Inspired by my trainhopping experience and my 5th grade reading of Huck Finn, I traveled across country in my beat-up old pickup truck and built a raft out of trash and floated one of the largest fastest rivers on the continent. We survived and floated new rivers every year, launching whole punk raft flotillas. Now I'm an artist who floats major rivers in a homemade shantyboat gathering river stories.

I've traveled over 1000 miles in my shantyboat on the Mississippi and Tennessee Rivers and conducted over 85 oral history interviews and 100 hours of video in the last three years. This summer, I will be floating 500 miles on California's Sacramento River through the Central Valley.

Find out more about the project at http://peoplesriverhistory.us/

Ask me anything!

Updates: http://peoplesriverhistory.us/contact

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/wmodes

Insta: https://www.instagram.com/wmodes/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/peoplesriver

Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/wmodes

Comments: 2273 • Responses: 100  • Date: 

Xray_Mind3193 karma

What do you do for income? How do you stay alive just floating on a pile of shit down the river

wmodes2767 karma

Mostly, I am an artist and college prof.

As an artist, I really only make enough money to support the Secret History project. It more or less pays for itself (and me during summer months) through small grants, exhibition fees, and crowdsourcing.

As a college prof, I teach art and tech at several universities in the Bay Area.

RBSF821473 karma

You don't own a black mask and a bike lock do you?

wmodes118 karma

Absolutely.

IvyChem31 karma

Prof or lecturer?

wmodes130 karma

Adjunct prof, so uh lecturer. Which means in practice, I probably make less than your TA.

935b72eacbe2931 karma

This doesn't really answer how you finance the floating time. Inheritance? Sponsorships? Does teaching really pay you enough to live in your everyday house and also take long floating trips?

scurvydog8642 karma

Unfortunately, he probably won't answer directly because we will all be disappointed to learn he's actually floating down rivers on a pile of cash. Instagram is full of 'vagabonds' who road trip or travel endlessly. When asked, they all give the same generalized answer -- "I'm super frugal and adventurous!" In reality, people who do this have a wad of cash they live off, either something they worked hard for and saved or acquired because of a previous job. But telling us that they are drawing from $50,000 they have stashed away dispels the illusion of adventure and mystery. This isn't an alternative lifestyle, it's just a long vacation.

wmodes51 karma

Yeah, I only wish. Your direct answer is above but I hear that people who make insinuations about others in the internet aren't great readers. But that's only what I heard.

butts-ahoy12 karma

I don't think it costs much to float down a river on something you made out of free materials... He said he's a professor the rest of the year, it's reasonable to save up the rest of the year to cover very basic expenses for a few months.

wmodes16 karma

Some people aren't good at the reading. Thanks. I started it because I was poor and couldn't afford to fly to Cancun.

wmodes38 karma

I thought I had answered the question earlier in the thread. The project mostly pays for itself through small grants, exhibition fees, a few sponsorships and crowdfunding.

perc0lat0r1290 karma

How are your interactions with police?

wmodes2857 karma

With the punk rafts, we expected police to tell us to get the hell off the river. But the river cops were different than usual street cops and were REALLY INTO IT. They took photos and put them on their website and asked if we needed anything and at one point rescued one of our boats that sank. It was kinda unexpected.

wmodes1657 karma

With the shantyboat on bigger rivers, the police were more police-y. These are water cops who are out there issuing tickets to assholes for drunk boating (not that we've ever done that) and for fishing without a license. So they weren't as cool. They occasionally ran our license and checked our paperwork. But some were at times really cool.

BigTunaTim890 karma

I mean, you're on a raft. Is being drunk going to make much of a difference in your craft's course of travel? It's like getting a DUI in an Amtrak passenger car.

PS. this sounds like it was an absolute blast

Edit: this comment was submitted with tongue firmly in cheek. It's cartoonishly amusing to think of a raft just bouncing off the banks for a thousand miles but of course reality doesn't work that way. Please don't drink on the water. Alcohol makes you less buoyant.

wmodes708 karma

Total blast. Drunk on the raft -- propelled by paddles -- is not as big a deal as drunk on the shantyboat -- propelled by an outboard. But we do have a great bar on the shantyboat.

