A WAKE: A track of water created by a moving boat, a force that affects all it touches.
AWAKE: A state of awareness and alertness.
These homonyms can be applied both physically and spiritually. In a few days, a trio of college students will start pushing them to the limit in both directions.
On Tuesday, Bowman Hitchens, Rob Treppendahl and Max Zoghbi plan to slip kayaks into the start of the Mississippi River in Minnesota to begin a paddling pilgrimage all the way to New Orleans, raising money with each stroke for Christian outreaches in Baton Rouge and Oxford, Miss.
Their effort, which they have named “A Wake in the Current,” will benefit the Interfaith Compassion Ministry, which serves the homeless and others with critical needs in Oxford, and the Gardere Community Christian School in Baton Rouge.
And, in this case, “effort” is an understatement.
This plan is to travel 2,300 miles in no more than 60 days, camping on islands or on the riverbank at night. This would be a considerable undertaking for experienced distance paddlers, which they aren’t.
“We’re not professional kayakers,” Treppendahl said. “We’ve spent some time on the water, and we’ve been getting a lot more educated lately. We’ve done a lot of other ventures, and now this is our big one. We’ve taken some day trips and some weekend trips, but this is a really big jump.
“We’ve been training. We’ve been on a strict training schedule. We’ve been reading a lot, talking to a lot of people. But we’re not super-experienced kayakers.”
Which begs a question: Why this?
It began with Hitchens, who, like Treppendahl, attends Ole Miss and volunteers with ICM. An avid outdoorsman, Hitchens spent the past summer hiking the Colorado trail, which left him with plenty of time to think. He wanted to raise money for ICM in a way that would bring as much attention as possible.
Hitchens finished the trail in Durango, Colo., where Treppendahl was working at a dude ranch. As they drove home together, he shared his thoughts.
“He said, ?Rob, I’ve got this crazy idea this summer on the trail, and I’ve been praying about it a lot, and I think that you are supposed to go with me,’” said Treppendahl, who lives in St. Francisville.
“I’ve been very passionate about the outdoors, and I’ve been thinking about doing this trip casually for years, because I have a family friend who did it. I wanted to do this trip, but now for a purpose and for this organization, which I was well familiar with, ?Let’s do it.’”
Little did they know that, at about the same time, Zoghbi and another Baton Rougean and LSU student, David Bonnoitt, were sitting on the levee downtown when Zoghbi proposed the same idea. He hadn’t worked out the purpose for the trip, but they agreed to think about it but not tell anyone.
The silence lasted only until the next weekend, when Treppendahl returned home and Zoghbi visited him. Zoghbi mentioned what he and Bonnoitt had discussed. Treppendahl dropped the load of firewood he was carrying.
“He turned around and said, ‘What did you just say?’” Zoghbi said. “I told him. He said, ‘You have no idea what you just said.’ He started screaming, ‘Oh, my gosh!’”
Zoghbi and Bonnoitt chose to support the Gardere Community Christian School, which has provided after-school tutoring in the Gardere area and this fall plans to begin a school for children of low-income families for a nominal fee. Bonnoitt originally was going to take the trip, but will instead assist with logistics and publicity.
Their goal is to raise enough money to support the actual costs for six children, or about $48,000. The trek’s overall goal is to raise $100,000. People can donate as little as a penny a mile ($23), and the group has also accepted donations of services.
“We decided corporately not to take housing as an option because we want to simulate the lifestyle of the homeless - not to be martyrs, but to put ourselves in their shoes, because that is what ICM is all about,” Zoghbi said. “We’ve just respectfully declined, but if they want to give us a meal or a shower, we will take it in a heartbeat.”
They plan to stop every three to five days and stock up on food, then press on. They will provide trip updates on their website, http://www.awakeinthecurrent.com, which also provides links for donations.
In addition to raising money for the two causes, the trio expects the odyssey to draw them closer as friends, improve their discipline and offer opportunities to share their faith to people they meet onshore.
“I think the biggest thing for me is being able to tell this story again in the future and being able to inspire people to take a risk and do something bold for things they’re passionate about and things that are worth sacrificing for them,” Zoghbi said. “I hope it stirs people’s hearts to look outside themselves and find an avenue to serve, find an avenue to put their energy toward other than something that’s self-benefiting.”
In other words, for people to be awake. And a wake.
“We’re three college guys, not with a significant amount of money but just with a crazy idea doggedly pursuing it with all we have,” Zoghbi said. “If we can make some sort of change, God knows people in places with greater influence than ours can do so much more.”