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Cottage Grove man and his friends canoeing the Mississippi

From left, Jen Sass, Brian Reichel, Kyle Thompson and Cody Prudoehl are with the two 20-foot canoes that will carry them from Lake Itaska to the Gulf of Mexico on the Mississippi River. Check on their progress of their trip, which begins May 20, at Submitted photo

If all goes as planned, in 75 days Kyle Thompson and three friends will canoe from the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico.

But Thompson, a 2007 Park High School graduate from Cottage Grove, and friends Jen Sass, Brian Reichel and Cody Prudoehl don't want everything to go as planned.

They are looking for adventure.

The four friends met sharing one of their favorite activities, snowboarding. They're not sure who came up with the idea to canoe to the gulf. Sass, who's quitting her job to do it, said in an interview that she threw out an idea about once a week and before they knew it, they were planning the trip.

The trip in two 20-foot canoes will begin May 20 at Lake Itasca on the small stream that goes through Lake Winnibigoshish near Bemidji before becoming a river.

To prepare, they've studied books about the journey and have mapped out a day-by-day plan. They've also gone on short canoe trips to not only test their canoe skills, but to see whether they can work as a team.

Thompson, just days from graduating from the University of Minnesota with a degree in mechanical engineering, and the others, agree that taking the trip, which Sass calls "a really long Boundary Waters canoe trip," makes sense. At this time in their lives - their early 20s - they ought to do it before "settling down."

If there is a restaurant or pizza joint within walking distance of the river, they plan to take advantage of it, but they are starting their trip with several weeks of food packed in their gear that will all be in waterproof material just in case.

Being part of the plugged-in generation, a canoe trip doesn't mean electronics will be left behind. They have a solar panel to run their iPods, phones and one computer.

Sass's dog, Meiko, will be with them from Itasca to Mankato, where they'll stop long enough for Jen to come back to the Twin Cities for a friend's wedding, drop off Meiko at friend's place, and return to resume the canoe trip.

Along the way, they plan to post videos and commentary on their website. To check on their progress and see if they're successfully dodging the prop wash of barges traveling on the river, go to

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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