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Hope On The River II: A Rusty Yellow Van, Sailor The Dog And A Grateful Heart

On Friday, August 27th, surrounded by friends and family, we launched Hope On The River II.

But, this time, instead of a leaky raft with a homemade garden shed on top, I am traveling America’s powerful Mississippi River in A Rusty Yellow Van (RYV).  This time, instead of being on the river, I am traveling along the river through the towns, cities, and communities that lie on the banks of the majestic River of Hope.

At City House in St. Paul, directly across the river from the Padelford Riverboat that launched my journey a year ago, we gathered to celebrate the publication of the book “Hope On The River: An Unlikely Captain’s 1,700 Mile Mississippi River Journey On A Leaky Raft To Safe His NonProfit.”  With 100% of the profits going to www.sparekey.org to be used to support our www.HelpMeBounce.org platform, we are excited to share the journey of Hope Across America.

Today, I spent much of my day in Clayton, Iowa, at Bill’s Boat Landing – the site of one of my many raft stops along the Mississippi River.  Yesterday I spent several hours in Red Wing at the Red Wing Museum Museum with my good friend Mayor Mike Wilson, his family, and other friends like Cindy Taube as I signed books and shared stories of my journey down the river in 2020.

From St. Paul, Minnesota to Red Wing, Minnesota to Clayton, Iowa, I have already begun to remember the early moments of my journey down the river.  The nervousness and anxiety I faced in the weeks leading up to my launch and the planning that never seemed to end.  The concern about the seaworthiness of the raft and, more importantly, the competency of its captain!

The night before the launch in St. Paul, as well-wishers gathered on the dock of the Padelford and I gave them tours of my ungainly vessel, I could see a mixture of amusement, concern, and more than once an outright expression that this might not be the smartest idea of many not-smartest ideas I had conjured in my life.   Still, the mood was upbeat, positive and people were genuinely enthusiastic about the trip and, for many, whether it succeeded to the end or not, were convinced that it was at least worth the effort.

The morning of the launch, as I arrived at the dock and loaded the last of the supplies I felt I would need, and started to greet launch day guests, it was a perfect morning.  The weather was glorious, the raft looked spiffy, and I was raring to go. From the blessing of the raft and its captain by my friend O’Neal Hampton to a moving speech crafted and read by my son Owen, it was obvious that everything that could be said had now been said.

It was time to go!

And, go, we did!  Tied to the Padelford Riverboat loaded up with Spare Key staff, Board Members, friends, and family, Captain Gus Gaspardo guided me down the river to the Robert Street Bridge and then let the S.S. Hail Mary loose, and away we went!

Hours later, in Red Wing, I was relieved that we had made it to the first stop and that feeling of elation at every place I arrived from the day until the last day never left me.  Driving to Red Wing in the RYV to the Red Wing Marine Museum, I mused about all that had transpired in those days leading up to the launch.  I smiled as I came into Red Wing and remembered some of the features of the river from the highway that I could see peeking out at me from time to time.

My drive to Clayton, Iowa, brought me through the same stunning Iowa countryside I traveled through with the raft.  The perspective of the nature of the state looks different from the highway than it does the river – but the magnificence and beauty of this country we live in and the states that make up the nation remain the same.

Arriving in Clayton, I had to travel the last miles on gravel roads before coming to a long, steep downhill that leads you into this town of roughly 40 souls.  As I came upon the railroad tracks that separate the town from the river, I saw Bill’s Boat Landing and the river dock that I tied up to when I arrived last year.  The beauty of the Mississippi River that I saw from the raft was no less remarkable from the RYV.  I remind myself, again, that I must come here in the fall to see the blazing colors of the trees that line the banks of the Mississippi River in this area.

Kim Kuehl, the owner, and her fiance, Scott, greeted me, as did Kim’s daughter, who is now a senior in college.  I got Sailor, my plump, smelly and unfriendly-to-strangers dog situated and then enjoyed the same breakfast I ordered last year when I disembarked from the raft – brisket, with eggs, toast, and potatoes.  It was no less tasty than last year — Sailor, who was not with me on the raft but is with me on the RYV, agreed wholeheartedly as she joined me in devouring the food.

I signed books, shared stories of my journey, and also got a chance to see Max and Bonnie, who were so kind to share their apartment with me for an evening when I was last in Clayton.  Good people who care about their community and remind me, again, that leadership matters in this country.

In the days ahead, I hope to continue sharing my journey with you on www.hopeontheriver.com and on Facebook at @HopeontheRiver as I Livestream as often as I can my journey in the RYV.   If you care to purchase a copy of the book, you can go to www.hopeontheriver.com and see the various options for getting a paperback or eBook version. If you want an autographed copy, we ask for a $50.00 donation to Spare Key, and we will mail the book to you if you send me an email at erich@sparekey.org.

I don’t imagine the trip in the RYV will be anywhere as dangerous and nail-biting as the trip I took on a rotted-out 50-year old pontoon with a garden shed built on top of it down the Mississippi River.  The RYV is in pretty tough shape despite the glorious signage on it, thanks to Wendy Pajor and the good folks at ASI Signage Innovations in Minnesota.  I have a few more years of experience driving than I ever had rafting, so I trust my journey will have other adventures that won’t involve sinking, capsizing, and the like!

In the end, though, I want to say “Thank You” to people like John Apitz, Fred Mische, Mike Wilson, Cindy Taube, Kim Kuehl, and others who made the trip even possible, much less made it a success.  I never traveled along the river alone.  God looked over me, and God’s children took care of me.

That meant something then, and it means something even more to me today.

Come follow me, Sailor, and the Rusty Yellow Van on this journey of Hope On The River II!