BenjaminGeiger258 karma

Serious question: is it legal to drink and row, or just not frowned upon as heavily?

wmodes96 karma

The drink of choice on the shantyboat two years ago was White Russians. Last year, G&Ts was favored. We invented the NAFTA.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BIfljicgMS3/?tagged=shantyboatguys

bluefrapp12 karma

The bar really comes in handy when we write drunk postcards.

wmodes78 karma

Receiving a drunk postcard from the river will be one of the Kickstarter rewards for the crowdfunding campaign in May.

TheRevEv42 karma

It's more like hanging out on the train tracks while drunk. These are big, navigable rivers. There are towboats pushing barges that can't exactly maneuver around drunks in little boats. Nobody wants to be responsible for pulling your dead body out of the water when it pops up between barges. And that does happen

wmodes66 karma

We always try very hard to be respectful of the professionals who work on the river. The towboat captains and lockmasters are the coolest people on the river.

aimedsil21 karma

This is how the river LE is here as well. They are only worried about people clearly endangering others with high speeds or just fuckin around next to barges. Mostly though, they just discourage being drunk on the river. As do I, really, because they are, 9 times out of 10, the people who caused the accidents. I'm really glad they encouraged your expedition! This was great. Just curious, did you care about the dirty ass, river water? I live beside the Ohio River and lots of people boat in it, swim, and fish in it. But it's not recommended to be in it for long periods of time, nor to eat anything from it.

wmodes55 karma

The water is cleaner than it's been in a century is what we're told by water experts. Still problems with agricultural polution, but gone are the days of every factory and city dumping their waste into the river. We swim all the time.

unloose_the_moose55 karma

Hit me up if you get near Memphis. I will buy you guys some beer.

wmodes54 karma

What river is that? Are yo on the Ohio? We will def do the Ohio at some point.

OH_Krill155 karma

How do you do what you do and not know where Memphis is?

wmodes67 karma

Sorry, I was thinking Nashville. haha, at some point we'll go down the lower Miss R. Very different river than the Upper Miss R.

We drove through Memphis twice to get to and from the Tenn R. Less exciting than boating through.

falconiform34558 karma

What did you eat? And how did you poop?

wmodes790 karma

We ate super well on the shantyboat with its full galley. As for poop, we have a bucket shitter in the head (with sawdust). When it gets half full, we hike far from the river and burry it's contents in a deep hole.

lmaoayee513 karma

Shiiiiit you telling me you haven't pooped in the river at least once?

wmodes36 karma

Fucking nast. No the bucket is fine. Though in practice we tended to go at the public restroom if there was one before we launched for the day.

SirLenzalot347 karma

Like in a common trope for a Saturday morning cartoon show; when you accidentally go down the wrong fork in the river that leads to a deadly waterfall that shouldn't exist, what is your plan?

But seriously, what did you mean by barely surviving?

wmodes344 karma

Well good news: Rivers tend to come together rather than fork. Small rivers turn into larger rivers. So it is not easy to take a "wrong turn."

That said, a wild river that doesn't have revetment (rock lining) along every bank, can sometimes be "braided." Meaning, intersecting channels that go between islands that chnage over time. If you read Huck Finn, you remember that Huck and Jim lost each other in the fog. That can happen, but most rivers are pretty tightly controlled.

wmodes252 karma

We look carefully at the charts and at maps and at google earth to make sure we are not going to encounter anything dangerous. If you want to see something terrifying IN THE MIDDLE OF THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER, look up "chain of rocks" on google earth.

Waydizzle59 karma

I looked this up on my phone and couldn't find anything terrifying. Could you describe it?

wmodes154 karma

Think a CHAIN OF ROCKS across the entire Miss R near St. Louis that is a strange geo formation and the remains of an old dam. Brave people sometimes shoot it in Kayaks, but it'd be death to any other kind of boat. There is a canal and lock that goes miles around it.

mreg21522 karma

dude why wasnt this rebar and concrete completely removed someone could get serious;y hurt or even die from this..

wmodes22 karma

It's fucking insanity.

remembernames12 karma

All I see is chain of rocks bridge... What should I be seeing?

wmodes39 karma

Find the deadly looking thing nearby that looks like whitewater across the whole river. It gives me nightmares to think about going over.

