For five months now, Aaron Carotta has paddled down two great rivers and lived out of his canoe in an epic trip from the mouth of the Missouri River to the Atlantic Ocean.
The 39-year-old LaPlace native has lived a life of adventure since a cancer diagnosis in 2008, traveling the world as "Adventure Aaron" and filming his exploits for international television.
However, this latest trek isn't for the TV screen. Carotta is seeking to set the world record for a solo canoe trip, and he's promoting "I'm Adopted," an online community for adopted children created by a friend.
"I hopped in the canoe and tossed it to the man upstairs," said Carotta, while resting and waiting for the weather to improve on Lake Maurepas earlier in November. "I really didn’t know where it was going. I just had an idea it was going to be something special."
Born in south Louisiana while his parents attended Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Carotta grew up traveling across the country following his father's career in Catholic education.
In 2008, Carotta was diagnosed with testicular cancer. After receiving treatment, he quit his job appraising real estate in south Florida and began traveling the world.
Carotta has visited 83 countries, and had almost as many adventures. He ran with the bulls, swam with sharks and bungee jumped. Along the way, he recorded his exploits with a video camera and wrote about his life.
His videos and blog led to a new career — hosting and producing adventure television, first in New Zealand, then in the United States for MAVTV. He created "Alive! With Adventure Aaron" in 2010 and then "Bucket Wish," which paired Carotta with sick children seeking adventure. His third show, "Catch and Cook," featured Carotta bagging wild game that was then prepared by a chef.
"It was unbelievable," he said. "New Zealand was definitely the most intense."
After "Catch and Cook" ended in 2014, Carotta tried settling down in Omaha, Nebraska, but he became restless again and started planning another journey.
On June 30, he began paddling the Missouri River in Montana, which took 80 days, before hitting the Mississippi River near St. Louis. He camped wherever he could and ate cans of Chef Boyardee.
Before the trip, Carotta had almost no paddling experience. Early on, he began broadcasting on Facebook, and people kept writing in telling him he needed to learn the correct paddle stroke to travel more efficiently.
"I hadn't even camped alone," he said.
On the Mississippi River near Greenville, Mississippi, he surpassed the 3,462-mile record in Guinness World Records, but he kept traveling. Everywhere he stops Carotta asks strangers to fill out affidavits on Guinness stationery so there are witnesses to his trek.
In Louisiana, friends he met along the way cooked jambalaya for Carotta and offered him a place to sleep. After almost five months paddling, Carotta made it to Baton Rouge and visited his 88-year-old grandmother.
Along the way, river travelers advised him to avoid the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, so be began looking for a way to cut across to Lake Maurepas. Relatives from his mother's side of the family helped him scout a route by Bayou Manchac.
At the time, the bayou was dry, and because Guinness World Records' guidelines wouldn't allow him to accept help with the boat, Carotta used a small cart to help him drag the canoe 12 miles.
From Bayou Manchac, he paddled into the Amite River and down to Lake Maurepas. Just as he entered the lake in mid-November, a storm was kicking up waves, punishing his boat and threatening to sink him. It was his first experience battling tide-powered water.
"If I took my hand off the paddle for more than five seconds, it was going backward, but I had to bail the water out because there was a lot of water in the boat," he said.
Eventually, the storm subsided and he slept in the canoe. A friend Carotta met along the way told him to get in touch with Southeastern Louisiana University's staff at Turtle Cove, an old hunting lodge only accessible by boat that is used for research. They were happy to let him wait out the weather, and he was ecstatic to stop fighting 3-foot waves.
He could only rest for a few days according to the Guinness rules, and he was eager to get back on the water, but paddling in the choppy water then was dangerous.
"I’m a big believer in taking what the river gives you, but at the same time, there is a sense of urgency that I have developed in my own mind," he said.
From Turtle Cove, Carotta continued paddling across Lake Pontchartrain into the Gulf of Mexico. At Thanksgiving, he stashed his canoe and took a bus back to Baton Rouge to celebrate the holiday with his mother's side of the family.
While waiting for a break in stormy weather, Carotta was given the chance to hawk beer at this past weekend's New Orleans Saints game to raise money for his cause.
When the storms pass, he plans to start paddling again in the Intracoastal Waterway past Mobile.
"I don't want my journey to end," he said.