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Big Muddy Adventures Founder Mike Clark Checks In From 'Quarantine Island'

Mike Clark set out in a canoe nearly a month ago to an undisclosed, isolated location on the Mississippi River.
Big Muddy Adventures
Mike Clark set out in a canoe nearly a month ago to an undisclosed, isolated location on the Mississippi River.
"Muddy Mike" and his dog, Dolly, pose for a photo on "Quarantine Island."
Credit Big Muddy Adventures
"Muddy Mike" and his dog, Dolly, pose for a photo on "Quarantine Island."

For most people, the main ingredients of social distancing and self-quarantine include the walls of one’s dwelling, a solid stash of groceries and a comfy couch. But Mike Clark isn’t most people. And when St. Louis-area officials began urging residents to shelter in place, the founder of Big Muddy Adventures and his dog Dolly headed for an unusual place: a spot he’s dubbed “Quarantine Island.”

The experienced canoeist and adventurer has lived on the remote island in the Mississippi River for nearly a month now, doing his part to flatten the coronavirus curve — and benefit the Gateway Resilience Fund while he’s at it. Big Muddy Adventures is encouraging people to pledge $1, $5 or maybe even $10 to the local COVID-19 relief fund for each day Clark stays put.

On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, he checked in with host Sarah Fenske from his temporary home. He started by describing the scope and characteristics of his wild surroundings.

“It’s a very big island, actually — one of the bigger islands in the middle and lower Mississippi River, and yeah, it’s teeming with wildlife, it’s very remote,” Clark said. “The river is not at flood stage, so there’s some sand, and the willows are blooming and the forest is coming alive.”

From a herd of deer, to the vibrant bird life, to turtles and beavers and snakes, it’s almost a kind of quarantine “zoo,” he explained.

Clark’s companion Dolly the dog was loving the experience until a few days ago, he said. At that point, it seemed that it all was becoming a bit too much for her.

“She’s an older dog and a pretty big dog, and when big dogs get older, just like me and everybody else, the joints start hurting,” Clark said. “And sleeping on the ground … she’s pretty protective, so she was kind of on alert all the time. So I think she just kind of wore herself out. So she’s on vacation from Quarantine Island. She’ll recuperate.”

In the meantime, Clark doesn’t anticipate leaving the island anytime soon.

“Everyone is under basically the same rules, and that’s the stay-at-home rules, and for right now I’m at home,” he said. “And like I said, I’m generally curious, and there’s a lot out here that if you’re a curious person, you can really entertain yourself and learn things, too.”

The talk show team checked in with Clark’s colleague Roo Yawitz earlier in the week to get a handle on how the fundraising aspect of the adventure is going.

As of Tuesday, Yawitz said, Quarantine Island pledges amounted to more than $2,100 to benefitthe Gateway Resilience Fund. And the fund as a whole continues to grow, with nearly 1,900 people and businesses thus far joining forces to raise a total of $1,056,000, including more than 1,110 individual donations.

Listen to the full conversation:

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Joshua Phelps. The engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.

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Evie was a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.