TiceTice315 karma

What was the most memorable close-call moment you've had while on the river?

wmodes577 karma

You mean, what is the "barely" in barely survived? So the first year 2005 we build a raft out of truck tubes and plywood. Never done it before. Didn't know if it would work. FIRST HOUR out we hit a navigation buoy which swamped the raft. When you get hung up on something, the river keeps going possibly OVER your raft. One of our crew dove in to push the raft off the buoy. After we freed it, our stuff was floating ALL OVER the river. It looked like a garage sale.

wmodes632 karma

Here's a comic I made of that very first day. http://thespoon.com/art/comix/downloads/good-ship-abandon-so-far.pdf

cloudcity218 karma

wtf this is amazing

wmodes247 karma

AND THAT'S ONE DAY

Zabhahs1 karma

Isn't that terrible for the environment? Like I get the recycle vibe but dropping trash as you go is a real shitty thing to do especially since many rivers are already suffering from pollution

wmodes10 karma

No, no, this was all stuff we needed. Sleeping bags, packs of food, etc. We paddled around and collected everything. But it was a humbling and educational experience. Note to self: Don't hit buoys.

HauschkasFoot312 karma

Have you ever thought about working with the television show, Hoarders, and start making yachts?

wmodes551 karma

Funny, when we are out on the river, people are always joking about buying the shantyboat. But since it took two and a half years to make, and used crazy irreplaceable reclaimed materials, it is hard to imagine anyone paying me enough to make it worth it. a quarter million? A half million? Right, it would have to pay for 2.5 yrs of my time and make a space in my career for me to create a new one. Is any 20 ft boat worth that much? I doubt it. So no, not likely to go into the boat biz.

Reality TV shows contact us regularly. In fact, the Secret History project was conceived after a promising reality TV offer fell through. But again it is hard to imagine them being able to make it worth it. They'd tell their fake stories, and contrived plot BS, and how would that effect the good, meaningful, and honest work I do with the project?

I_dig_fe177 karma

I like you a lot. Everything about what you just said. Should you ever decide to float the Detroit River give me a shout! I'll provide booze!

Edit: I'd also like to say I love your adventurous spirit. I've wanted my whole life to just move to the mountains and live off the land. Congrats on accomplishing your dream!

wmodes53 karma

Aw thanks. Tell me about the Detroit River. How long? Is it navigable?

LizzyTreename188 karma

The shantyboat doesn't look much like a "trash raft." Is it different from the rafts you used earlier?

wmodes172 karma

Yeah, you are right that it is more like version 4.0. The shantyboat was started after we'd floated the Missouri River in Nebraska and Missouri, the Willamette in Oregon, and the Sacramento River several times on trash rafts. I wanted something more permanent. Closest we got to the ocean was in the Santa Cruz Harbor where we launched in order to put it in dry-dock to work on the hull. It is strictly a river boat but has very small 5 to 10 inch skegs (which are like keels).

light24bulbs93 karma

Awesome! You can absolutely build something nice out of trash. Have you seen the movie "North of the Sun"? It's a peaceful norwegian movie about two boys who built a cabin on a beach and live comfortably through a harsh winter in complete darkness with nothing but garbage. Highly recommend it

wmodes68 karma

I haven't seen it, but I will def seek it out.

A good movie is the doc about Harlan and Anna Hubbard who made a shantyboat in the 50s and spent 5 years on it, stopping in summers to homestead. A serious inspiration for the project.

skuyler38 karma

I just wanted to say that I read your rafting (and trainhopping?) website like ten years ago when I was a wayward youth. Neat to see you pop up here

wmodes39 karma

Ha, I've heard that. Did it inspire you to be a miscreant and a neerdowell? My trainhopping site was up at a time when there were few websites with anything interesting.

This one? http://thespoon.com/trainhop/

bigbootyrob9 karma

did you bring the LSD?

wmodes28 karma

Nah, just stuck with booze. Though it was nice to have marijuana to gift to super awesome folks we met.

Giraffe736 karma

Shoot the next trip in 35mm ! It'll add so much more depth and feeling to the photos ! (These are awesome by the way...really fosters some feelings of jealousy and admiration!)

wmodes11 karma

That's a great idea. Space is so tight on the shantyboat though, it would be hard to have that equipment. As it is, I shoot with my DSLR.

