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Trio to launch home-built raft on Huckleberry Finn adventure

Brothers Josh, from left, and Ben Monson and friend Matt Folkedahl are launching the home-built raft they call the "Sea Monkey'' on the Mississippi River in Bloomington today. The threesome is embarking on a 2,000-mile trek to New Orleans. Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny

By day's end, they will know if they've taken off on a Gilligan's Island-style, three-hour tour, or a true adventure fitting of Huckleberry Finn.

Ben Monson, 23, his brother, Josh, 25, and their friend, Matt Folkedahl, 23, all of Willmar, are launching their homemade raft today on the Mississippi River in Bloomington. Their destination is New Orleans, 2,000 miles downstream.

"I didn't think I could not show up to this adventure,'' said Josh Monson as he arrived to help with the final preparations on Friday.

They began building their 12-foot-by-16-foot raft last April on the south shore of Diamond Lake.

The three sailors gave the raft they call the "Sea Monkey'' its maiden voyage around the Kandiyohi County lake just a couple of weeks ago.

Today, their plans are to haul the two-pontoon craft to a landing at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers, and begin the adventure.

Ben Monson figures they spent all of $300, maybe $400 on the lumber, tarps and other makings of the craft. Friends loaned them everything else they needed, from boat motors to a propane stove and grill for life aboard the raft.

"I think I'm the chief financial sponsor,'' laughed the brothers' dad, Bruce Monson, as he watched them struggle to maneuver the craft Friday on a windy Diamond Lake.

The idea of rafting the Mississippi River has been a dream of Ben Monson and Folkedahl since their high schools days. Neither recalls exactly when or why they were inspired to do it.

They got real serious about it last winter. "We knew that after this year we were going to have real jobs,'' Folkeldahl said.

Ben Monson finished his studies Friday in biomedicine at St. Cloud State University. Folkedahl will be headed to St. Cloud Technical College for his final year of studies in drafting this September.

Josh Monson found himself laid off from his job, making his decision to join the adventure all the easier.

Ben Monson is carrying a copy of Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn" along with him, but this rafting adventure is clearly a modern-day story. The original goal was to "go green,'' Monson said.

He had hoped to rig up an entirely green-powered craft for the float.

They are coming close to the goal. An electric motor pulled from a golf cart will provide most of the thrust for the trip. A bank of batteries they intend to charge each night at marinas or at the homes or businesses of people they meet on the way will be used to power the motor.

Ben Monson is also wiring two solar cells he bought "cheap" over e-Bay to help charge the batteries. He also rigged up a bicycle-powered generator. The adventurers can help charge the batteries by taking turns on the stationary bike.

When in trouble, they can fire up two small, gas-powered motors loaned to them by a Diamond Lake neighbor for the trip.

They're giving themselves six weeks to make the trip so that Folkedahl can get back in time for school. They want to make 40 to 50 miles a day, and expect it will require 10 hours each day to do so.

Monson said he checked with the Coast Guard about the trip. He licensed the raft in Willmar. "They gave me one funny look,'' he said when he answered "Ben Monson Original'' for make and model of craft.

Keeping with the modern theme to this story, they will be connected to the Internet on the trip and will blog daily about the adventure. They hope too that their adventure will help inspire those following it to contribute to their favorite causes, the Lance Armstrong Foundation and Special Olympics.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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