Lessons learned

We’ve had the privilege and joy to watch this blog site bloom to just under 17,800 views from 59 countries, world-wide. WOW! Thank you for your interest in our trip, for stopping by our site to see what was up, and for passing the address on to others so they, too, could see what God was teaching us through this trip. On December 18th, our subscription for the URL address with WordPress will come to a close. This does not mean that our blog site will no longer exist! It only means that our address will be changing slightly. If you wish to share our mission adventure with others or would like to review any or all of what we have written here, we can now be found at http://www.paddleforapurpose.wordpress.com.

This mission trip has taught us a lot about ourselves and the world we live in and we would like to share just a few  lessons with you. 

  • First and foremost – it is God’s creation and we are his children. Evidence of this is all around us. He has a plan for each of us. Listening for that plan and answering with a trusting “Yes Lord!” offers the unbelievable blessings of putting ourselves in the hands of the ultimate planner! We may feel that he is asking something too difficult for which we are not prepared, but God WILL equip us for that which he asks us to do! 
  • Secondly – every person here on earth is God’s family and as such, deserve to be loved and treated with respect. We believe that he created this world to be our temporary home and that it is our responsibility to care for it and each other.  
  • We have also learned that the depressing, monochrome world that we often see depicted in the evening news is not the total picture. There is beautiful, vibrant color all around us. Take the time to be a part of each moment of life. Slow down to smell the flowers, listen to the sounds of life, and really see our fellow man. Everyone has a valuable story to tell and a picture to share. 

We would like to thank and give special recognition to the thirty organizations who had opened their doors and their hearts to us. The service groups we have worked with cover a very large and varied range of categories and each one holds a special place in our hearts. We have seen volunteers build a house, go fishing with new friends, educate and offer hope for the future, help the homeless find shelter, feed the hungry and clothe the needy. We have met caring people who are passionate about all of God’s creation, caring for the ecology as well as every living thing.

We would also like to thank each and every one of you, our friends. Our trip was very demanding, physically as well as emotionally and we know that it was made possible only with God’s help and your prayers. D.L.Moody once said that “If you partner with God, make your plans big!” In our case, we started this mission trip underestimating the magnitude of how many lives he would touch. Looks like his plans were a whole lot bigger than ours. As this chapter in our life comes to a close, we are excited to see what God has planned for us next. We can only trust that what ever it will be, the valuable lessons we have learned from this adventure will be useful.

God bless you and be with you as you show his love to the rest of the world.         —- Barb and Gene Geiger

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Frequently Asked Questions

We have compiled a list of some of the many questions we have been asked along the length of our kayak service trip this summer. Maybe you’ve wondered or even asked some of these. Here are some of the most frequently asked and the most interesting:

Q: Being together 24/7 for 6 months in that small boat, how will/did your marriage survive?

A: The most important thing was that both of us felt that this trip was God’s trip, not ours. We both felt called to give the time (and the rudder) to him, so we started off equally committed. In addition, we made some decisions ahead of time that helped us avoid conflict and operate as a team…

Together in the Crescent City

Together in the Crescent City

  1. We both made a conscious effort not to complain or place blame.
  2. We decided together where each thing would go in the boat, and always tried to put things back where they belonged.
  3. We both learned how to do each of the different roles, and then just chipped in to do whatever needed to be done.
  4. The stern paddler operated the rudder to steer, and the bow paddler watched for stumps, snags, rocks, or riffles that could indicate dangers. We switched positions every two days.
  5. Whenever either one of us was tired, sore, or hungry and needed a break, we stopped.
  6. We prayed together and, if either one of us received an idea, inspiration, or warning thought, we both paid attention.

It wasn’t until the trip was almost over that we read an article about tandem kayaks which labeled them “divorce boats”.  This made us smile, as it wasn’t our experience at all!

Q: How did you find service organizations?

A dream became a reality, helping many adult learners to realize their dreams, too!

A dream became a reality, helping many adult learners to realize their dreams, too!

A. We scheduled the first dozen services before we left, with the aid of internet maps and e-mail. Our detailed itinerary included daily mileage, nightly campsites, contact information for service organizations, and “flex days” in between service obligations in case of bad weather or illness. With the exception of the hull repairs which sidelined us for several days, we arrived at each service on time or even a day early, with some time to check out the towns. South of Dubuque, we felt comfortable arranging the services as we went. At one town, we’d contact the next. Besides checking online, we would ask residents for recommendations. We also often called the Chamber of Commerce or Visitor’s Bureau, explained our mission, gave them our blog site, and asked them if they had suggestions. More often than not, they would know someone who was thrilled with the opportunity and excited to have us visit!

