Pittsburgh man on kayak trip to Gulf Coast

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Mark Oddo left Pittsburgh last Tuesday in a kayak on a river trip he anticipates will end up in Mobile, Ala., in two or three months.

“I’m not in a rush,” the 25-year-old East Liberty resident said. “I talked to a lot of people who do these trips. Most of them go 16 hours a day, don’t stop to talk to people. I plan to enjoy myself along the way.”

So far, Mr. Oddo has spent an average of a little more than 12 hours a day on the river. Stopping to talk to people already has paid off for him.

“People on the river are really nice,” he said. “They offer food and beer.”

That’s good, because there isn’t much room in his kayak for supplies.

“I’ve got about 20 pounds, a sleeping bag, a yoga mat — which really isn’t very comfortable to sleep on — cooking gear and some tools, and a ukulele and a harmonica for entertainment,” Mr. Oddo said. “I figure less is more. I tear off pages on my map when I don’t need them any more.”

He’s not the first to head down the rivers in a paddle-powered vessel. In 2011 Michael Cherian of West View, then 29, rowed the 1,888 miles from Pittsburgh to New Orleans in a 17-foot Grumman canoe he’d modified with pontoons for extra stability, propelled by 9-foot oars he made himself. Mr. Oddo’s kayak is 11 feet long.

Mr. Cherian also found friendly people along the way. The most “amazing” part of that trip, he said, was the amount of kindness he received from the people he met along the way.

“I heard some bad things about the Mississippi,” Mr. Oddo said, so from the Ohio River he plans to paddle onto the Tennessee River at their confluence near Hopkinsville, Ky. From the Tennessee, the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway will take him to Mobile, Ala., on the Gulf Coast.

The current on the Mississippi is “two or three times faster” than on the Ohio, Mr. Cherian said. And the mosquitoes on the lower Mississippi were hellacious. Because he’s traveling so much later in the year, that shouldn’t be as much of a problem for Mr. Oddo.

Mr. Oddo has gone off on other long trips before — to Montana, New Orleans, California — camping along the way. But those adventures were by car. Traveling by kayak, “There’s a lot more danger, which excites me,” he said.

Reared in Irwin, he plans to return to Pittsburgh, but it may be some time before he does.

“I figure to get a job when I’m down South, save up a bunch of money, figure out how to get back,” Mr. Oddo said. To save up for this expedition, he worked “at an auto body shop, at Kayak Pittsburgh, and did some farming.”

Ohio River to the Gulf Coast

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