by Britt Aamodt
“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did.”
Mark Twain said that. And Jim and Pat Rossman took the American humorist and former riverboat captain’s advice to heart when, on Sept. 15 of last year, they drove from Elk River to Lake City, boarded their boat and weighed anchor for a trip down the Mississippi and beyond.
Their aim? To push south to the Gulf of Mexico, hook around the toe of Florida at the Keys, head up the Eastern Seaboard by way of the Intercoastal Waterway, then cut through New York, Canada and Illinois en route to the Mississippi and home.
“It’s called the Great Loop,” says Pat, first mate to husband Jim’s captain.
The Loop is shorthand for the circumnavigation of the eastern half of the United States. Loopers, as they’re called, devote months of their lives to the waterborne circuit.
Until 2010, Jim operated Rossman Financial in Elk River. Pat worked for Boston Scientific out of Arden Hills. Hardly the training ground for a skipper and first mate. But for many years the Rossmans owned a home on the Mississippi. Summer weekends were spent with their kids on the water.
Like a lot of Minnesotans, they started with lakes. Then someone suggested the Mississippi.
“When you’re on a lake, all you do is go in a circle. But on the river, you feel like you’re going somewhere,” says Jim.
They were hooked. Soon they were old hands at the stretch between St. Cloud and Coon Rapids.
“Coon Rapids is as far as you can go because of the dam,” says Jim. “Without the dam, you could go anywhere.”
The idea of heading out of Elk River and ending up at the Gulf of Mexico thrilled the Rossmans. Jim got involved with the Mississippi River Commission and supported arguments to remove the dam when it fell in need of costly repairs. But the tide turned against removal.
“So I gave up. I said forget it,” says Jim.
Maybe the Rossmans couldn’t move the dam, but they could dock their 2655 Bayliner Ciera, christened ARiverDerci, south in Lake City. And from there, they could go almost anywhere.
They decided on the Loop. The first part of the excursion, lasting three months, would take them to Florida. Departing in fall, they carried the season south with them.
“For two months we were surrounded by colored leaves,” says Jim.
Along the way they encountered other river riders. There was Jim from Missouri, piloting a boat he’d built himself and heading to Minneapolis to visit a gal he’d met bicycling the United States.
And there was Kevin, a retired police lieutenant from Minnesota, whose boat, the River Rat, looked oddly familiar. The Rossmans had met the owners of its sister ship, both originating from Stillwater, earlier.
Pat chronicled all 2,305 miles of the first leg on their blog. It racked up over 4,000 hits from viewers as far away as China and Siberia. She posted photos of pelicans and manatees, and detailed their own version of a Perfect Storm.
“We’d crossed into Mobile Bay with another boat. We said, ‘Let’s all stop at the bottom of Mobile Bay and have a farewell,’” because the next day they’d part company, remembers Jim. “The marina was empty. The water was smooth as glass.”
After dinner, they returned to their boats and to bed. The calm broke in the middle of the night when winds whipped up a storm that sent waves crashing over the breakwater. Jim had to lash 12 lines to ARiverDerci to keep her from breaking up. The crew and ship made it out unscathed.
But by the holidays, the couple was ready to fly home. They dry-docked the boat in Florida and gave up 80-degree heat “for the first big snowstorm of the season,” says Pat.
The Rossmans’ Loop will resume Feb. 18 when they board a flight to Fort Myers Beach and make their way up the coast. They don’t know when they’ll finish the Loop, just that they will.
“Because seven months of winter?” Pat asks, staring out at their snow-filled yard. “Maybe we’ll turn the boat around and spend next winter in the Keys.”
Rossmans’ Loop can be followed on website
Follow the Rossmans on their Great Loop journey at: Rossmansloop.wordpress.com