.
Martin is loving the scenery that passes her as she paddles the river. The cliffs, forests and wildlife impress her. “I’m so glad I chose the Mississippi,” Martin said. She enjoys putting up her tent under the stars, enjoying the natural beauty around her.
In 2017, Martin circumnavigated the three largest Great Lakes in a single year. She attempted to do all five in 2020. Now she’s on the Mississippi.
Martin’s kayak allows her to see the beauty that is around her, she said. What we see on television and in photographs doesn’t compare to what it looks like in person, she said.
“It’s very spiritual,” said Martin. “That’s what my soul craves. That’s what makes me happiest.”
Martin is also traveling for people who live in pain. Diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in 2010, Martin knows what it’s like. She wants to encourage people who struggle.
“Even if you’re struggling ... never let your life pass you by,” Martin said.
Martin’s canoe bears the names of people who live the struggle. To cope with her own pain, Martin takes to the water and absorbs the artistry of nature. As she begins feeling better mentally, she’s better able to handle her physical challenges, she said.
Martin exited Pool 13 Monday morning. To follow her downriver, visit her Facebook page, JustAroundThePoint.