When people learn of Aurora residents Pete Stadalsky and Nolan McClelland's summer plans, the duo said they are often compared to Mark Twain's adventurous characters Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer.
Similar to Twain's fictitious river ramblers, McClelland, 21, and Stadalsky, 25, will take to the water, embarking on a roughly 70-day adventure and paddling an estimated 1,000 miles by canoe through Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee to the Gulf of Mexico via Mobile, Alabama. They will launch their canoe Wednesday from Fontana Lake on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, with hopes of arriving at their final destination by Sept. 7.
The voyage, dubbed Paddle to Cure Diabetes, aims to raise $10,000 for the American Diabetes Association, a charitable cause that is close to both of their hearts.
"Initially, it was a personal adventure, but we wanted it to have more meaning, and something that meant a lot to both of us was [that] both of our dads are diabetic," Stadalsky said, adding that both of them grew up seeing their fathers' daily stuggles with Type I diabetes, which includes daily injections, food calculations and blood-glucose monitoring. "It's been a real [symbolic] thing for me. We picked a challenge to represent the challenges our dads had growing up."
Despite both of their fathers being absent from the actual canoe trip, they said the pre-planning phase has been a bonding experience for both families.
"I can see just how excited and proud he is of me," McClelland said of his father, who also has contributed to ADA through the Tour de Cure, a nationwide cycling fundraising event.
Stadalsky had similar sentiments about his own father.
"It's awesome to see my dad really want to be a part of something I'm doing in my life – it means a lot to me," Stadalsky said.
In addition to ADA, the duo is accepting donations made to a separate fundraising account that will help put a dent in the estimated $5,000 trip total.
Stadalsky, a Starbucks manager and yoga instructor, and McClelland, a Zumiez skate shop manager and jewelry artist, said their initial investment for gear, supplies and equipment – such as their Old Town Penobscot Canoe they bought on Craigslist for $400 – has totaled $3,000. Additional costs for food and other necessities during the trip are projected to cost $1,500, Stadalsky wrote in an email.
As of June 23, they've managed to raise $6,259 for ADA and $3,411 for trip expenses. They said they are "fully prepared to pay the difference" using their own money, if necessary.
McClelland and Stadalsky – friends and roommates who met two years ago – picked up paddling again after an-almost decade-long hiatus. In response to whether they're ready to navigate the Tennessee River and Tombigbee Waterway, Stadalsky said that "the insanity of the trip is what makes it worthwhile," but that they are fully prepared.
Pre-trip preparation included research, paddling lessons, safety and water-rescue training and extensive time spent out on the water.
"This trip has been an obsession for me – it's all I do," Stadalsky said. "We're trying to account for every possible situation we might encounter."
Experience gained from past travels – such as resourcefulness – also will come in handy during their journey into the wild, Stadalsky said.
"I hitchhiked; drove motorcycles; a scooter; lived in a van; lived in a car on a beach; pretty much just any mode I could figure out," Stadalsky said of spending two years traveling across the U.S.
McClelland is no slouch in the travel department himself, having spent time working in orphanages in Indonesia and living on a catamaran in the Florida Keys.
Though McClelland and Stadalsky are both seasoned travelers, they agreed, that the canoe trip will be the "roughest" trip either of them have ever taken. They will navigate the river without the use of a GPS or a motor. Instead, they will solely rely on maps and a compass and tent-camp in the wilderness each night.
"There's something more appealing to the complete disconnect from technology and the fast-paced daily life, where this gives us a chance to just slow down, relax and enjoy being out in nature solely," McClelland said.
They will use their cellphones, powered by a solar portable charger, in cases of emergency and to relay trip updates and photos to their parents, who will update their blog during their trip every few days, Stadalsky said.
The men agreed that the trip also will provide an opportunity for introspection.
"Traveling for me is spiritual, as well as a way to get away from the hustle and bustle. ..." Stadalsky said. "[The canoe trip] will give me time to digest on a personal level. With computers, books my job, my studies in school, that's a lot of information, and for me not to slow down and process that, it's hard to know who I am and what I want to do."
Upon reaching their destination, they said they'll look forward to being reacquainted with friends and family, as well as fulfilling more basic needs.
"A shower would be the most exciting thing we could ask for," McClelland said.
To follow Pete Stadalsky and Nolan McClelland's journey, to make a donation to the American Diabetes Association or to donate money toward their trip expenses, visit www.paddletocurediabetes.blogspot.com.