Adventurer paddles to Natchez

Published 1:02 am Monday, August 29, 2011

NICOLE ZEMA | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT Dave Cornthwaite of London is paddle boarding the length of the Mississippi River in his latest excursion.

NATCHEZ — A modern-day Huck Finn rubbed elbows with Natchezians Saturday when he drifted Under-the-Hill as part of his latest adventure — paddling the length of the Mississippi River.

Dave Cornthwaite headed into the Under-the-Hill Saloon for a cold beer and a well-deserved seat, since he does his paddling standing up. He had paddled more than 2,000 miles down river when he arrived Saturday.

“I crossed the over-2,000 mile mark about 10 miles back, give or take,” Cornthwaite said. “Yes, I’m really tired, without question.”

NICOLE ZEMA | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT Dave Cornthwaite brings the last of his flotsam up the boat ramp Under-the-Hill Saturday afternoon.

Cornthwaite, who is from London, started the journey in Elk Lake, Minn., at the headwaters of the Mississippi River.

“When I started the journey, I had never seen the Mississippi River, so it is a true adventure,” Cornthwaite said. “Natchez seemed like such a long way away when I was searching maps. I can’t believe I’m here.”

Cornthwaite said he paddled the length of the Mississippi River to add to his catalog of life experiences.

“I want to be stretched physically and psychologically,” Cornthwaite said.

Cornthwaite’s brother, Andy, joined him in Memphis, and together they will paddle 550 miles to Baton Rouge. Local paddlers who met Cornthwaite through his website, paddled in with him Saturday.

Cornthwaite said so far, the journey has been incident-free, but he is careful.

“You are really at the mercy of mother nature out there,” he said. “You have to respect it. I’ve had some hard days with lots of headwinds. The barges kick up wake, but I just paddle over it. But the hardest thing on the river are the mosquitoes — what a nuisance.”

The Mississippi River journey is the fourth part of Expedition 1000, in which Cornthwaite is undertaking 25 separate journeys in excess of 1,000 miles each, using a different form of non-motorized transport.

Cornthwaite used a stand-up paddleboard for this journey.

“It’s effectively a large surfboard built with stability in mind to stand and use one long paddle,” Cornthwaite said. “It’s the simplest form of transportation I have ever experienced.”

The project will cover every continent, cross the three major oceans and both poles. In the future, Cornthwaite said he anticipates rowing the Indian Ocean, paragliding in the Himalayas and riding a horse across Mongolia.

“If there is a way of travel I don’t know about, send it to me and I will put it on my list,” Cornthwaite said.

The adventurer said he is writing a book about the journey, and will return to Natchez next year to read and discuss the trip. He said the book will probably be titled, “Stand Up Huck,” inspired by Mark Twain’s beloved character, Huckleberry Finn.

“Huck Finn was a mischievous little boy,” Cornthwaite said. “And that’s probably me at heart, although I haven’t joined a gang of robbers.”

Cornthwaite said he chose to paddle the Mississippi River because it has the largest river volume in North America — more populated, more stories, more history.

“And I wanted to find out more about middle America,” Cornthwaite said. “The river is like a teacher. It starts off small and gets wider. There are more challenges, which prepare you for the next section.”

Cornthwaite said a few years back he was unsatisfied with his seemingly settled life. Working as a graphic designer, Cornthwaite said he had what a lot of folks strive for — a degree, a house, a car, a girlfriend.

“I was stuck behind a desk chasing someone else’s dream,” Cornthwaite said. “But I chucked it all in. I started prioritizing the things that made me happy in life.”

Cornthwaite said wanna-be adventurers must stop making excuses and just do it.

“So many people hold themselves back,” Cornthwaite said. “They say they don’t have the money, they aren’t fit or they don’t have the time. But we’ve all got the same amount of time in a day. Use it wisely. Prioritize your happiness and do what you want to do.”

Cornthwaite said he plans to reach the coast by Sept. 7, right before his visa will expire. He is hitting the river Monday to finish the trip.

“I might have a little cry (when I finish),” Cornthwaite said. “I usually feel emotional at the end.”

Cornthwaite said a man in Memphis gave him a Cuban cigar to light up once he reaches the gulf.

“I don’t smoke,” Cornthwaite said. “But I’ll probably smoke it in the Gulf. But isn’t there oil in the gulf?”

Cornthwaite said he represents a few charities as part of Expedition 1000, even though he is not paddling for any one organized cause. They are the Blue Project — sportsmen and women who share their experiences, passion for the environment and commitment to healthy living; Coppafeel — a mission to stamp out late detection and misdiagnosis of breast cancer by ensuring that women know signs and symptoms; and the AV Foundation which develops drinking water systems for East African schools.

“They are causes that are close to my heart,” Cornthwaite said. “I’m lucky enough to do a few cool things.”

To keep up with Cornthwaite’s adventures, visit