Michael Pearce

Mississippi bound

Coloradans Donny Knowles, left, Jordan Miller and Susana Sierra, hope to raft on the Arkansas River from Great Bend to the Mississippi River. Miller thinks it should take about three months. Tuesday afternoon they passed through Hutchinson.
Coloradans Donny Knowles, left, Jordan Miller and Susana Sierra, hope to raft on the Arkansas River from Great Bend to the Mississippi River. Miller thinks it should take about three months. Tuesday afternoon they passed through Hutchinson.

HUTCHINSON - I’d known Jordan Miller a whole five minutes when I started to admire his sense of adventure.

Miller, 27, and friends Donny Knowles and Susana Sierra, are hoping to ride an 18-foot bright yellow raft from Great Bend to the Mississippi River via the Arkansas River. They launched on June 9. Miller thinks the trip could take three months. We met on a sandbar in Hutchinson Tuesday afternoon.

Originally from Arkansas, Miller was on his way to see family in Montrose, Colo. last year when he noticed the road kept crossing the Arkansas River.

“I figured it had to be the same Arkansas River we had back home,” said Miller, “so I thought it’d be more fun to float the river the next time I went home than to drive,”

Miller began planning the adventure as he took a job at a Montrose brew-pub. Hearing of his plans, new friends Knowles and Sierra signed on, too.

Get this - other than a touristy white water raft trip years ago for Knowles, none of the three had any rafting experience. Nor did they have any equipment.

They bought their boat online for $300, then designed and built an internal frame of PVC pipe and plywood. A net slung below the frame keeps bags, coolers and other equipment off the bottom of the raft.

His original goal of floating from Pueblo, Colo. to the Mississippi were dashed when Miller learned there’s about a 100 mile stretch of the Arkansas that’s about totally dry. He hopes to float the Colorado portion of the Arkansas next year.

A wet spring at least made it possible to float the large craft at Great Bend. The first minutes the boat was afloat was the first time the trio had rowed and paddled together. They’d done no trial run in Colorado.

Challenges they’ve faced so far have been trees hanging low over the river and chunks of concrete with possible boat popping metal rods sticking out in several places. Bugs have been a painful issue, Kansans they’ve met have been mostly helpful and all three think the river is beautiful and wildlife abundant.

Future days will mean easier rowing as the Arkansas widens and flows faster because of recent rains. They’re also facing 20 or more dams. At many, they’ll have to unload the boat, deflate it, and possibly hand carry everything to below the dam. Miller is confident they’ll get help along the way.

He’s already been befriended by several member’s of Kansas’ Arkansas River Coalition. He said he has friends scattered all throughout the state of Arkansas, and figures they’re just a phone call away if needed.

Miller said he hopes to spend a few weeks or months visiting friends and family in Arkansas before heading back to Montrose. As of now he has no idea how they’ll make the trip westward, though.

“That’s in the works,” he said of figuring a way back to Colorado, “we really haven’t thought that far out yet. We’ll come up with something. First we want to get to the Mississippi.”

Personally, I kind of envy such a carefree lifestyle.

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