Setting course: two cousins travel 2,000 miles by canoeNov 9th, 2011 | By William Dilella | Category: news
Two cousins—Ben Swartz and Jon Detweiler, both of Ohio—spend several months on a journey that ended this week. The pair went over 2,000 miles by canoe to raise money for the African-based IRIS Ministries, bringing more than $20,000 to support IRIS’s orphans and mission.
Swartz and Detweiler, ages 21 and 22 respectively, set off on August 14 from their homes in Ohio and traveled 81 days to waters past Venice. The cousins christened the trip “Sugar to Salt,” as it went from the waters of Sugar Creek just one mile from Detweiler’s house in Dalton Ohio, all the way to mile zero at the Gulf of Mexico.
For two years Detweiler said he had toyed with the idea of a trip like this, but for most of that time, it was just a day dream.
“Looking back it seems crazier than it did when were actually doing it,” Detweiler said, who had been inspired by his study of historical narratives to go on one great adventure, while he had the time. “I knew it could be done because I had a neighbor who had done the route.”
“Everyone has their dreams,” he continued. Detweiler said he couldn’t count how many men he ran into, middle-aged men who all talked about how they had wanted to take a trip like that, but somehow it had just been put off.
“’You better do it’, [they told me]. ‘You better do it now.’ And I took that seriously,” Detweiler said.
But after the inception, the adventure itself took far more planning than whimsy. For nearly eight months, while Jon was away at Malone University, Ben acquired supplies and sought out sponsors for the project. The camping grounds weren’t picked out, but food had to be stored in water-tight buckets, camping gear that could make the trip in the canoe, rain gear, and only other essentials.
“I got the word out to companies, anyone who would want to sponsor or donate,” Swartz said.
“It’s been amazing. Right before we left, we just went to local businesses where I live and just told them what we’re doing,” Detweiler said.
“Yeah, there were no questions asked,” Swartz added.
Several food companies—including Layer Bar, Emergen-C, Think Thin and All Bulk Food.com—donated to the food stores, and a company in Columbus provided the camping equipment for no charge at all. That level of help was actually common.
“When people found out why we were doing it, they would just hand over donations,” said Swartz. “Once, a boat pulled over and asked, ‘Are you the ones going to the Gulf?’ and just handed over money when we said yes.”
Aside from those random meetings, the only communication they brought with them were a mobile smartphone and a laptop, but that was only to blog about the adventure along the way.
Both talked about how liberating it was to feel disconected. The lack of communication and constant connection that society has come to rely on gave way to an appreciation for the changing scenes and different towns they camped in. All the while, the world kept moving forward. The two never heard news about Libya until long after it happened. It came as a shock hearing that Muammar Giddafi had fallen from power completely.
But on the trip, what was news became a relative term, and slowly the solitude became comfortable.
“After awhile, you see the importance of peace and quiet and disconnecting,” Swartz said.
Even when Vice-President Biden was with-in a few hundred feet from their canoe, going down the Ohio, neither had any idea—until the Coast Guard boats re-routed them.
“A coast guard boat whipped in front of us and said we had to turn around or go to the other side of the river, and we weren’t going back home,” Swartz said.
And stories like that are what adventures are made of. This ride was not only about the money raised, or even reaching their destination, but the people and sites, and their unique stories, all picked up along the way. Meeting random strangers, who allowed use of their land to camp on, or the groups and businesses who all helped out with the charity because they were there.
“The whole trip was actually surreal,” Swartz said. “And you don’t think you’ll actually get there, until you get there.”
“I woke up this morning and realized we only have a few more hours and then it’s over,” Detweiler said. “I want to return home, but I didn’t want to leave the river.”
Now, Detweiler and Swartz hope to return to Mozambique, to personally hand over the money, so they can see the faces when the do.
As for the next adventure, Detweiler has been toying with the idea of sailing, but if that will happen, God only knows.
The group, IRIS, was founded as a small orphanage in 1980 by Rolland and Heidi Baker, in Mozambique. That mission now supports nearly 10,000 children around the world. They also offer African pastors schooling and other projects.
A large portion of the over $20,000 raised by the Detweiler and Swartz will go to sponsoring some of those orphaned children. Swartz said that all that it costs about $100 a month to clothe, feed and educate an orphan at IRIS. For their part, Detweiler and Swartz will have sponsored the cost for nearly 100 orphans.