Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Meet the Paddle Forward Team!

Throughout our journey down the Illinois River you have followed our adventure through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and many other social media outlets. There hasn't been much opportunity to get to know our team of paddlers as the unique, beautiful individuals that they are. So, here we are! To pick up the slack with a post dedicated to each of the team members who participated in and otherwise made this trip a wonderful possibility.

Liz Just, her friends are suspicious she may actually be a robot designed specifically for coffee consumption. She was also our fearless leader: Liz is  a native Wisconsinite who grew up just outside of Madison, WI. She left home in 2008 to attend school at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities where she earned a degree in Environmental Education and Sustainability Studies. During college, an ongoing love for the outdoors merged with her studies fueling her current passions and interests. She spent the last two years exploring different career paths and building a community in Minneapolis, MN. Her favorite time of day is sunrise, she loves spontaneous adventuring, her sport of choice is Ultimate Frisbee, she is always smiling when in the water, she can't go a day without talking about her best friend, she enjoys getting creative in the kitchen, and her sleeping bag feels like home.

Anna Johnson kept us alive and healthy. She made sure we survived by advising on all things safety. Her light-heart and happy disposition kept our morale high; preventing the otherwise inevitable mutiny. She is extremely knowledgeable about the outdoors, and plays the banjo. She grew up in Evanston, IL, but spent her summers at Camp Bil-O-Wood in northern Ontario, where she canoed extensively. It was on these trips that she developed a passion for the environment, a love of canoeing, and formed incredible relationships, all of which define who she is today. Anna ditched her home in the flat lands of Chicago to attend Colorado College and earn a degree in Political Science and a minor in Environmental Issues. She moved to Washington, D.C. to gain experience in environmental policy. After working with an environmental non-profit, spending the summer on an educational organic farm, and interning with the White House Council on Environmental Quality, she joined Wild River Academy.
They say you can't trust anyone with two first names, but...there are exceptions to every rule. Besides, Nicholas Patrick Ryan has three first names and was the most reliable team member. In 2008, Nick graduated from Western Illinois University with a degree in Law Enforcement & Justice Administration. After graduation, he figured he would be a police officer for a while and go from there. Nick was not able to find work in Chicago. His brother Roman put him in touch with Natalie Warren and his life quickly turned upside down.

After many Google Hangouts Nick moved to Washington DC to help start the business that would become Wild River Academy! Queue the 80's movie montage of intense whiteboard sessions, many blunders, fulfilling trips, and a journey down the Mississippi. The montage fades to black; the camera comes into focus on a chaotic pack out scene with new faces and exciting conversation. Here we are at the Illinois River trip!

Nick Ryan created and filled the role of driver on this trip. He wanted to create a space where the paddlers didn't have to worry about uploads, extensive logistical planning while on trail, and how they were going to get food. As the driver, Nick took care of all this. He also got to see the river from a completely different speed and perspective. After paddling the Mississippi River it was interesting to realize how very little opportunity there is to interact with the river from the road. Not only did he drive, Nick also ran. State parks, bike trails, and walking paths were constantly on Nick's running radar. He got to explore towns on foot. Nick told me the other day that, "Running is high on my list of life passions." Despite his daily separation from them, Nick spent most of the nights with the paddlers. He loved jumping up and down on shore and waving them in to their "home" for the night.

Natalie Warren, was our wizard behind the curtain for this trip. From the Twin Cities, she provided technical assistance, feedback, and emotional support. She grew up in Miami, Florida where she attended the New World School of the Arts for saxophone performance. In 2005, she flew to Minneapolis and headed North to YMCA Camp Menogyn, a wilderness camp based in Minnesota. After a two week canoeing trip in the BWCA, she fell in love with the wilderness and later decided to pursue an Environmental Studies degree at St. Olaf. In 2011, herself and Ann Raiho were the first two women to paddle the 2,000 miles from Minneapolis to Hudson Bay, following Eric Sevareid's route from Canoeing With the Cree. She believes that wilderness adventures help young adults reach their full physical and emotional potential. After a year of presenting on her Hudson Bay Bound adventure, she wanted to provide something tangible for her audiences...Hello, Wild River Academy! She loves to dress up as a dog, play music, and manage your hunger level on trail. She has too many finger puppets, if there is such a thing.

Jessica Colbaugh brought crucial knowledge on the trip, shared it with all of us, and even likes to type in the third person: Jessica Colbaugh was born and raised in Minnesota. She moved from the small town of Isanti to the Twin Cities to study at the University of Minnesota. She's currently working on her undergrad in Fisheries and Wildlife with an emphasis in Conservation Biology. Summer after summer her family visited northern Minnesota to spend time outdoors, and she developed a love of the wilderness and water. She has a passion fro teaching, working with children, and sharing the value of nature. Jess really enjoys mornings, playing tennis, biking, hiking, and baking!

Who is Lee? No one knows for sure but here she is to give us a sneak peek: She grew up in Saint Paul, Minnesota and currently works as a freelance photographer and consultant. She obtained her BA in Political Science from the University of Minnesota- Twin Cities. These past few years, she has been traveling and volunteering my time in other countries. She recently just returned from the Philippines after spending a month helping with the earthquake disaster relief efforts on the island of Bohol. Her first experience into the great outdoors was at the age of thirteen and since then she has continued to spend time among lakes, tall trees, rising mountains, and rolling rivers. Her love for the wilderness and rivers is ever growing with an insatiable need to find new adventures every year.

Enter Mark Emmons, our task master of fun: He is a Minnesota native. He grew up in Northfield, a small river town on the Cannon River, 40 miles south of the Twin Cities. He looks forward to seeing how river towns interact with the Illinois River. His second home is the Northwoods of MN and Canada where he spent every summer since the age of 13 going on wilderness canoe trips with YMCA Camp Widjiwagan, perched on the edge of the Boundary Waters. These expeditions took him to increasingly remote places, eventually landing him in the Arctic Circle, the northern limit of civilization.

Marissa Madej hails from Upstate New York. The Midwest's massive corn fields surprised her. She had never seen such agriculture. Many people drive through Illinois and see the corn fields. Rarely do people get to watch as the corn fields are harvested, processed and stored in silos, then transported via barge traffic down the Illinois River. Marissa's day job is that of an environmental education teacher for Nature's Classroom. She was invaluable in her advisement on our curriculum as well as school visits. The video and blog content we were putting out were of interest to her as well. She helped us streamline and adapt to make the best possible videos on our trip.

Now, hopefully, you feel connected to these people or, maybe you're thinking, "if these fools could do this then I definitely can!" If you feel the latter and would like to paddle with us on the Minnesota River this Fall of 2015, send us an e-mail at paddle@wildriveracademy.com. We would love to share the adventure with you!

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