Having no strict plan in place did not mean no planning was done, of course. With about 2,300 miles of river to choose from, we had to decide which section to paddle. We settled on the stretch just below St. Louis, in part because above St. Louis the Army Corps of Engineers has bottled up the river with locks and dams that stretch all the way to Minneapolis, making it more of a series of extremely pretty lakes than a rolling river.
What’s more, Missouri and Illinois are where, in a 190-mile stretch, the three great tributaries of the Mississippi come together. The Missouri, the Upper Mississippi and the Ohio can each lay some claim to being the true source of the mighty lower river of myth and mud: the roughly 1,300-mile Upper Mississippi, the river of the Great North Woods, has the historical claim to the name, but the Missouri, the “river of the West,” is, at more than 2,000 miles, the longest of the three by far.