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Filmmaker Ryan Jeanes retrieves items from his kayak Wednesday during a stop near Red Wing. His production team is documenting its trip down the Mississippi River. (Photo by Mike Longaecker)

An adventure runs through it

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Ryan Jeanes doesn't consider himself an outdoorsman.

Not even after spending more than a month kayaking down the Mississippi River. But the Austin, Texas, native does fashion himself an adventurer.

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"I'm letting the universe kind of show me the way to go," the 31-year-old said.

Jeanes, who arrived at Lock and Dam No. 3 Wednesday evening by inflatable kayak, is one half of a film production team that plans to navigate the entire Mississippi, from Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico, over the course of three months.

The men are documenting the trek on film and plan on editing the footage down to a feature-length film, tentatively called "The River is Life."

For now, Jeanes is a one-man show -- kayaking with an HD video camera, provisions and desire.

"Anyone can do this with a reasonable amount of preparation," he said. "But it does take more mental preparation than physical preparation."

He is manning a solo voyage until St. Louis, Mo., where he will be joined by production partner Phillip Hullquist.

Jeanes said the film aims to capture not just the experience of an epic river journey, but the people he and Hullquist meet along the way. The filmmakers found stranger encounters to be fertile ground in their first production, which documented an attempt to hitchhike across America in less than a week.

"The new film," Jeanes explained, "hopes to capture the idea that (audiences) are able to share in experiences we did, but also in the experience of the people we meet along the way."

He said funding for the project comes from online donations, friends, family, "some of my savings and Visa."

Jeanes said he's not sure where ideas like coast-to-coast hitchhiking journeys and river rides come from. He suspects it stems from a sense of adventure.

"I think it's just a dream we get as human beings -- that we want to follow it," Jeanes said.

And he intends to follow it all the way to the end.

"The genuine desire will allow you to finish," he said, adding that of the 20-or-so annual Mississippi River treks, only four usually complete the journey.

Jeanes and Hullquist's production team, dubbed 11 Visions, hopes to hit the gulf by late September.

That's the idea, anyway.

As for specific plans -- travel stops, daily goals -- Jeanes says he follows a loose schedule. Logs about 20 miles a day. He gets groceries as he needs them. Pulls up at a place to camp for the night as he finds one -- official or otherwise.

"I'm a guy in a kayak," he said. "I don't know if I pose a real threat."

Sometimes strangers invite him to spend a night at their home -- kindred spirits who Jeanes said were taken in on their own adventures.

"They are just trying to pay it forward," he said.

Invites like those aren't easily turned down, Jeanes said. Especially when they include a warm shower.

He is, after all, a self-proclaimed city boy. Adventurer, yes. Purist of nature? Hardly.

"The big difference is I love technology," Jeanes said. "We love the system, we love the grocery store, we love hot showers."

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