‘I’ve been here for five years and this is only the second time there’s been a clean sweep from the media, you’re a big deal,’ said Jen, all sunglasses and hair and PR savvy, she knows her stuff and the cameras now dispanding were proof of the pudding. To be fair though, I kept my head size down after that comment, the first clean sweep of the media had been the mayor getting on a treadmill!
It was a lovely day, one that started with 17 paddlers from a number of Memphis organisations joining Tom and I for the final 20 mile approach into Memphis, Tennessee. Four WWII aircraft played in the sky above us, a news helicopter buzzed us on the river, circling twice before departing with a wave. Over 400 Blue Miles were accrued on the water in all, earning everyone involved a place on our leaderboard. This was a fitting end to Tom’s final day on the Mississippi. He had never Stand Up Paddled when he landed in Minneapolis once month ago, but now he has 1120 miles under his belt, a super effort. At 21, he may well have a career in adventure ahead of him, but for now follow his progress on the Exceed Possibility blog.
Tom was replaced by a more familiar face, to me at least. My brother Andy swooped into Memphis to join me for 500 miles of the river, all the way to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. We cycled around town, soaking up the calm of Memphis. Visiting the Lorraine Hotel, the spot where Martin Luther King JR was cruelly taken, his memory and the peace he fought so long to provide echoing around the place. There is a sense of history to this city, yet it doesn’t have any pretence at all. It undoubtedly has much to do with the friends we’ve made here, but rarely have I felt this much at home in a strange place.
I’m on a seemingly endless search for a place to settle one day. Still 21 x 1000+ mile expeditions lay ahead, but I’m always keeping an eye out for future residences. Memphis has just entered the bidding, and in no small part it has been due to an incredible welcome. Strangers, the lot of them, pulling together and adding more than just a little bit to this dream of mine. The paddlers on the water, shunning the perpetual warnings about the Mississippi offering nothing but danger. Smiles galore, hundreds of Blue Miles were amassed on Sunday 14th August, boatloads of new friends, then offerings of accommodation, food, company, drinks emerged from all sides. I’ve been overwhelmed with kindness from all sides this week, extra layers to a snowball that has been developing for two months despite record-breaking heatwaves.
Seven TV segments, a couple of newspaper features, several restaurants, one hotel, one machine shop called Big River, a talk at a museum, a swift visit to Graceland to source an outfit that was to eventually embarrass me no end and more than a dozen handfuls of new friends. I couldn’t end this blog with anything other than a list of thank yous. Memphis, it has been a pleasure, see you soon, promise.
Thank you to Rachel King, Jen Jaudon, Tom Roehm, Carmen Jones, Boyd Wade & Lucy Hardy, Kooky Kanuck and Shawn Danko, Bluff City Coffee, The Green Beetle and Mark Tedford, Gus’ Fried Chicken, Huey’s Restaurant, the River Inn, Folk’s Folly, Mud Island River Park, the Wolf River Conservancy, Memphis Stand Up Paddle Rentals, Ghost River Rentals, Outdoors Incorporated and last but not least, Jonathan Brown - it takes one good person to make a whole lot of things happen, and you’re that man.
Thanks too for the donations from: Eric & Sam Grottlieb ($30), Boyd Wade & Lucy Hardy ($20), Chris Austin ($20), Harry Babb ($20), Richard Sojourner ($15), Jeff & Eileen Sojourner ($20), Luke Short ($20), Sandra ($20) - your money will be split equally between the AV Foundation and CoppaFeel.