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North Carolina man to travel length of Mississippi via canoe

Ryan Emerson began his journey down the Mississippi Friday, inspired by Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain's Huck Finn. (Submitted photo

Huck Finn's and Abraham Lincoln's maritime escapades on the Mighty Mississippi have inspired a North Carolinian to head downriver via canoe.

Ryan Emerson, who earned a bachelor's in economics from the University of North Carolina this spring, learned about 10 days ago he'd been accepted to pursue his master's degree in the same field, the classes to begin in January.

Emerson made a "last minute decision" to pursue the journey he'd been considering since he was 16. He was buoyed by support from an "adventuresome family - "my dad would be here with me" were it not for professional duties.

Meanwhile, Jeff Lindstrom of rural Akeley had put his fiberglass canoe up for sale, parking it along Highway 64. He also posted it on Craig's List.

Emerson contacted him and Friday, after a 42-hour bus trip from his home in Waynesville, N.C., the two met. After a stop in Park Rapids for a canoe paddle, Emerson, armed with a week's worth of food, a stove, clothes and books, embarked on his journey.

Huck Finn, he said, was "a big inspiration," as was Lincoln. At 19, Abe boarded a flatboat and headed downriver to New Orleans, selling produce along the way. These trips ostensibly gave the future president his first experience with slavery, likely witnessing families torn apart by the auctioneering of slaves.

When he arrived in New Orleans, Lincoln sold the boat and headed back to Illinois - on foot.

Emerson intends to find a more expeditious method of transportation when he arrives at the river's delta, a 2,320-mile journey. "My goal is to be home for Christmas."

Meanwhile, "although I rarely read fiction," these books will accompany him on the voyage: "The Hobbit," by J.R.R. Tolkien (1937); "Utopia," by Sir Thomas More (1516); "The Adventures of Don Quixote," Cervantes (1605); "The Constitution," Constitutional Convention (1787); "A Collection of Henry David Thoreau Essays;" (1849-1864); "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," Mark Twain (1885) and "Get a Grip on Astronomy," Robin Kerrod (1999).

Lindstrom, who is now retired from his roles as school superintendent, added a Styrofoam backrest in the canoe to enhance Emerson's reading time.

Emerson plans to stop at cities along the way "to explore and charge my cell phone."

Emerson will be posting a journal and photos on his blog, floatonward.wordpress. com, slight deviations from Lincoln's exploits.

Bon voyage!