BATAVIA – Batavia residents Aaron Drendel and Jake Mullins have had to battle poison ivy and flood waters, not to mention exhaustion, as they paddle the 2,320-mile length of the Mississippi River to raise money for breast cancer.
And they still have about 900 miles to go. They have already paddled more than 1,000 miles.
“It is more mentally and physically intense than we expected,” Drendel said. “I have lost close to 20 pounds, and Jake has lost 10 pounds. We are paddling between 12 and 14 hours a day.”
At the same time, they have raised almost $5,000 for breast cancer research through the nonprofit group they created, Canoe for the Cure. Drendel’s mother, Missy Scardina, is a breast cancer survivor.
Drendel spoke about the trip during a recent break in Wickliffe, Ky. After starting their journey in Lake Itasca, Minn., on May 29, they hope to put down their paddles 100 miles south of New Orleans by July 25.
“We’re ahead of schedule,” Drendel said. “We will try to do not less than 50 miles a day from here on out.”
Scardina’s cancer has been in remission for about three years. She was diagnosed when Drendel was a junior in college.
“As a mother and a cancer survivor, I am extremely proud of them,” Scardina said. “They trained physically for a long time for this trip.”
But as a mother, she also worries about her son, which is why she is grateful to talk to him at least twice a week.
Others can also keep track of their journey through their Internet blog, www. canoe4cure.blogspot.com, which Drendel’s dad, Brian Drendel, keeps updated.
They prepared for the trip as much as they could.
“They both did their research,” Brian Drendel said. “They researched what they would be faced with.”
Still, they were taken by surprise by one of the sights they saw while they were staying at a campsite in northern Minnesota.
“We woke up and saw a bear swimming across the river on our side,” Aaron Drendel said. “It is rare to see a bear swim across a river like that.”
The Mississippi River itself has posed its share of challenges.
“We got a ride from Alton down to Chester in Illinois,” he said. “The river was too high. The Coast Guard had to put us on hold.”
And while they were in Muscatine, Iowa, a tornado hit.
“We had stopped in Muscatine for lunch,” he said. “We saw that it was coming. Sirens started going off. We waited it out in a public park. It wasn’t too scary.”
They remain in good spirits, despite the physical toll the trip has taken.
“We both have poison ivy, and our backs bother us on a regular basis,” Aaron Drendel said.
And when they get back home, they will start looking for jobs in a tough job market. Drendel graduated from Illinois State University in May 2009 with a degree in entrepreneurship and small business management, and Mullins received a degree in aircraft maintenance from Lewis University in December 2009.
“Hopefully this trip will look good on a resume,” Drendel said.
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