An Ohio man is kayaking the entire Mississippi River to raise awareness for an issue close to his heart and is passing through the Quad-Cities this weekend.
Joe Solomon, from Cincinnati, is kayaking the length of the river to raise awareness for Cincinnati mental-health-and-outdoor-oriented charity Adventure Crew.
For Solomon, raising awareness for mental health is a personal cause. In 2012, a bad reaction to anesthesia during a surgery left him in an extremely rare catatonic state and caused him mental health issues.
“[A catatonic state] basically is a full-on stupor where you can hear everything but you can’t react to anything, so I was like stuck inside my body,” he said.
That experience got him into kayaking.
“To recover myself I started kayaking every day,” Solomon said. “I kayaked 8 miles a day for four months straight that summer to try to regain my sanity because I had lost it all.”
As he began to recover, he set his sights on kayaking all four major inland rivers in the country. He has already kayaked the Ohio River, and after his completion of the Mississippi will take on the Missouri and Arkansas rivers.
His journey on the Mississippi River began May 31 in Lake Itasca, Minn., where the headwaters of the river are. He will eventually finish his journey in the Gulf of Mexico, in what he assumes will be a few months.
This weekend, he was scheduled to stop in Davenport and camp for a few nights at a campground south of the city before getting back on the river.
As one would expect with a journey like this, Solomon has faced struggles.
“You can’t control Mother Nature, and she’s been totally mad ever since I got on the river,” he said, recounting how on the first day of the trip his shoes froze to the ground but on the second, temperatures hit 101 degrees.
Historically low water levels in the Mississippi are also adding difficulties by diminishing the usually strong river currents.
“It’s very difficult because there’s no current to help carry me downstream if I want to rest my arms,” he said.
People have helped him with his journey along the way, however. “River Angels,” as he calls them, are people who live along the river and offer meals and a place to stay to people like him who are taking long journeys down it.
He’s found many people through a “River Angels” Facebook group that he says has about 1,200 members, and he has been posting about the different people he stays with on his own Facebook page, “Kayaking 4 a Cause.”
“A lot of people are saying that it’s restoring their faith in humanity, that there’s still good people around,” he said of people’s response to his posts about the River Angels. “It’s a pretty amazing situation to be honest with you.”