Adventure, Interviews

Interview: Mississippi Challenge 2013

In May 2013 Sam Norman, Matt Fraser and Harry Hogg will begin their 2320mile journey down the length of the Mississippi river by kayak in aid of Help for Heroes.

1. Why did you pick the Mississippi?

Matt: We actually looked at a few of the world’s great rivers before we settled on the Mississippi. The Yangtze and the Nile were on our original research list but they proved too dangerous, required varied types of kayak, had overzealous or militant police forces and were beyond our logistical and paddling ability. The Mississippi however ticked every box an epic 2400km in length but on this river we would be considerably less likely to fail and or seriously injure ourselves. This being our first experience of real expedition as well going to an English speaking country and paddling along a well inhabited river seemed like good ideas.

2. Why did you pick kayaking?

Matt: Personally rivers fascinate me; I’m a geography lover (doing an economics degree!) So the landscape and processes along a river are exploration gold for me. The kayak is a simple, efficient way to explore waterways of any kind and back home in Woodbridge, Suffolk me and Sam spent our summers paddling upstream, downstream and anywhere in between on the river Deben. So a lot of the inspiration for this trip has come from these weekends exploring our local river. There’s a sense of isolation when you’re on the water, even if there is a busy city on the banks because so few people use the river, you feel free!

3.Why is your chosen charity Help for Heroes? 

Matt: We all agreed on Help for Heroes because we have massive respect for our troops fighting in appalling conditions against an enemy with a truly horrible way of fighting back, with improvised explosives causing terrible injuries in Afghanistan at the moment we want to do what we can to give servicemen and women who need it the best care.

Sam: For me it comes from desire to join the forces and having seen Headly Court the rehabilitation centre for my own its hard not to support a charity that supports our serving personal once they are injured and are often forgotten by the public.

4. Where did the idea spawn from?

Sam: I spent the summer working on a potato harvester listening to Ranalph Fiennes autobiography and decided to have my own adventure and who better to do it with then with two good mates!

Harry: I was taken in by Sam talking about this expedition. Working with him over the summer meant I heard all about his plans and with it being my final year of university I thought ‘you only live once’.

5.Why are you doing this aside from raising money? 

Matt: I think we all share a desire to do something quite mad, very adventurous and generally amazing before we settle into building a career or life in general. To break from what is the normal thing to do and really test ourselves, it’s something we’ll be telling our grandkids about.

Sam: To experience a river, living in the wild and for the adventure. At times it will be just Matt, Harry and I for miles around that’s a very exciting idea. A much better gap year then holidaying around South East Asia.

6. How have you being training for this?

Matt: It’s not kayak specific but for I am training for my first marathon in April. I’ve ran a few 10km races before but that is mentally nowhere near as challenging as this marathons going to be, it is sort of like a test I’ve set myself to pass before I book my flights to America. As for kayaking this summer we should have our P& H kayaks are we’re planning a few jaunts in the UK.

Harry: Due to my sporting commitments in my university hockey team (where I captain the 1stteam) my Kayak training has been minimal but with hockey I am keeping fit and with the gym I am keeping my strength up for the mission.

7. What will you be packing?

Matt: The camping essentials like stove, some cooking utensils, our hammocks, head torch and a lot of industrial strength insect repellent!

Sam: Aside from our P&H kayaks we will have all our kit packed into some great Overboard dry bags, so as not to get kit like our cameras from Sport-Cam and hammocks from Hammock Bliss wet. We will also take the usual array of kayaking gear from bouncy aids to trunks and paddles. Along with the ever important SeaSpecs sunglasses.

Harry: Well we’ve got restricted space in our Kayaks so the essentials are being packed (food, hammocks, our stoves etc) but I’m sure I can sneak in a few snacks and chocolates (I’m known as ‘snack attack’ at home). Oh and also a picture of my dog Pablo.

8. Is the plan to do the challenge after finishing university and then return after two months and go job hunting or is there more to come?

Matt: Tough question, the Mississippi Challenge definitely has potential to be a life changer, after doing something like this I’m pretty sure I’ll be hard to go just say ‘that was great now let’s go work in an office’. Nevertheless I’ve applied to study the law and ultimately to train as a solicitor when I return, which is something I’m excited about and I really think I can apply myself to, whether this experience changes that plan we’ll have to wait and see.

Sam: Everyone is different from me it’s a question of we will see how this one goes. I am hopefully going to have an internship after uni until I go, I also have my last stage of the Army application process this summer so that is still a priority but the idea of a career in adventure and expeditions would be amazing.

Harry: Right now that’s the plan but, fingers crossed, after we complete the challenge the adventure bug may hit and we could indeed see more coming your way.

9.How serious are your families, sponsors, everyone taking on three young lads going off on an adventure? 

Matt: Family and friends are have recently hit a kind of turning point, in the sense that until a couple of months ago they may have perceived our idea as just that a cool idea that probably won’t come to fruition. I think perhaps my parents are still under that illusion! But the teams now put a lot of time and effort into the project and its starting to show, we are now active on the big social media sites have a nice website and 5 brilliant sponsors and we’re getting donations coming in now.

Sponsorship wise we’re a tough sell, we appreciate and try to counter that, we’ve got no expedition experience, no big name to rely on and we’ve been ignored and knocked back a lot but through all that every now and again we’ll get that awesome phone call or email from a company that’s excited about our trip and completely behind us!

Sam: For me at first my dad especially would answer every remark about the journey with a “will believe it when we see it” kind of remark but as more and more of the sponsors came on board with the journey I think my family is a little surprised. They are of course behind me if not a little worried about alligators and deliverance style banjo players!

Harry: Our sponsors are incredibly supportive and in great admiration of what we’re undertaking. My family is also being very supportive with my dad all for it but my mum and sister Alice are weary of the ‘gators’ even when I tell them that’s why we’re sleeping in hammocks!!

