Duo Paddling Great Lakes for Cancer Research

Baihly Warfield
March 28, 2017 10:06 PM

Joe Zellner has been a kayaker for 30 years. He lives in Grand Marais and does most of his paddling on Lake Superior. But this summer, he and his partner Peggy Gabrielson are taking on all five of the Great Lakes and raising money for pediatric brain cancer research along the way. 

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Joe anticipates the trip will be 6,100-6,500 miles and take them six or seven months. They'll become the first man and woman to paddle around the Great Lakes in less than a year, but they say it's not about the record. 

"Life is short enough," Peggy said. "If you wait, you don't get to do it."

Joe and Peggy share that carpe diem type of mindset. Joe's wife, Anne, died in 2012. Peggy's husband Dan died in Iraq in 2003.

Joe and his late wife paddled the entire Mississippi together, and paddling all five Great Lakes was a goal they had shared. 

"It changes your life," Joe said about their Mississippi trip. 

Joe introduced Peggy to kayaking, and she said nature is the best part of it. 

"Getting away from everything," Peggy said. "Outside is always the best."

Paddling about 6,100 miles around all five Great Lakes was not on Peggy's radar, though. 

"I said, 'You're kidding, right? You wouldn't think I could do that,'" Peggy laughed. "He said, 'If I'm asking you, I mean it.'"

So she signed on, and the duo will leave for their journey from Port Huron on Saturday, April 1. They hope to pass through Duluth sometime mid-June. They've named their adventure 2paddling5

They decided to give their paddling purpose, so they are also trying to raise $6,100 for pediatric brain cancer research in honor of Callie Rohr. 

"The little girl had pediatric brain cancer. She was diagnosed at 7, died five days before her 10th birthday," Peggy said. 

Joe has been involved with a kayak race named after Callie Rohr for years. He and Peggy are also both grandparents, so they say children's causes hit close to him. 

"They're the next generation that's going to come up and start paddling," Joe said. 

Before they hit the water, though, this week is about preparation. They're breaking belongings down to basics and trying to figure out which clothing they need for the next few weeks when it will still be cold with ice on the lakes in some places. They will be eating peanut butter and dehydrated food along the way and camping most nights. 

Several companies have signed on to sponsor their gear, clothing, meals and more. A couple relatives will also be driving a truck and trailer filled with extra supplies along the way. 

They plan on completing the tour by November. You can donate here.


Baihly Warfield

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