The journal of a grueling, risk-filled rafting trip down the Mississippi River, interspersed with the author’s still-vivid memories of his experience as a young marine in the Gulf War.
Eriksen, now an antiwar activist, had promised himself while in Kuwait in 1991 that he would make this river trip through the heart of America, and more than a decade later he makes good on that promise, partly to reconnect with his country and partly, in his words, to find himself. The Bottle Rocket, his homemade pontoon raft supported by plastic soda bottles and equipped with a pedal-powered paddle wheel, is too ungainly for the shallow waters of the northernmost part of the river, which he traverses in a canoe in August, but it serves as his home from September 2003 to January 2004. In October, he is joined by his ex-fiancée Jenna, who shares his hardships and both annoys and assists him. Life aboard a raft, with days spent dodging barges and floating trees and other obstacles, and nights usually spent outdoors in a sleeping bag, is rough, but people they meet along the way are often remarkably helpful, providing hot meals, showers and warm, dry beds. Woven into Eriksen’s account of this journey are his recollections of his gung-ho boyhood, his training as a marine and most of all his months in Kuwait, where the erstwhile warrior becomes a disillusioned, bored looter in a filthy, stinking, death-filled desert, outraged to find the enemy equipped with American arms. During the Iraq war, Eriksen, a member of Veterans for Peace, demonstrates from coast to coast against the rising death toll. What has been a gripping journal-cum-memoir becomes a tirade against the administration, its advisors and corporations that profit from war. Patriotic young Americans today, he says, are dying “not for freedom, democracy, or protection of the homeland, but for the profit and political survival of a powerful few.”
An uneven document, at times rich in the details of one man’s psyche and life in Middle America, at other times a raging op-ed piece.