Q: How many miles did you paddle each day? How many hours?

A: Our daily progress was directly affected by both weather and current but our goal was 20 miles, give or take a few, and counting breaks, usually took between 6 and 8 hours. There was a short while that we enjoyed a full and swift current that allowed us to do 67 miles in only two days but then we turned the corner from the Mississippi onto the Ohio and what a difference! It took us the next four full days to cover only 44 miles… ouch!

Q: Did you get sore?

A: Most definitely! In fact, our aches and pains became just part of our daily routine. On paddle days our breakfast consisted of either oatmeal or malt-o-meal…and then as a chaser, our morning Aleve. As the bottle claims,”All Day Strong. All Day Long.” And trust me, we counted on it. Oh, there really was nothing major or life threatening, just the sore muscles and stiff joints kind of thing. There was this one thing that was very interesting and both of us had it. Probably a result of holding a paddle in the same position and pulling on the fingers for six or more hours each day. We would wake up every morning with swollen knuckles…so much so that it was extremely difficult to grasp or clench a fist. As the weeks passed by we found that a couple of aspirin before bedtime seemed to help reduce some of the morning swelling but it was still always there. In fact, it was not until well after we stopped paddling and had been home awhile before we had a pain-free morning.

Q: Did you bring a gun?

A: This is a question that we were asked more and more, the further south we got. During the planning process, we had considered whether we should carry or not. We opted not to take a gun for a couple of reasons. We knew that having a gun with us would complicate service projects because it could not be left with the locked up boat but a charity service was not exactly the place for a gun either. But perhaps the strongest argument against taking a gun was that this trip was an answer to a call. It was God’s mission and we are convinced that he was with us every paddle stroke. I suppose I should come clean here… We did not go completely defenseless. Tucked under our shirts we had a very intimidating knife hanging from a lanyard. The blade was a full 1.5 inches long and though it would not be much help to scare off anyone who had ill intentions, it did help to make a very mean PB & J sandwich!

Q: What products worked well?

A: We put a lot of thought and planning into the things we brought along. In general, we tried to include only necessities, keeping the weight and size as small as possible because of our limited space. Given these parameters, here are some of the products we thought measured up especially well:

Dana was at home, land or sea.

Dana was at home, land or sea.

  1. Kupendana, our Osprey Double Kayak from Pygmy Boats, was awesome! It is a sea kayak and not designed for the narrow, winding streams and rapids of the headwaters, but it responded very well to the demands of the wider, more open waters of the Mississippi south of Bemidji, and the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway. She was stable, tracked beautifully, and even with over 150 pounds of gear packed inside, was capable of speeds from 3 to 8 miles per hour depending on winds, waves and current.
  2. Our Hammerhead 3 tent by Mountain Hardware was our home away from home. It was easy and quick to set up, and had plenty of room for the two of us as well as our clothes bags and electronics. The fly kept us dry as long as the wings were staked out away from the tent, and that gave us some extra storage under the sides.
  3. We decided to put some extra size and weight into our mattresses to ensure good sleep, and are glad we did! Our REI Camp Bed 3.5 self-inflating sleeping pads  inflated easily, rolled up in a few minutes, and were thick enough to give us a good night’s sleep on any camping surface we encountered.
  4. We used a variety of waterproof bags to keep our belongings dry. The Stearns Outdoor clear model and the Sea to Summit ten liter dry bags were the most efficient of all of the ones we tried. They kept our bedding and clothes dry, and were thick enough to last the whole trip without a tear or puncture.
  5. We used Lifeproof cases for our i-Pad and both of our i-Phones. They were not cheap, but were worth the cost, keeping our oh-so-critical communications equipment safe from rain, waves, dew, mud, and the everyday hard knocks of a camping life!
  6. We had originally planned on not keeping our wheels with us beyond Minneapolis because the locks eliminated our portages around the dams. It happens that the portage wheels worked so well anytime we pulled Dana out of the water that we opted to keep them for the entire journey. It did not matter if it was at a campground or a boat ramp, the wheels turned out to be a very valuable tool. Can’t imagine owning a large kayak without having the wheels.

