Alyssum Pohl is tackling water pollution by paddling – in particular, by kayaking the Mississippi River from source to sea. A self-motivated effort to increase awareness about the health of our rivers and oceans, Pohl started her three-month journey on June 27 in Lake Itasca, Minnesota, the source of the Mississippi River, and will end her trip in the Gulf of Mexico near New Orleans, 2,552 miles downstream.
While the expedition involves portaging around 29 locks and dams, avoiding fast-moving barges and ships and paddling against the wind, with degrees and work experience in science and policy, Pohl will also be recording both qualitative and quantitative water quality measures, and will share her process and results for educational purpose. En route she plans to measure pH, temperature, turbidity, dissolved oxygen ratios and more.
“This is an adventure, but my goal is to make it a meaningful one,” Pohl says. “It’s not a vacation. I will be working hard every day. I will be collecting water quality samples, photographing plastic waste, doing beach clean-ups with local river conservation groups, speaking with school children and legislators along the way about the environmental state of their waterways. I believe it is important that I share my experience and the visible and chemical health of our nation’s largest river.”
Pohl calls the project “Paddle On!” which references her verve to continue making a positive difference in the world, despite constant challenges. Over the past two years, Pohl worked on coastal resiliency issues as one of three National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Digital Coast Fellows.
This background provided her with unique insight into understanding what local, state, and federal elected officials and natural resource managers deal with and their level of understanding the environmental problems they face. “What I really enjoyed in that position was working across-disciplines, using story-telling as a means to educate diverse stakeholders about best practices.”
Pohl has arranged collaboration with artists, scientists, and legislators to ensure that Paddle On! is worthwhile to a variety of communities and interests.
For instance, Lindsey Wohlman, a sculptor from Lafayette Colorado, looks forward to receiving some of the plastic waste that Pohl cleans from the river, with which she will create ocean-inspired sculptures; and John Sullivan, a retired water quality biologist from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, paddled the Mississippi recording water quality and Pohl will be repeating his methodology.
By completing this project, Pohl, 35, will create a world record as the youngest woman to solo kayak the Mississippi River. To make this project becomes a reality, Pohl ran a successful Kickstarter fundraising campaign.
In Her Own Words: Ailments along the way:
- Fist is still weak, wrists are stronger, hands are always the first thing to get tired on the river. I feel a tingley ache in my hands instead of a throbbing ache, it’s always there. The pool noodle helps a lot, and I still paddle with my hands open as much as I can. I sleep with my hands open against my legs to make sure they get some relief from a gripping position. My middle left finger (the one that was sprained) clicks sometimes.
- Small bruises on my legs. Getting darker but smaller.
- Elbows hurt to bend and also to straighten.
- My lower back and intercostal muscles felt like they were just about ready to give out one day, and my left shoulder clicked one day this week, but only that one day. In general, my back and shoulders feel (finally) like I’ve exercised hard the day before, as opposed to like I’m trying to rip them from their insertion points. I’m getting stronger!
- Ankles and feet sore (from using the rudder pedals), but not as bad as last week.
- Hemangioma still a nuisance.
- Bug bites number in the hundreds. Would not be surprised if it were over a thousand. But I’m seeing fewer mosquitos every day. And the number of scabs I have from bug bites are much fewer.
- Whatever that rash was on my inner thigh, it only lasted a couple days and never itched.
- Tan lines getting funnier.
- Left hip bursitis=annoying and painful.
- But again, I’m happy and feel super strong mentally. Glad I’m resting whenever I feel like I need it. Starting to realize I need to eat more food at night. Rest and digest!