Gibbonsia21 karma

The shantyboat still remains the coolest boat that has passed through our boatyard. It was a blast having you guys in and stoked to hear about the upcoming plans on the Sac, maybe I'll see you out there! Loved the AMA.

wmodes16 karma

Which boatyard on which river? I remember every one and all the cool people we met in each one.

Gibbonsia10 karma

We drydocked you in Santa Cruz. Hundreds of boats a year and a rare few stick out like yours.

wmodes9 karma

Ah, our own home yard! Absolutely. We'll probably be back in June. We love you guys.

anonyzcbm97 karma

[removed]

wmodes122 karma

If you find yourself anywhere near the Sacramento River in July, flag us down to say hello. We'll take you on a spin.

It is amazing that this is how I get to spend my summers!

LATL2125 karma

I live in Redding, will you be this far north?

Plundermistress91 karma

I live in the UK, if you ever accidentally cross the Atlantic and find yourself in England, let me know!

wmodes15 karma

Know anyone with a small canal boat that they'd be willing to loan for a really cool project?

wmodes21 karma

We could ALMOST start in Redding. I've put in on the Sac R from Redding in a canoe. There are some serious rapids and stuff between Redding and Red Bluff, so not great for the shantyboat. Come see us off June 1 in Red Bluff!

Phantasm197586 karma

Did you vote for Bernie Sanders?

wmodes116 karma

Got me.

BlueRope0183 karma

How could I get into doing something like this?

wmodes103 karma

Are you good at (or even half decent) at building things?

BlueRope0196 karma

I could build anything with the right tools and some time.

wmodes100 karma

There you go! The shantyboat is kinda big deal to build, but the trash rafts we made out of innertubes and construction plywood and hand tools.

quasifun53 karma

I am wicked smaht at Ikea. Does your boat involve glue, dowels and allen wrenches?

wmodes48 karma

In the shantyboat, everythng is glued (epoxied) and screwed.

iwas99x80 karma

How do you keep cool from the heat while on your raft?

wmodes250 karma

Sometimes we've thought we were going to die. An evening comes to mind where me and my ships mate were standing around in our underwear fanning each other with sheets of cardboard comes to mind. It was like the opening scene of a homoerotic porn film. Though in the end, we fled the boat and went to an air-conditioned bar for a cold beer.

It was also the same night we first encountered an insane mayfly hatch (imagine billions of flying critters swarming every streetlight and lying in 6-inch deep piles in the street) and an epic storm that nearly sank our little dingy.

Dodododoodoo37 karma

This was on the Mississippi wasn't it?

wmodes36 karma

Yup. I particularly remember The Night of Plagues near Lansing IA

satin_pajamas34 karma

And jumping into the river wasn't an option?

wmodes83 karma

Well, that was at night. In the day, we swim. It is at night after the wind dies when we flee inside from the bugs that we die in the heat.

KevelDevil42 karma

Have you ever done any oral histories of people who work in industries connected to the river? What was your most memorable interview? Did you hear any songs or poems in the interviews?

wmodes93 karma

For sure! Fishermen, clammers, tugboat pilots, lock and dam operators, geologists, river historians, water quality experts, marina owners, and artists.

There are so many that come to mind when you ask about memorable interviews. There was a woman last summer who grew up in a shantyboat on the Tennessee River above Knoxville. She told us that when she was 9 she shot a couple intruders with a shotgun. They scrambled to the bank and were yelling at her incredulously that she shot them. She said, "Well, come on back down here and I'll shoot you agin."

KevelDevil23 karma

Awesome! I'll check those interviews out. Thanks for helping make our work out there more visible- a lot of people don't know what we do.

wmodes24 karma

What do you do?

KevelDevil33 karma

Towboat deckhand, fleet work.

wmodes7 karma

We interviewed a local fella who worked out of Sabula IA, and another guy who did long haul work who had retired along the Tenn R. We made friends with Bob Deck who wrote a coupla books on piloting.

cccombo_break3r36 karma

How do you stop this from happening?

https://youtu.be/k_LFOflh5C0

wmodes27 karma

IT DO GO DOWN. It helps to have navigation charts and know the river.