Q: If you took the trip again, would you do anything differently?

Just barely more than a creek

Just barely more than a creek

A: One thing we would probably do is start the trip below Bemidji, and perhaps even farther south. The headwaters were narrow and winding, with sections of rocky rapids. Our sea kayak’s twenty-foot length and rudder steering made it difficult to make the tight turns required in the wiggle-waggle sections, and the rapid water and jagged rocks and stumps proved treacherous for the wood and fiberglass hull.

We used a small solar charger which worked well for charging our cell phones when we did not have access to electricity. After seeing some of the solar setups that other travelers were using, we probably would have chosen a larger one that also could have charged our camera and our i-pad.

We found that cell phone coverage was sketchier along the river than we had thought. Often we ran through battery life quickly because our phones were constantly searching for coverage. Our phones being our lifelines for communication and emergencies, we probably would have looked into other kinds of more consistent coverage. We did eventually buy a marine radio, which although has limited range, enabled us to talk directly to locks and other boats. We would have bought that earlier, so we would have more options for the entire trip.

Q: Did donations pay for most of the trip?

A:  We did not actively look for sponsorships or ask for donations for this trip. We did decide to add a donate button to the blog site when some of our friends said they would like to have this option. We kept detailed records of the charitable portion of our trip, including donations to the service organizations as well as the cost of food and lodging in the towns where we stayed to do service. We received eight monetary donations through Pay Pal, and three individuals made cash donations directly to us, which offset about 15% of the cost of the charitable portion of our trip. Thank you to all who felt moved to help us through these donations. It is greatly appreciated!

We had many other equally important kinds of donations and support, however. Many kind people offered us lodging, brought us gifts of food, took us out to eat, helped us in our times of need, and encouraged us through text messages, phone calls, and messages to our blog site. We felt welcomed by each of the organizations where we served, and supported by each of our readers. Thank you all!

Q: How much weight did you lose?

A: Our pre-trip preparations had included a weight training regimen called P-90X. It is a very intense, almost military style exercise routine. Couple that with our diet for heathy food and we actually lost some weight before we got on the river. Once we got into the daily routine of paddling for 6 to 8 hours each day, we discovered that we were hungry almost all the time. It was wonderful to be able to eat as much as we wanted, as often as we wanted and still not gain any weight. In fact, including that which we lost prior to the launch date, we each had lost a total of over 30 pounds and are the healthiest we have been in many years. Now the real trick will be our continuing some form of exercise and cutting back on the quantity of food so we do not gain back the pounds that we worked so hard to lose. Any one up for a few laps in the pool?

Q: Did you ever think of quitting?

practicing our "wet exits" in very cold water

practicing our “wet exits” in very cold water

A: Surprisingly, no. Even with the roll-overs on days one and three, when we found ourselves swimming in 40 degree water, stopping was not discussed. We both believed so strongly in the service part of the trip and that we were exactly where we needed to be. So much so that it was a very difficult decision to finally stop the paddle earlier than planned, once the river became too swampy and dangerous to continue. God had earlier introduced us to the Donovans, a Canadian couple doing the Great Loop in their Bayliner, Time and Tide. As we leapfrogged with them down the river, meeting them again and again gave us the chance to become friends. As we paddled the river to Demopolis, we had time to consider the ramifications of stopping the paddle there and taking them up on their offer to accompany them on Time and Tide to Mobile.We ultimately decided that this would be the safest way to finish the service mission of the trip to the Gulf. We remain very thankful for their friendship and their assistance with the end of the trip.

Q: What was the low point of your trip?

A (Gene): I have given this question a lot of thought. My lowest point was during a few day stretch when I thought that the safety issue was going to force us to stop the trip before we could complete the intended service projects. It was looking like Mobile was too far into the marsh and we might have to stop at Demopolis, Alabama. This was weighing very heavy on my mind and I prayed for guidance. That was when God reintroduced Gary and Christelle, turning our friends into a valuable part of our mission. The offer of putting Dana on the deck of Time and Tide allowed us to get to Mobile safely and spend a fantastic afternoon at the Ronald McDonald House.

