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dearests,

i'm not exactly sure how i found myself steering a 105 foot armada of seven junk rafts looped together and adorned in sculpture down the mississippi river at five miles an hour while wearing black and red sparkly hot pants and a white derby with "live slow" written across my knuckles in red sharpie. minnesota on one side, wisconsin on the other, bald eagles and blue herons overhead, a kid who was a stranger only weeks ago below me trying to yell instructions over our sputtering biodeisel motors (named "jenkins" and "mortimer") wearing one fake gold clip-on earring, leopard print shortshorts and with toe nails paited electric pink to another kid wearing bloomers and a chauffeur(sp)'s cap. behind me another two are pedaling their way round and round the bike-powered ferris wheel hand-built by another member of the crew (i'm on the Miss Rockaway Armada, for those of you i've let drop out of the loop).

this is the adventure i've been planning and doubting, craving and fearing for the past couple months. our slow and snakey way down the river thus far has been through lush, tree-shaded beaches and small, quaint towns. when we arrive at the evening of a long day of travel, projects, building, explaining ourselves, what-have-you, everyone throws off their clothes and bounds up the ladder or the firepole to spring off the second floor of the junk raft and into the mississippi, whooping and hollering in elation.

this summer breathes adventures that lead to riding a little red BMX bike that says "ride fast, die hard" through the thick air and quiet night streets of any number of little midwestern towns, seeking dumpstered produce to feed thirty people, nails, bolts and line to keep together the piles of garbage out of which we have built a home, costumes to entertain.

i am trying to sum up the past three weeks, each day of which has been a lifetime of its own. for eight days we camped out on a riverside compound in minneapolis (hosted by some incredibly generous people who let us set up shop and take over their lives for no cost) while we built three 16x20 foot pontoons out of second-hand building materials and foam, added a second floor to the middle rafts, built on a shitter raft, a ferrisd wheel/sound system raft, a bike raft and a temple of solitude, lashed them all together, worked out the logistics of powering the whole mess with two VW rabbit engines converted to run on biodeisel and gussied the whole thing up to look like two fish skeletons meeting in ephemeral bubble fins and covered with a tarp of colorful umbrellas. since we left the compound and committed ourselves to the mississippi, it's been a whirlwin of knot tying, singing, cooking, wading in muck, motor troubles, sandsandsand, beer, campfires, explaining ourselves to a slew of friendly boaters and townspeople, breakdowns, complications, euphoria, pirate-style accessorizing, communal living, playing the knuckle tattoo game (i'll explain to those who are curious), wet shoes, being in the present, being adrift, steering the raft through a lake during a thunderstorm, sunburns, sleep deprivation, ideas shared, plans changed, our pet duck, Puspus, dance parties as we move through the locks, an accordion as alarm clock, bruises, body odor, burns, finger picking, old broadway tunes sung under whiskey breath, cowboy coffee, kisses.

after a full evaluation and thumbs up from the coast guard, the comment was "i wouldn't be caught dead on that thing, but it sure looks like fun." a shop keeper in Redwing said, "they dress real weird but they're very nice." and everywhere we go, it's "are you kids from that raft?" are we so obvious? river towns. river water. river sand. river lore. river air. river people. this is the first time in ages that i have let go of any sense of when and where i am going. the word is adventure. slow, steady, open adventure. and as for things i've never done before, things i never thought i'd do. i sang in front of people in a fairy castle. i held the slippery handle of an innertube and the slippery hand of a boy, dragging behind a jetski going 40mph. i crawled through the sewer caves under an island in minneapolis, jumped off rope swings too high to be safe, covered myself in mud and chased after someone in a blue gorilla suit. i was the raft's resident expert driver. it's the trip of overcoming fears. a fearless, directionless, timeless mission to st. louis, to new orleans, to africa.

as for the project itself, the (lack of) sustainability of it, the show we were supposed to put together which is still in skeletal form, the enormous gap between what we said we would accomplish and what we are actually able to do, it is all a lesson in something or another. i have learned how absolutely kind people can be to strangers. we show up and spill out into towns unannounced, dirty and in our underwear and people bring us food, beer, clothes, rope, music. yesterday a man stopped his car and got out to play us his banjo from the road as we drifted by. a little girl got on board and became a pirate.

we unintentionally solicit stories and ideas, nostalgia and hope from people zooming past us in the river. countless old ladies have said to me "if i was 50 years younger, i'd hop aboard." we're in winona, mn. for the next few days. it's our first real destination acheived.

i have only checked my e-mail twice on this trip, but i urge every one of you to write me anyhow. i want to share this because i think it's one of the most beautiful things i've been a part of. i'm not sure how much longer i'll be on the raft- i'm sure it will take months to get to new orleans, but i know i won't last too much longer. the intensity level has shot through the roof. has always been. but i love living most of my life outside, peeing between two rafts into the moving water, finding a way to be alone while surrounded by (some of the best) people (i've known). being somewhere new every day. somewhere i would never have a reason to go.

yes, well. i look forward to hearing from you. there are many more stories to tell.

love,
gillian









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