LizzyTreename32 karma

How will you Navigate the Sacramento River with the dams on the river?

wmodes61 karma

We are launching below Red Bluff where the last dam is. It is still 500 or so miles to the SF Bay from there. We are more worried about shallow places though the shantyboat has a draft less than 15 inches.

klassiks45 karma

You picked a good year. Lots of snowpack. River should be full

wmodes31 karma

Great. We've dragged our rafts over shallows on some rivers, but thankfully not the Sac.

electrojesus900036 karma

You seriously need to start contacting the authorities in California to find out what conditions will be like. We've had record precipitation in California/Nevada, not seen since the Winter of 1982/83. All major waterways will be swollen and dangerous. Be careful.

wmodes6 karma

Since I'm from California, I've done long trips on the Sac R a bunch of times. So I'm pretty comfortable with it. But I will take your concern seriously.

wmodes23 karma

Still haven't found Sac River charts. Leads?

bluefrapp26 karma

What is it about the river that made you want to keep going after the raft experience, and the progress to a more sturdy boat?

wmodes72 karma

The river is amazing. You are seeing the backside of America. Areas not traversed by roads, people's backyards you were never meant to see. So beautiful and real.

The part I liked the most about the trash rafts were that we had primitive amenities: a comfy couch, a library in a milk crate, carpet lie on, sitting in the shade on a sweltering day. And I hated taking the rafts apart at the end. Sad, but also a lot of work.

So I craved having some more permanent vessel that was both primitive and luxurious, so I made the shantyboat!

CCCP_BOCTOK7 karma

What did you do with the materials after you took the trash raft apart? Did you throw them away again?

The reason I ask is that I have thought about doing something like that (Eugene OR to Oregon City on the Willamette -- maybe even portage around Willamette Falls and continue on to Portland -- so much fun to think about), and I've wondered what to do with the raft at the end of the trip.

wmodes13 karma

We saved the tubes which are collapsible, and donated the plywood or recycled it.

absentwonder24 karma

I work for South Dakota Missouri River Tourism and would love to have you come out here perhaps starting in Bismarck. While there are a few dam's the scenery out here is incredible and I think you would love the Lewis and Clark trail, Is this something you might be interested in?

wmodes14 karma

Tell me about the Bismarck River. Is it consistently navigable?

I love South Dakota. I was on the Missouri River very close to there.

AFatBlackMan21 karma

What was the most dangerous thing that you did/happened to you during your time trainhopping? Would you consider shantyboating to be safer?

wmodes38 karma

I'm not sure if it is safer. I know there is the myth of the dangerous wildeyed killer 'bo or the bloodthirty railroad bull, but most of the times you move through empty trainyards.

Maybe in both, you just have to keep alert and learn as much as you can as fast as you can.

Most dangerous thing was a stupid choice I made when I got on a train going the wrong direction and panicked and jumped off when the train was going too fast and conked my head enough to draw blood and make me woozy. I realized that I could easily have been killed and took it much more carefully after that.

dissenter_the_dragon18 karma

hi. did girls try to sleep with you because you were doing the trash raft thing? and if so, what kind of girls wanted to sleep with you?

wmodes28 karma

Considering this as your new pick-up strategy? No, we got lots of attention from everyone (including sometimes from cops) but no special attention from the ladies.

In fact, my partner was with me as ships mate for several weeks during last year's journey (on the shantyboat, not a trash raft) and that was awesome. She might answer some questions here.

Gallipolied17 karma

Did you ever encounter any dangerous animals during your trip? If so which ones and were any of the encounters life threatening?

wmodes43 karma

No dangerous animals unless you mean people driving large yachts who come to close and nearly kill us.

We DO see lots of cool critters you don't normally see: Beavers, water rats, otters, one billion birds, swans, egrets, herons, I don't even know all their names.

wmodes24 karma

And a crazy wild non-native mouse-looking thing that is as bit as a cat in Oregon. What's that called?

TheBlueZebra14 karma

Nutria?

wmodes8 karma

Yes! That's the one! Kinda like the river rats (critters not the people) on other rivers.

CaptainStarshine15 karma

When trainhopping did you jump into boxcars? I almost tried it when i was traveling but was afraid to because I was told i had to prop the door open. I was told people can get stuck in Boxcars and starve to death because they Can go unchecked for weeks on end. Is this true?

wmodes12 karma

Yeah, that is true. You should carry a railroad spike to jam into the door so it doesn't accidentally close on you. Riding boxcars is my fave.

