Nic Doucette is a man who likes a challenge.
In 2008, the Jefferson native joined the U.S. Marine Corps.
I was in Australia for a month, and after that, I deployed to Afghanistan with the First Combat Engineer Battalion, and we conducted a mission known as ‘route clearance,’ Doucette said. ‘During this next seven-month phase, our job was to drive down the roads, three to five miles per hour, and search for IEDs or Improvised Explosive Devices.’
During their tour, two of the men Doucette served with lost legs to IEDs. Doucette escaped that kind of injury and, when he returned home, went back to school at the University of Wisconsin Whitewater.
“We’ve got about a year and a half left (at UWW),”Doucette said. “I’m studying business management, and just kind of making my way through college.”
Still, studying didn’t give Doucette the kind of challenge he craved. He wanted something more.
“I was canoe fishing with one of my buddies one day, and I was like “Oh, we should really do something huge” Doucette said. ” I just needed another thing to do that was big and challenging, so I kind of pitched the idea.”
Doucette’s idea was to kayak the length of the Mississippi River. Along the way, he would raise money for the Semper Fi Fund, an organization that helped injured Marines.
In Summer 2014, Doucette began his trip in the headwaters of Minnesota, accompanied by a friend and fellow Marine, Gabe Vasquez.
“Gabe, we served with the first tank battalion together,” Doucette said.”I get out of the Marine Corps a couple days before you leave. I’m coming with you.”
The first few miles of river were challenging.
âIn the beginning, it was a little difficult being in the headwaters: no communication, no way for anyone to get ahold of me if I did have something go wrong,â Doucette said. âThere was really no way for me to call out to anyone for help, so that messed with me for maybe a day, and after that it was just, I had to get to Bimidji.â
Weather provided its own challenges
âWe did experience a lot of flooding going through Davenport,â Doucette said. âA lot of Iowa was flooded. South of St. Louis, the river widened up. There was no more lock-and-dams that are preventing the flow from going south, so everything kind of smoothed out from there.â
On many nights, Doucette and Vasquez slept in tents near the river, but on other nights, they were treated to the hospitality of others, often other veterans.
âIn Vicksburg, Mississippi, there was a group of twenty people that came out and met us on the shore, and they threw together a catered dinner for us,â Doucette said. âIt was way more than anything we ever expected on the trip.â
In all, the journey took 71 days and covered 2,340 miles.
âWe were probably about ten miles away, and thatâs when you could see this sliver of the ocean kind of opening up, where you couldnât see anything past the land,â Doucette said. âI knew that was the end, and I could physically see that there was no more river for me to paddle.â
Within a few days, Doucette was back in Wisconsin and back in School. By September, he had raised about $17,500 for the Semper Fi Fund. He had lost 21 pounds on the trip.
âIf I see someone in a situation like that, thereâs no way I canât stop,â Doucette said. âI have to stop and help them out in some way or another, because I feel like I owe so much kindness from what was given to us on our entire trip.â
For more on Nicâs journey and mission, visit his websiteÂ Mississippi River Trip 2014.
More stories, information, and resources for returning veterans can be found atÂ Veterans Coming Home.
Below are a sampling of photos taken during the two-month plus trip.