Local men rowing Mississippi River, visiting classrooms during 2,340-mile trip

The record-setting adventure team founded by former University of Puget Sound rowers recently launched its latest adventure in education, this time in the land of Mark Twain.

OAR Northwest put in at Lake Itasca in Minnesota on Sept. 2 beginning a nearly three-month expedition to travel the length of the Mississippi River.

UPS graduates Jordan Hanssen and Pat Flemming were among those who set off on the canoeing portion of the 2,340-mile trip. The men will eventually switch to rowboats. On Sept. 21, Bellingham physical therapist Greg Spooner, also a UPS graduate, will join the team.

Adventure filmmaker Markus Pukonen and biologist Max Finkelstein, both from Canada, also are part of the crew.

When the expedition reaches the Gulf of Mexico before Thanksgiving, Hanssen says he plans to continue on alone to Mobile, Alabama, where he was born.

As part of the journey, the team launched rowboatclassroom.org, where people can track the team’s progress, watch educational webinars and download free curriculum.

The group is also stopping to make appearances in classrooms along the way. Spooner says the team has 15 school visits lined up, at least one in every state along the Mississippi except one. They’re still hoping to arrange a visit in Kentucky.

OAR Northwest’s goal is to make “Adventure: Mississippi River” an annual trip that “inspires students to experience an adventure in their local environment, understand the potential environmental impacts of their actions, and engage the rich history and diversity of species along the Mississippi River and its immense watershed.”

Hanssen, OAR Northwest’s president, hopes to have opportunities for others to make future expeditions either with them or in their place.

OAR Northwest formed as a non-profit in 2005 and it’s first expedition was a transatlantic rowing race in 2006. The four-person team won the race and earned a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Other adventures have included circumnavigating the Olympic Peninsula and Vancouver Island. They partnered with the Canadian Wildlife Federation in 2013 in an attempt to row from Africa to Miami. Their boat capsized before completing the trip and they were rescued by the Coast Guard.