A (Barb): My lowest point was on the day that we hit a submerged rock in the rapids which punched a hole in Dana’s hull. The boat filled as we paddled quickly to the shore. We pulled the boat up onto the grass, unloaded all of our gear, and inspected the damage. We saw a fist-sized hole with cracked wood and fiberglass extending about a foot further. Before my mind kicked into problem-solving mode, I sat down, exhausted, with our belongings strewn all over the hillside, and felt my eyes well up with tears. As dejected I was, the feeling was short-lived, as we were soon picked up, assisted, and encouraged by our Bemidji angels, Jason and Jeni. Their indomitable spirits raised ours, and we set our sights on the solution rather than the problem. Thank you, friends!

Q: What was the high point of your trip?

Helping pack food bags at Paducah Cooperative Ministries

Helping pack food bags at Paducah Cooperative Ministries

A (Barb): The high point of the trip for me was watching God work in our lives and in the lives of others. Sometimes in the hustle and bustle of my busy life, I get caught up in my “to-do list” and life gets so loud with distraction that it is hard to hear God’s gentle whisper and to see his influence. During this journey, we had committed the time and focus to him, and asked him to lead us where he wished, and to guide our words and actions for his glory and service. And boy, did he ever! We constantly witnessed evidence of his glorious creation! He put amazing people in our path to help and encourage us. He gave us a plethora of opportunities to serve others, and the courage to offer our testimonies. We saw prayers answered, sometimes dramatically. We met people who had answered a call in their hearts to go out of their way to meet us or to help us, and heard stories of “God moments” in their lives. God asks us to love him with our whole hearts, and to love others. I know now what I believed before…that when we give him our hearts, his blessings are all-sufficient.

Faith, Hope and Blood; and a whole lot of Love

Faith, Hope and Blood; and a whole lot of Love

A (Gene):  There are actually dozens of “high points” that come to mind when thinking back. We have been saying that, “it was not about the paddle, but more about the people,” and that is certainly true. We had the joy and privilege of making hundreds of new friendships. I really have to say that my summit or pinnacle was the honor of serving God by serving others. My summer of 2013 was spent walking with God! We had been called to serve him and our reply was, “Yes Lord, with your help.” Even at the most trying and difficult times, I never felt abandoned and on our own! God was with us every paddle stroke and because of this experience, my relationship with him has grown far more than I could ever have imagined.

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Photo Gallery: Views of the Mississippi

Looking back on the three months we spent on the Mississippi before turning off onto the Ohio River, we thought about the many different views the river offered us. From the narrow rippling stream to the rushing floodwaters pouring over gigantic spillways, we were daily awed by its beauty, power, and effect on the land, animals, and people around it. We hope you enjoy this glimpse into our world as “river people” this summer!

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Photo Gallery: Mississippi Wildlife

When we left home, I was prepared to have run-ins with all kinds of wildlife, including bears (We did have our food in BEAR VAULTS, after all!), alligators, and water snakes. In reality, most of the wild animals we have seen have been water birds, beautiful as they are. In addition, since we are almost always paddling, the animals can usually hear us coming, and by the time we see them, we are watching their backsides as they slide, scamper, jump, or fly to safer locations. The pursuit of good wildlife photos takes a back seat to the opportunity to sit in hushed awe as we observe an unexpected sight and then whisper, “Thank you!” as we glide on past, our memories the only souvenirs of the moment. We’ve seen mergansers skitter lamely across the river to draw us away from their young, their babies diving underwater to swim in the opposite direction. When the wind was too strong even for the eagles to fly, we’ve come around bends to see them standing on the river banks with their catch shining in their grasp. And yes, we’ve seen water snakes with heads barely raised above the water, peering at us from behind rocks. (Thank you, Joe, for pointing out that first one!)

That being said, here are some photos from times I was able to get the camera out of the dry bag quickly enough not to lose the shot. Hope you enjoy sharing some of these moments!

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Photo Gallery: Mississippi Eagles

Even though we made the decision to leave the Mississippi River at Cairo to travel to the gulf via the Tenn-tom route, we have many fond memories of the Miss, and will include some of them for you in photo gallery collections. Hope you enjoy them!

One of the sights that remained forever awe-inspiring was that of a majestic eagle soaring above the river.  Often we would glimpse them in a tree up ahead, only to have them hear the faint splash of our paddles and take off, flying downstream to a safer location. We called these our “eagle escorts”, as they often stayed with us, although slightly ahead, for miles.

Most of the photos were taken from a boat moving down the river, turning left or right, and bobbing up and down. Often the subject was also moving. So here’s a handful that turned out all right, considering…

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