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Arts & Life

Kayakers Backtrack In The Footsteps Of Lewis & Clark

Blackwater Drifters
Joe Zimmerman (right) and filmmaker Nick Caiazza (left) standing near the start of their nearly 4,000 mile kayaking journey.

More than 200 years ago, Lewis and Clark launched their expedition on the Missouri River with $2,500, bringing back stories about lands most Americans had never seen. Dipping his toes in history, Joe Zimmermann will launch an expedition of his own lifetime — a 21st century effort complete with a kayak, GPS trackers, a documentary filmmaker and $15,000 in donations.

Calling themselves the Blackwater Drifters, Zimmerman and filmmaker Nick Caiazza are moving downstream west to east, in the opposite direction of Lewis and Clark. After starting their trip in Brower Springs, Montana, they’ll make it to the Missouri headwaters. From there it’s down to the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico.

Credit Blackwater Drifters

If they complete their trip, they’ll have paddled the longest navigable waterway in North America. Zimmerman, a resident of Denver, said every inch of the rivers have been seen and explored. But there’s still plenty to look at from a scientific perspective.

“There’s almost a new realm of exploration — exploring how pollution has affected our waterways,” said Zimmermann, who along with Caiazza hope to film a documentary about nonpoint source pollution effects.

“That’s the focus, to be able to start in Montana… we’ll be able to fish and eat the fish to points where the mercury levels will be so high where we can’t eat the fish,” said Caiazza.


The pair will have four cameras, sound equipment, and batteries in addition to the food and clothing they’ll need to make it to the Gulf of Mexico.

The 21st century expedition is attempting to maintain old school roots with a vow to walk or kayak the entire way. Zimmermann said that means no hitchhiking through the challenging parts.

“When I started daydreaming about Lewis and Clark I envisioned them paddling the entire way up,” he said. “In modern times, there’s actually 16 dams that Nick and I will have to take our boats out of the water, carry them, and put them back into the river on the other side of the dam, which will also be a big challenge.”

Zimmerman and Caiazza plan to blog about their experiences along the way, posting updates on Blackwater Drifters. While it took Lewis and Clark four years, they expect their trip to take at least five months. Going with the flow helps.

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