A canoe trip down the Arkansas and Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans for a worthy cause became a risky adventure for two Stillwater young men. Brothers Richard and Mitchell McCollom braved the swirling waters and finished their charitable cruise as planned. It was Richard’s second such trip.

No pleasure cruise, this! Telling the Stillwater Rotary Club of the adventurous float, the slide presentation pictured for the audience the jeopardy in which they often found themselves. The Coast Guard stopped them to ask, “Is this what you guys do for fun?”

Concerned for their welfare, the weight aboard, etc., the Guard wished them bon voyage and left them to their own devices.

Their craft was a canoe 15 feet in length, powered by a seven horsepower motor. The sight it provoked from riverside well-wishers was probably the first such vessel they had seen on the river. In preparing the vessel for the trip, the two were up all night and once loaded, decided they were overweight and had to guess what they could do without.

Once in the water, the picture taken of them depicted a canoe with a man at each end, the back end barely above the water line and the front end with its passenger lifted high above the water.

The purpose of the venture was to raise funds for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Every mile the sailors made on the rivers brought a specified donation to the Foundation. The end result was making a wish come true for a child who was the victim of a serious, even terminative, illness. While the departure was taking place, a large number of children who may benefit from the trip, were gathered on a nearby barge, wishing the travelers well and waving heartily.

The brothers made a number of landings along the route. At night they camped on the bank and fought mosquitoes all night. As they sailed along, they would stop near a town to purchase provisions or equipment they may need. One such need was a vital one: they lost the propeller on the motor. Locating a place that had them was not an easy task. They were grateful for generous people who helped them in that, and other, situations.

At one particular stop, they noticed a “No Trespassing” sign with further instructions that it would be hazardous to make a stop at that site. The heavy wire fencing also did not deter the men. (Could it have been the Arkansas nuclear power plant?).

The ubiquitous river barge plighted their path over and again. One man had to constantly be on watch for them. On one occasion they were not sure what monstrous object was in their path. They saw it coming from a distance. Richard described it, as it got closer, as “big as WalMart’s parking lot.” It was MANY barges linked together, as wide as 190 feet, Richard said. They made a hasty adjustment toward the bank side to avoid being crushed by the huge floating mammoth. The wave that it caused gave the little canoe no small storm swell.

One day they encountered a strange looking floating object. It appeared to be a raft with a canvas tent on it. The men thought it was unoccupied and came closer. Two young men came out of the tent. They were college boys who took a weekend off for a river adventure. They said they had a third young man but when the trip became more work than play, he got off at the nearest town and was going to call his parents to come for him. Their rations had been depleted. Richard and Mitchell gave them half of what they had.

An unexpected “tidal wave” overtook them at one time and wreaked havoc on their little vessel. It seemed unexplainable. Mitchell saw something ahead that seemed to be a large white object that appeared to stretch from shore to shore across the Mississippi. Judging from their experiences of the past, they prepared for whatever it was, “fastened down the hatch,” or whatever one does at sea. It approached and hit them, an enormous tsunamic-type wave. The baffled two, their canoe and provisions scattered across the Mississippi, swam to pull order out of chaos. They described the wave as coming “just out of nowhere.”

The Delta Queen, a touring vessel out of New Orleans, passed them heading upriver. The passengers crowded the side of the ship to wave and yell at the “Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn” twosome.

The brothers made their ETA on time. They landed at the dock in front of Jackson Square after 10 thrill-a-minute days as sailors. They confessed to three nights in hotels on shore. Other nights were tortuous ones, sunburned and exhausted, sleeping on the ground.

Rotarians were highly entertained by the presentation and offered the brothers their sincere appreciation for the dollars they raised for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

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