WHS grad canoes entire Mississippi River

Waterloo High School graduate Erik Elsea, who now lives in Cape Coral, Fla., canoed the entire Mississippi River this year to raise money for a charity called ShelterBox. (submitted photo)

Waterloo High School graduate Erik Elsea fulfilled a childhood dream this year when he canoed down the entire Mississippi River. 

His trip also raised money for ShelterBox, an international disaster relief charity that provides temporary shelter and life saving supplies to displaced families.

“ShelterBox has been a big passion of mine for years,” said Elsea, who now lives in Cape Coral, Fla. “So the ability to tie in a trip that I’ve always wanted to do, my childhood dream, and use that to raise awareness and money for ShelterBox, which is a passion of mine, was just a great opportunity.”

The trip also served to commemorate the Flood of 1993, which Elsea volunteered during. 

The 1996 Waterloo High School graduate spent 90 days on the river, canoeing 2,552 miles. His trip started July 7 at Coffee Pot Landing in Minnesota and ended Oct. 5 when he reached the Gulf of Mexico. 

Elsea said he could have finished sooner, but he wanted to spend extra time sightseeing. He also wanted to take the same time it takes a drop of rain to travel the entire river.

During his trip, Elsea, a past president of his local Rotary club, spoke to 63 Rotary clubs, including in Waterloo and Red Bud. 

ShelterBox is Rotary’s international partner for disaster relief. 

Elsea, who made the trip as a 40th birthday present to himself, said it exceeded his expectations. 

“This has been something that I have looked forward to since I was probably 9 years old,” said Elsea, the son of Audrey and Bob Hicks of Waterloo and Larry Elsea. “Sometimes you have a dream and you finally do it and it doesn’t live up to your expectations. This was better than I ever even imagined. It was just an amazing experience.”

He said the highlights of the mostly self-funded adventure were the hospitality of everyone he met and the ever-changing scenery along the river.

“You never get bored because the scenery is completely different, and what you’re dealing with on the river is completely different,” the real estate agent said. “It was always challenging and always exciting.”

The most challenging portion of Elsea’s trip came when he was in St. Louis, as the port was the busiest he saw. Elsea said the number of barges and tow boats made navigating the waters treacherous.

“There’s nothing you can do but hold on and pray that you make it,” he noted. 

Two weeks after Elsea went through the port, he said a kayaker lost all of his equipment when his boat was sucked under a barge. The kayaker survived.

Elsea got through the port safely. He said finishing the trip has not sunk in yet. 

“I don’t know that I’ve completely digested it,” he said. “I can tell you I was a little sad when I was getting close to the end, because I knew the trip was almost over and I didn’t want it to be over. I was having such a good time and enjoying it. It is a big sense of accomplishment for me to have done that.”

So far, Elsea has raised $64,700 for ShelterBox. 

People can still donate by going to erikelsea.com/donate.

He is also in the running for an Eagle Rare Life Award. The award is given by Eagle Rare Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, which puts stories of nominees up on a website and allows people to vote on who should receive the award. 

If he receives enough votes to win that, Elsea will raise another $50,000. If he makes it to the finals, he will get $5,000. 

Individuals can vote for Elsea by going to VoteForErik.com.

Elsea’s goal is to raise $100 for every mile of the river. That is $255,200.

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