10. Have any of you attempted anything on this scale before? 

Sam: Not of this size! I think he longest I have lived outdoors for is a couple of weeks on various adventurous training exercises and training with the Officer Training Corps at uni. Nothing like 2400 miles to get us use to being outside all the time though!

Harry: Not even close. I think the closest I have ever been to something like this is driving to University.

11. How did you go about convincing sponsors?

Matt:  Rule number one for us is being honest; exaggerating what we can offer would be silly in the long run. We tell potential sponsors what we are currently doing to gain exposure for our expedition and our future plans, how we intend to involve people interested in our project from the river, and where there logo/name/product will feature. We also keep active on sites like Facebook and Twitter trying to increase our audience and connect with potential sponsors on these sites.

Sam:  It’s an interesting process some companies come back straight away sounding very excited and others you seem to disappear the trash button is even easier then throwing a proposal in the bin! We have been very lucky with the sponsors who have come on board and there are some more hopefully in the pipeline!

Harry: We did our background research and found adventurers who have used certain sponsors that help these types of expeditions. So we targeted these companies and highlighted the positive exposure we would be bringing in.

12. What is your plan to document the trip? 

Sam: Sport-Cam is providing us with a video camera and we will try and make as many video diary type videos along the way as long as each of us having a blog, this is one of the most exciting parts for us its how we keep any followers we get and hopefully grow the numbers interested in our journey and even better the number of people donating for the charity.

13.Have you guys talked to Dave Cornthwaite or any of the other adventurers who have done something similar to what you are going to do? 

Matt: It didn’t take us long to come across Dave once we started researching the Mississippi and we’ve been nagging him for info and tips ever since, the poor guy! He is quite simply an invaluable source of information for our trip and his videos from the river always give me that gut feeling of pure excitement. We’ve also been chatting to three kayakers who go by the team name Midlife Kayak, they’re going to be circumnavigating the UK this summer, they’re pretty experienced touring paddlers and they’re also raising cash for Help for Heroes, we’ll definitely be joining them on the water when they come by the Suffolk coast.

Sam: It’s almost a little embarrassing but Dave became a bit of a team Hero as he was going down the Mississippi his website very quickly became a homepage. We have had a few conversations with him and it’s been very handy to have someone who has been there and done that on the other end of an email.

14. What is the plan for food, sleeping etc? 

Matt: Our diet probably won’t deviate that far from our current student one thinking about it ie. Tinned food and take away! We’ll be taking a lot of boil in the bag type food, and high calorie snacks we can eat out on the water as opposed to landing and firing up the stove. We’re currently searching for a company to sponsor some expedition type dehydrated or boil in the bag grub. The main criterion for food is simplicity; the last thing you need after 8 hours paddling is hassle making your evening meal, but food is also a big part of motivation especially for 3 lads in their 20’s.

We’ll be spending most of our nights on the banks of the river in our Hammock Bliss Sky tents. These consist of a nice big hammock which is hung between two trees inside a mosquito net and covered by a rain sheet that hung above the hammock and pegged into the ground.  The advantages of the hammock being you don’t need flat, clear ground as you would to pitch a tent, they’ll be nice and cool when the humidity hits us down in the southern states and we’ll be up out of the reach of the Mississippi’s alligator community!

Harry: The Mississippi winds its way through the whole of America so food wise we can stop off along the way to gain food and water, but at the beginning of the descent we will need to ration as it’s quite isolated. Also my uncle loves a good day out fishing so we’re holding him to his deal to teach us fishing.  As previously stated we’re sleeping in hammocks. This is so the alligators can’t get us like in tents. They’ve been known to poke their heads in tents  looking for food!!!!!

15. How much of your own money is going into this?

Matt: We’re going to be covering everything sponsorship can’t really, at present that’s flights, visas, travel insurance, any food or accommodation and some electrical equipment we can’t get sponsorship for. So personal costs are likely to be over £2000, which means a long summer working in a warehouse unloading lorries for me!

16. How did you finally say ‘Lets actually do this’ as opposed to just dreaming of it? 

Matt: Well originally the project consisted of just myself and Sam and we’d always said after uni we’ll go on an adventure then last summer we we’re both doing pretty mundane jobs and I think that pushed us to just say let’s actually make this happen, I believe we were in the pub where most good ideas are born! Spending their summer working on a potato harvester together it didn’t take Sam long to rope Harry in after plans started gaining momentum. The time in and around university is also perfect for travelling, we have nothing tying us down and plenty of enthusiasm. I think things really clicked about a month and a fair few planning sessions after the idea was born, we’d put in about 3 hours work one night researching and emailing, I turned and said to the guys (excuse my language) ‘shit…. This is actually happening’!! That was an awesome moment.

17.Are the flights booked? When for? 

Matt: No not yet, my student loan can’t handle that strain right now! We’re working to an estimate of flying out in the first half of May 2013 at the moment.

18. How do you check in all that gear at the airport?

Matt: Luckily for us our kayak sponsor P&H and the paddle sponsor we’re hoping to confirm soon operate on both sides of the Atlantic so we’re avoiding any hideous air freight costs and borrowing that kit in the appropriate country. Otherwise we’re just going to be packing light and crossing our fingers at the check in scales!

Sam: No Idea could be more of a mission then the river! American customs are a pain, there was one time on a skydiving trip that they insisted on checking the inside of one of the parachutes so we opened the main canopy and the checked that, then they wanted to see inside the spring loaded reserve canopy. We warned them it was a bad idea and it would cost £150 to repack but they cracked on being the persistent people they are; when they pulled the handle the parachute flew out and broke the border guard’s nose.  Hopefully there won’t be any incidents like that on this trip!


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