Kayaker Hannes Zacharias will miss the solitude of spending months on the river — "something about the measured pace," he said — but he won't seek to repeat the solo adventure he just finished.
Zacharias paddled -- and partially hiked, drove, and rode -- as he followed water flowing east from the Continental Divide in Colorado to the Mississippi River and ultimately the Gulf of Mexico. He began the journey May 2,6 capturing snow from Tennessee Pass in Colorado that he poured into the Mississippi River Over Labor Day weekend.
Zacharias grew up in Dodge City and paddled from Dodge City to New Orleans in 1976 when he was a 22-year-old. He was determined that one day he would do the complete trip, following the water from Colorado to New Orleans.
This year found him between jobs as the former county manager of Johnson County and the future professor of practice at the University of Kansas' School of Public Affairs and Administration, so he undertook the adventure on the Arkansas River. His trip took him through western Kansas, and he reached Hutchinson on July 4. Where the Arkansas River was dry in Kansas, he traveled through the dry riverbed or toured communities and points of interest along the way.
For a stretch in August, persistent heat and humidity exacted a toll on him and he rented a U-Haul to haul his red kayak, while he visited communities. "Maturity kind of makes you make a better decision," he said in a phone interview Tuesday, as he was en route back by vehicle to Johnson County.
Around Little Rock, Arkansas, he saw more people on the river, but generally, he did not see a lot of recreation on the river. Barge traffic and supertankers were noticeable on the Mississippi.
Fulfilling this goal was a "kind of an emotional cleansing," he said. "I'm a social person," he said. "My desire to do long-extended trips by myself is past."
It rained a lot at the end and his wife, Marcia Higginson, and two of their three grown children, as well as friends, were there to cheer Zacharias as he reached the end Sept. 1.
He considered the adventure a "personal growth experience" and while more kayaking trips in Missouri or in Montana have been mentioned, they won't be long or solo journeys.