LizzyTreename13 karma

Ok but why though?

wmodes74 karma

Adventure? Seeing the beauty of the rivers? To spend lazy days fishing and reading and playing? All good.

LurkMcGurck11 karma

First of all, I wanna congratulate you on your general badassery. I had a friend like you and we both had wild ideas of floating from St Louis to New Orleans on that mudpile of a river. I was always the "rational" one (basically the fuckin naysayer party pooper), but after I graduated we went on a road trip through the western half of the country, and it was by far the happiest I have ever been. I don't have half the courage I did when he was alive. What would you say to someone that wants to have these adventures and absolutely adores them when they happen, but doesn't have the courage to go it alone?

wmodes9 karma

Good question. Make a friend like me, the guy who says "No, it'll be fine. Totally. We'll be safe. It won't be a problem. Let's go!" not knowing for sure at all if it will be safe. I had a friend like you in our very first trip, the sensible one. Check it out: http://modes.io/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/good-ship-abandon-so-far.pdf

SirDiesalot_6211 karma

What inspired you to do it?

wmodes29 karma

I had hoped trains for years. And I heard about some kids who had built racky boats in Minnesota and floated down the Miss R to New Orleans. I wanted to do that.

And I read Kon Tiki when I was 9!

KevelDevil8 karma

As a Minnesota river deckhand, I hate to tell you that the "raft from Itasca to New Orleans on a trash raft" is a semi-yearly occurrence, with some brave new through-boater paddling uneasily through Saint Paul every year.

wmodes14 karma

I know a lot of those kids (who are largely not kids now). Some of them live on Latsch Island now near Winona.

iwas99x8 karma

How do you keep the bugs away, rivers have lots of gnats and mosquitos, do you have lots of bug spray and bug zappers?

wmodes23 karma

No bug zappers or course, but some bug spray, long sleeves and pants at sunset. On the shantyboat we finally got screens two years ago and that changed everything!

RoyalFatness8 karma

What sections of the Sacramento are you hitting? I live in the area and I know some of the sections are pretty sketchy from all the rain we have been having. Hopefully the flow goes down when your doing it!

wmodes5 karma

We are thinking from Red Bluff down to the Bay. How's that area look?

iwas99x8 karma

Which medical problems can and have happened while you were on the raft? What medication conditions do you have or are you healthy that being on the raft a long time isn't a concern for your health?

wmodes18 karma

Basic first aid is always helpful, like any camping trip. But so far, we've never had anyone cut off more than a few fingers. JK. No accidents so far.

machambo76 karma

Stolen Question: Are you pro-littering now that you got saved by trash? Should I stop putting my rubbish in the bin and throw it in the canal down the road instead?

Credit: u/STINKYnobCHEESE

wmodes19 karma

For our trash rafts, the trash we used came mostly out of dumpsters, or surplus. For instance, we mostly used old truck intertubes lashed to dumpstered construction plywood.

Unfortunately, litter and trash washed into streams and rivers is a serious problem. After a particularly big storm, coming into Huntsville AL on the Tennessee River, the entire river was covered in garbage and sewage outflow.

The best solution I saw was Knoxville, TN who put floating booms over the mouths of every creek to capture the trash. Then they hired someone to sweep up that trash every few days.

Havvkins5 karma

What is it like learning the history of the locals that you sail by? Is it awkward, or are they eager to tell there stories? How does one get started doing something like that?

wmodes5 karma

People are super generous with their stories. Mostly I just explain to them what I am doing, ask a few questions, and then listen.

The Oral History Association has some great guidelines for gathering people's stories that I learned from: http://www.oralhistory.org/about/principles-and-practices/

iwas99x4 karma

Are you ever greeted negatively on your trips? If so, how often?

wmodes10 karma

Very very rarely. The shantyboat is so visually stunning that people are generally ridiculously generous and welcoming.

