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Man explores U.S. rivers by hovercraft

August 05, 2004
The Daily Helmsman
Memphis, Tennessee

By Ryan Sisung

It's not often that people drop their job and sell their house to go explore and witness the splendor of another country. But British native Robert Hodson is doing just that, with his two-year journey to explore U. S. rivers and waterways.

"I decided to explore the rivers of the United States via hovercraft about three years ago," said Hodson, who began his trip in the spring. "I'm not much of a sailor or navigator, and since the hovercraft travels above the water, there's not too much worry about having a smooth ride. It was probably about six years ago that I actually came up with the idea and the dream began this year when I set out on April 7."

Hodson said he has held many interesting positions, including state management for the Saudi royal family.

"My main love is the outdoors though," he said. "I have been a gardener and like to be involved in rivers, outdoor education and forestry."


Photo Hovercraft adventure
Robert Hodson (next to podium), an adventurer from Great Britain, talks to professor Jim Hardin's class about world politics and government systems. Hodson is traveling U.S. rivers in a specially built hovercraft. Erika M. Pryor photo

Hodson made a stop in Memphis to make repairs on his hovercraft before moving on. Jim Hardin, University of Memphis adjunct professor of history and political science, offered Hodson a place to stay and an opportunity to speak to a group of students in his world politics class.

"I met Mr. Hodson through a mutual friend who is helping him repair his hovercraft," said Hardin. "I believe his project is wonderful. He is traveling the rivers and seeing a side of America you cannot see on American or British television. He has the makings of a great documentary or book with the stories he's collected so far."

The statement rang true as Hodson recounted a few tales during his lecture to Hardin's students.

"I remember when I started out I was on the Savannah River asleep in my craft and awoke to the sounds of what I believe are called rednecks," Hodson said. "They were out hunting gators and hogs and such so yes, I've run into quite a few people. That's one of the reasons for making this journey, to experience and interact with the people on the rivers."

Mark Grizzard, junior mechanical engineering major, said he is intrigued at the method of travel Hodson is using to cross the rivers.

"I am thinking of building a hovercraft in my spare time," Grizzard said. "I think it's great he is using this mode of transportation to get across the United States."

Hodson said books and magazines such as National Geographic are what got him interested in exploring in the first place.

"This thing really is a personal venture for me," Hodson said. "I figured while I'm of age I should go out and do what I desire to instead of waiting until I'm 60. I'm not trying to break any records, and I may do some filming and writing by the end of it. Actually, the bottom line is I'm just enjoying myself."

Hardin said he feels Hodson's project is relevant today for a couple of reasons.

"First, it's unique in this day and age to explore the United States by river, which by all accounts is pretty well settled and explored," Hardin said. "It has a Lewis and Clark feel to it and appeals to the human spirit of exploration. Second, with all the talk you hear about how the English and Europeans dislike Americans, it is refreshing to see a man from England take an interest in seeing America free from the influence of media.

"If a documentary or book comes out of this project, it could be a wonderful bridge between the Atlantic and our cultures."

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