New River Read: “Threading a Kayak Down the Mississippi”


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In 2005, Dennis Van Norman climbed into a kayak for the first time to spend an afternoon “Huck Finning” down the Mississippi River with his son and grandson. Little did he know that what started as an innocent, eight-mile kayaking introduction would eventually become a passion—or an addiction. He spent thirteen years, from his sixties through his mid-seventies, kayaking the length of the Mississippi, bit by bit, traveling more than 2,500 river miles from northern Minnesota to the southern tip of Louisiana in a boat built for one.

Threading a Kayak down the Mississippi is the story of how one traveler fully experienced and embraced the Mississippi River and its surroundings. In the vein of Jonathan Raban’s Old Glory, Dennis’s account casts light on the Mississippi River’s history, geography, and sociology, but it is a book about more than the river itself—it’s also about the individuals and characters living along the Mississippi’s shores. From the local foods and music to the customs and history, each experience is sandwiched between moments of pure serenity and those of sheer terror. This is the story of a journey of discovery on the country’s most celebrated waterway, and an exploration of the wonderment, joy, and fear that will inevitably grab hold of you when you’re sitting alone in a fourteen-foot plastic boat on America’s greatest river.

Mississippi book

About the Author

Dennis Van Norman was born and raised in a river town, St. Paul, Minnesota, and now lives in Maplewood. His childhood included playing in Indian Mounds Park, climbing on the limestone bluffs and cliffs overlooking the Mississippi River, and exploring the caves scattered along the river’s banks.

He earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Minnesota and the University of St. Thomas. His professional writing has been in the corporate world and includes a business journal publication, strategic plans, mission statements, and executive speeches. His writing for fun has included a regular column, “Random Shots from a Grassy Knoll,” for a small-town Wisconsin newspaper, featuring different golf courses and the characters that crowded them. He also has published a book of poetry, Courtside Chatter, that covered his daughter Kelly’s four years of varsity basketball at Gustavus Adolfus College, earning him a Varsity Athletic Award and Letter as Honorary Poet Laureate.

When he is not traveling, Dennis still enjoys his regular morning walks along the timeless Mississippi River, at the foot of those same bluffs he scrambled about as a boy.



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