Angle to Key West: Nothing Without the Route (9/27)

Minneapolis, MN – September 27, 2012

“Where should we send the boat?” Necky asked. “And what color?”

I didn’t believe they’d give me a boat until I peeled away the bubble wrap and stared at the beautiful yellow hull of the Necky Looksha 17. It glowed in the dark warehouse, shiny and new, ready for the Boundary Waters and the freezing inland sea of Lake Superior, ready for the muddy water of the Mississippi and the sand beaches of the Gulf Coast, ready for the mangrove swamps of the Everglades and the string of islands to Keys.

It only needed water, lots of water, 4,000 miles of water from the tip of the Northwest Angle to Key West.

As I packed a bunch of old and scraped-together gear to start the trip, I became a finalist for Outside Magazine’s Adventure Grant. If I won, it would give me enough funding to pay for the trip and all the new equipment I needed to buy without draining my bank account to zero.

But I already had a new boat.

I thought about winning and what I would do with the $2,000 I would have spent on a boat. I dreamed of more expensive equipment, a nicer paddle, a wetsuit that didn’t feel like squeezing into a sausage casing, dry bags that I could trust. I thought about splurging on big meals in St. Louis and New Orleans, staying in warm hotel rooms every few days along the Mississippi, taking a plane trip home to give my mom a hug halfway through. I could get a better GPS, a nicer camera, a tent that wasn’t eight years old. $2,000 goes a long way towards comfort, towards ease, towards a giant burger and a pint of ice cream in every restaurant I’d pass.

But I kept thinking about the water, about those 4,000 miles that make it all possible. I’d watched the BP Oil Spill turn the Gulf black. I knew people called the Mississippi the Great Sewer. I’d read about the sulfide mining industry encircling the Boundary Waters like a pack of hungry wolves.

These aren’t places to take for granted, they aren’t playgrounds that will always be there, they only exist because someone before me cared. I looked at that beautiful yellow boat and knew I needed to put the $2,000 toward protecting the most important part of the trip, the lakes, rivers, and ocean along the route.

I found four fantastic non-profit groups who work to protect different parts of the route and decided to donate $500 to each of them if I won the grant.

Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness
American Rivers
Gulf Restoration Network
Florida Wildlife Federation

The fancy gear, the big meals and warm hotel rooms, they’re just not as important in the end. None of it matters without the water.


I won the grant and today I walked into the Friends of the Boundary Waters office near downtown Minneapolis and got to thank the staff that works hard every day to protect that beautiful land of lakes and granite, that small fist of wild on a road map filled with civilization.

No amount of ice cream, no warm hotel room, no fancy new piece of equipment would have been better than knowing I’ve done some small part to help them protect the Boundary Waters. That maybe the next generation will get a chance to paddle in a place as wondrous as the one I crossed.

If you like this adventure, if you like the idea that something like this is possible, thank and support the organizations who work every day to protect our lakes, rivers, and oceans. Donate, get out and volunteer, learn about the issues, and spread the word. It is up to each of us to take ownership and work to protect the fantastic places we know and love. Not tomorrow, not next week, today.

Here is more information on the four fantastic groups that I’ve chosen to donate money to and work with to help protect different parts of the route from the Northwest Angle in Minnesota to Key West, Florida.

Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness:

Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness leads the effort to protect and restore the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness from threats such as mining, logging, development, haze, noise, fire suppression, and loss of native species. The organization was formed in 1976 to protect this vulnerable area and two years later shepherded legislation through Congress that brought full protection to the Boundary Waters.

Today, the Minnesota-based organization is a sentry against further harm in the BWCAW and the Quetico-Superior Ecosystem. Whether it is proposals for risky new mines next door to the 1,075,500 acre wilderness, proposals to impair the wilderness’ character with massive, lighted cell phone towers, or plans to harvest trees in a sensitive habitat, Friends’ ensures that a “voice of wilderness” is always heard.

American Rivers:

American Rivers is the leading organization working to protect and restore the nation’s rivers and streams.  Rivers connect us to each other, nature, and future generations. Since 1973, American Rivers has fought to preserve these connections, helping protect and restore more than 150,000 miles of rivers through advocacy efforts, on-the-ground projects, and the annual release of America’s Most Endangered Rivers®.

Through their work in five key program areas – Rivers and Global Warming, River Restoration, River Protection, Clean Water, and Water Supply – American Rivers is working to protect our remaining natural heritage, undo the damage of the past, and create a healthy future for our rivers and future generations.

Gulf Restoration Network:

Gulf Restoration Network’s mission is to unite and empower people to protect and restore the resources of the Gulf Region for future generations so that the Gulf of Mexico will continue to be a natural, economic, and recreational resource that is central to the culture and heritage of five states and three nations. GRN works to provide technical support and mentoring to grassroots groups, to connect members to developments on national and regional issues of importance to their work, and to coordinate member activities across the region.

GRN pursues campaigns on priority issues affecting the entire Gulf region, including water quality, wetlands, sustainable fisheries, smart energy, hurricane rebuilding, and species-at-risk. GRN also engages individuals through information sharing, publications and an e-mail action alert network.  In this way, GRN plays a pivotal role in providing their members and others with the technical information, Gulf-wide networking opportunities, and communication that will empower them to successfully address the environmental threats that the Gulf faces.

Florida Wildlife Federation:

The Florida Wildlife Federation is a private, statewide, non-profit citizens’ conservation education organization composed of thousands of concerned Floridians and other citizens from all walks of life who have a common interest in preserving, managing, and improving Florida’s fish, wildlife, soil, water, and plant life. As the State Affiliate of the National Wildlife Federation, FWF has been improving Florida’s wildlife since 1937.

The welfare of fish and wildlife is inseparable from other living things, including humans. FWF is a leader in promoting, through education and political action, the conservation, restoration, sound management, and wise and ethical use of Florida’s natural resources, so that present and future generations may live, work, and pursue traditional outdoor activities in an outstanding natural environment.

5 thoughts on “Angle to Key West: Nothing Without the Route (9/27)

  1. That is awesome! Thanks for showing them some financial love and drawing attention to these orgs doing good work. I have a soft spot for Friends of the BWCA in particular… I live about 3 blocks from them and the BWCA is one of my favs. Paddle safe!

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