Ironically, it is sometimes curiosity that makes us hate people. When we are going downriver, people in large yachts sometimes get so close and throw up such a huge wake we have discussed outfitting the boat with cannons.

swaite2 karma

[Serious] Why?

wmodes1 karma

It is beautiful and adventurous and fun. The Secret History project, where we record stories of people who live on the river, is a meaningful collection that documents a vanishing lifestyle.

iwas99x2 karma

Which times of boats have you seen in the rivers that you get too close sometimes by accident?

wmodes3 karma

The barges are the most interesting. If you don't live near a river, this sounds fucking crazy. "The standard barge is 195 feet long, 35 feet wide, and can be used to a 9-foot draft. " Yikes, now imagine that they raft them up to 5 WIDE and 5 long pushed by powerful tugboats. That makes a craft that is a half mile long!

idk-lol2 karma

If you didn't survive would you be doing this AMA?

wmodes2 karma

Nothing could stop /r/IAMA

FlameBaggin2 karma

When was the first year you did this?

wmodes7 karma

The first year we did the punk rafting was 2005 -- amazing that it was so long ago now. But the first time we put the shantyboat in the water in the Miss R was summer 2014.

iwas99x1 karma

Have you given interview in the past to magazines, tv shows and radio shows? Are you going to promote your summer trip on radio shows, tv shows, and magazine interviews?

wmodes1 karma

Absolutely, we showed up in the UK Daily Mail last year and regularly give local and national press interviews, both TV and newspapers. We try to tell the local press we are coming, so people can find us who want to tell their river stories.

iwas99x1 karma

What materials are used to make your raft?

wmodes3 karma

The rafts were made out of old truck innertubes (make a friend at a tire repair shop) and construction plywood -- if you bring a case of natty light to a construction site at 4:30pm, someone will happily trade you for several sheets of used form plywood.

iwas99x1 karma

How do you do you get power on the raft? Solar power, batteries, both?

wmodes2 karma

The rafts had no power other than our forearms using canoe paddles to propel the raft. On the shantyboat, we have a small outboard and solar cells to charge the batteries.

squishynurse1 karma

What is your favorite kind of cheese?

wmodes9 karma

Jarlsberg swiss. Please send c/o Secret History Project, Felton, CA

BeardAfterDark1 karma

Any recommendations for someone interested in trying this for them self?

wmodes3 karma

Make a plan, make a raft, and pick a river. You can do it! We were dumb as dirt when we started doing this.

wmodes3 karma

Get a couple life vests!

Knotimpressed1 karma

What do you eat?

wmodes3 karma

On the shantyboat, we eat super well since we have a full galley. We might wake up in the morning and make a chorizo scramble with fresh veggies and strong coffee. For supper we might have fresh catfish with cheezy polenta. Yum.

We only had to stop every few days to replenish a few supplies.

On the rafts, we had a lot less space and facilities. It was more like backpacking food: pasta, couscous, granola, and so on.

lustywench991 karma

How about the Missouri River? I've always wondered how safe it would be to put a small boat on it (it seems a lot faster and swirling than other rivers I've seen).

However, if you did go down the Missouri, I'd definitely stand at the edge and wave. Well, when you got to where I'm at.

wmodes2 karma

The Missouri River was the first river we punk rafted on! It is one of the fastest rivers on the continent, about 8 to 12 mph.

I've always wanted to go back there with the shantyboat.

Where are you at? We went between Omaha and St. Jo.

elmuchocapitano1 karma

Did you get bored?

wmodes2 karma

I think boredom is powerfully creative. That said, we were bored less than we expected. For the project, I'm always making arrangements for interviews downriver, posting updates, and contacting museums and media. Plus taking care of the boat, navigating, staying safe, finding marinas or camping spots takes a lot of energy.

schmeckls1 karma

Whats the most dangerous situation you have encountered? Hoping for a exciting story!

wmodes3 karma

I think the storms that come up really quick on the river are the most gnarly. In chattanooga last year, we had a storm that was not only making 4 foot swells and swamping our decks, but driving wind that was coming sideways and pouring in through our window sills. The wind collapsed our canvas porch roof and we were too wise to go out to rescue it since we were afraid of being swept off the deck into the water where we'd probably be dead quick. We were wearing our life vests and discussing plans for abandoning ship in case it got worse. Yikes! It was genuinely scary.

iwas99x1 karma

How do Redditors help you financial to make your trip and record your stories of the people in the river areas?

wmodes2 karma

None, yet, but it is certainly always welcome. :-) We will be having a Kickstarter next month.

VPJOEY_B-4 karma

Do you think that this is an accomplishment worthy of an AMA?

wmodes2 karma

I hope so. What do you think?