Compared with other watercraft, kayaks don’t produce much of a wake.
Bowman Hitchens, Rob Treppendahl and Max Zoghbi, who expect to reach the end of their journey Saturday in New Orleans, hope they have been an exception to the rule.
On June 22, the trio of college students or recent graduates slipped into the headwaters of the Mississippi River in Minnesota to begin a 60-day, 2,300-mile paddling odyssey designed to raise money for the Gardere Community Christian School in Baton Rouge and the Interfaith Compassion Ministry in Oxford, Miss. Calling the effort “A Wake in the Current,” they had raised $35,000 as of midweek - short of their goal, but still significant.
When they reached Baton Rouge on Wednesday, Gardere School founder Nancy Zito and all nine of the first-year school’s students were among the roughly 50 people who met the kayakers in front of the USS Kidd.
Zoghbi and another Baton Rougean, David Bennoitt, had heard about plans for the school and decided to help.
“It’s good to have visionaries like Nancy Zito come in and speak truth into these kids’ lives, give them an opportunity for an education that they would not otherwise have,” Zoghbi said. “To have them in a Christian environment, it’s amazing, because they can hear the gospel and they can have an amazing education at very low cost.”
But the wake created by the two-month excursion touched more than just the intended charities. Along the way, the young men shared their Christian faith with those they met.
“This trip was about that,” said Treppendahl, who lives in St. Francisville. “What we’re doing gives us a great opportunity. People ask, ?Why are you doing this?’ And we say, ?I’ll tell you why.’ A lot of people we’ve met have been believers, but a lot haven’t been, and they’ve been really open to hear what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, and for us that’s what it’s about.”
“We wanted to do something bigger than ourselves,” Hitchens said. “It’s been a wild spiritual ride. It’s been amazing.”
Part of the amazement has been the kindness of people, as exemplified by the Franks family of Brainerd, Minn. It was Day 12, and the young men were ending their longest paddling stretch so far as the sun neared the horizon and their kayaks neared the shore.
“We pull up, we’re so tired and hungry, and we’ve been dreaming about good food, and out of the heavens we hear this voice, like, ?Y’all want some food? Y’all want some dinner?’ “ Zoghbi said. “Yes, yes we do! This family takes us up to this, like, mansion, feeds us fish tacos, gives us a shower and just hung out with us for the night and let us be a part of their granddaughter’s birthday party.”
The Franks also fogged the back yard to chase off mosquitoes and let the trio camp there. (They made a commitment not to accept lodging during the trip to help them identify with the homeless, who are the focus of the ICM in Oxford.)
“Everybody - blue collar, people who were fishing, train conductors - all the way up to millionaires invited us on their yachts,” Treppendahl said. “Everybody from every class just wanted to be a part of it. They all treated us like something we’re not. They all treated us very well. It’s really humbling, you know?”
Naturally, the trip had a big impact on the kayakers, and not just the mahogany tans and firmer muscles from nearly two months of paddling. They dealt with helpful currents and headwinds that actually pushed them backward, with pleasant days and storms.
When they reached the Old River Control Structure near Lettsworth, La., they had been warned about not letting the swift water suck them into danger. But they weren’t ready for what happened downstream. With so much of the Mississippi River diverted toward the Atchafalaya River, the Mississippi’s current slowed to a crawl.
“We were heartbroken. It was really sad,” Treppendahl said. “It had been great for two weeks, and then all of a sudden, ?We’re not going to get to New Orleans on time.’ Our life just got miserable.”
But they talked and decided they’d have to push through - together.
Hitchens, who is engaged to be married, said the trip taught him a lot about communication and being flexible in changing circumstances. Being in such close proximity for every minute for such an extended time puts relationships to the test.
“We’ve been married for the past 60 days,” Zoghbi said. “We’re in a three-man tent ?”
“You don’t know how small this tent is,” Treppendahl interjected.
“We’re spooning every night,” Zoghbi said.
“It’s not meant for three men,” Treppendahl said.
“We’re married. We’re serving each other all the time,” Zoghbi said. “We’re closer. We’ve learned to serve. We’ve learned to sacrifice. We’ve learned to communicate and be honest and not be jerks and deal with our own sin and selfishness and get through it.”
And they learned - or were reminded - of something else.
“God has been faithful,” Hitchens said. “Every night, we don’t know where we’re going to sleep. There’s no way to know. We’ve slept in public parks. We’ve bathed in a fountain. We camp next to train tracks. But usually - actually, every time - God gives us a place.”
For more information about the trip and the charities it supported, visit the website, http://www.awakeinthecurrent.com.