Hope on the River, John Wooden, River Valley, Erich Mische

Erich Mische, executive director of Spare Key, left, and John Wooden, owner of River Valley Marine, talk about the work being done on the raft at the River Valley shop on Aug. 28, 2020. Mische will be back in Red Wing on Aug. 28, 2021. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia

One year after Erich Mische docked his leaky, makeshift craft en route to Louisiana, he will be back in Red Wing. This is time not for repairs, but to thank the community.

“Erich did survive the trip and has written a book about it. He will be at the Marine Museum this Saturday with his book and talking about his journey. Red Wing was a major supporter of Erich,” said Cindy Taube, a local resident who has volunteered with Spare Key for a decade.

The 2020 river adventure nearly ended when it began on Aug. 27.

Drifting into Ole Miss Marina that night, he got help the morning of Aug. 28 from John Wooden’s River Valley crew. They pulled the “Hope on the River” raft -- really a small wooden shed tacked to the base of an old pontoon -- out of the Mississippi. They installed a new motor, tuned up his 30-year-old, 2-stroke auxiliary motor, added a depth finder and basically made the raft safe to use, Mische recalled.

“It was like watching an Indy 500 pit crew,” Mische said. “I can’t say enough about John. … He’s emblematic of so many people I met along the river.”

That same day Taube connected Mische with Mike Wilson of the Red Wing Marine Museum. Wilson’s expertise in navigating the Upper Mississippi River’s idiosyncrasies and understanding of boat engines proved invaluable, the Spare Key executive director said. One handy tool that Mische needed -- and Wilson delivered when he checked on the raft in La Crosse, Wis. -- was that ubiquitous funnel that allows you to add oil so the engine runs.

“Other than St. Paul, Red Wing was kind of the epicenter of the journey’s beginning,” Mische said. “Without the help of John Wooden, Mike Wilson and Cindy Taube, this trip would not have happened.”

Now Mische is launching a 10-state tour for “Hope On The River: An Unlikely Captain’s 1700-Mile Mississippi River Journey on a Leaky Raft to Save His Nonprofit.” He’ll be at the Marine Museum signing copies at 2 p.m. Aug. 28, 2021. All the profits will go to benefit Spare Key, which serves families across the nation facing a critical illness or serious injury to pay their bills.

He’ll explain how he conducted the trip to raise awareness and funds -- some $275,000 in sponsorships and donations -- and how people touched his life during those two months.

He calls this “Hope on the River Part II.”

“My plan is to try get to as many of the places that I stayed, where I tried up, where I had people help me along the way,” he said. “This trip really is to go back and say thank you.”

People can follow along at www.hopeontheriver.com.

And no, he won’t be going by raft.

“Instead of a 50-year-old rotted-out pontoon, I’ll be traveling in a rusted-out yellow van,” he said. “Wish me luck -- thankfully I won’t need to pump water from the tubes.”

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