Four friends plan to kayak Mississippi River to raise funds, awareness for Habitat for Humanity

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WESTLAKE, Ohio – This will be a summer that friends Evan Weisenberger, Conor Emser and Beau Hartman of Westlake and Tony Yandek of Brunswick will remember for the rest of their lives.


WHS kayakers maps.jpgThis map shows the route the four college students will travel. The four college students set off this week from Lake Itasca, Minnesota, at the northern end of the Mississippi, heading to its southernmost point, New Orleans, Louisiana.


Along the way, the friends plan to paddle their kayaks, camp along the river and spend 10 days of their 60-day voyage volunteering with Habitat for Humanity or at a Habitat for Humanity Restore. The 2,320-mile trip will take them through nine states and undoubtedly will include a great deal of adventure.


For Conor and Beau, adventure is nothing new.


Last summer, Conor, 20, participated in Bike and Build, another Habitat for Humanity venture. A communications major at Ohio University, Conor traveled across the country from the East Coast to the West, volunteering with Habitat for Humanity at stops along the way.

He said the trip was so fulfilling, he wanted to do another one. “It was my idea to do the kayak trip,” he said, confessing that he hates open water. And none of the four has much experience kayaking.  “I don’t even like to go in the pool, but I can swim,” Conor added.

“I can swim,” said Tony, 20. “My mom is probably the most nervous of the moms, but my dad is supportive.”


Beau and Evan said they have done some kayaking at Mohican State Park.


Tony plans to blog, take photos and record the group’s adventures. When asked about charging a cell phone in the wilderness, Beau said he’s got it covered.


“We can stop in nearby towns or ask people living along the route if we can charge our phones. I also have a stove that generates power to charge a phone,” he said. Beau said most people are very accommodating if a traveler needs something.


Group shot of kayak guys on couch.jpgFriends Conor Emser, from left, Beau Hartman, Evan Weisenberger and Tony Yandek plan to kayak all 2,320 miles of
the Mississippi River this summer to help raise awareness and support for Habitat for Humanity.Carol Kovach/Special to Sun News


They are asking family members and friends to support their adventure by making donations. The plan is to travel as inexpensively as possible so they can make a donation to Habitat for Humanity.


Beau, 21 may be the biggest adventurer in the group.


He is a student at Hocking College majoring in ecotourism and adventure travel. Beau said he has backpacking experience and is OK with water. He’s also a lifeguard and a wilderness first responder, he said, which is helping to reassure their mothers.


“My (kayak) teacher says it takes 1,000 miles to be an experienced kayaker,” Beau said. All four acknowledge they ought to be experts by the time their adventure concludes in mid-July.


Each bought a kayak – nothing special, they said — a pretty basic plastic boat with a paddle for about $400.


“We’re hoping there won’t be any holes (in the kayaks), but if there are, we’ll have duck tape,” Conor said.


They plan to travel lightly, bringing three T-shirts, two pairs of shorts and a pair of socks, a long-sleeve T-shirt, long pants, as well as about a week’s worth of food and a few cooking and medical supplies. They will buy some water, then boil, purify and refill their bottles.


“This is a minimalist trip,” Beau said, “but we’ll definitely have to do some shopping.”


“I’m bringing my ukulele,” Tony said.


Conor tries out his kayak.jpgConor Emser tries out his kayak before setting off on his adventure.Carol Kovach/Special to Sun News

He and Beau plan to sleep in hammocks. All have tents. Along the way, they said some acquaintances will host them a few times. Otherwise, they’ll be in the elements. They are bringing waterproof bags for storage of clothing, electronics and other items. They will keep plenty of sunscreen and insect repellant on hand.


Tony is the mechanic in the group. He is majoring in mechanical engineering at the University of Akron. He found a truck for $450, fixed it up, bought license plates and insurance, and that’s how the four got to Minnesota to start their adventure. They planned to scrap the truck when they reached Minnesota.


They did a great deal of Internet research for the trip. Conor said not too many people have attempted this adventure, but there are blogs and sites sharing information, including maps and charts and there are videos on YouTube.


Evan, 20, is the quietest of the group. He is majoring in electrical engineering at the University of Akron. He and Conor graduated from Westlake High School in 2012, and were classmates of Beau’s sister. Beau is a 2011 WHS grad. Tony and Evan met in college.


So how do the moms feel about their sons’ adventure?”


“I’m probably the least worried,” said Maggie Hartman, Beau’s mom. “They will learn a lot about life. And the stories we’ll hear will be fun.”


Sandy Emser, Conor’s mom, said he wrote a blog last summer about his travels from Virginia Beach to Cannon Beach in Oregon, which was about a 3,100-mile bike trip.


“He had some followers,” she said. “I was very proud of what he did.”


Diane Weisenberger, Evan’s mom, confessed she is very nervous about the trip.


“I bought him a satellite device so he can check in with us,” she said.


The group plans to ship the kayaks home by barge when the trip is over, then they will travel home by train or bus.


And what will they do for the rest of the summer?


“I plan to come back, get my car and drive out West to do some climbing,” Tony said.


Evan plans to get a job, “maybe delivering pizzas,” until it’s time to return to school.


Beau said he most likely will do some lifeguarding, maybe at Claque Park Pool in Westlake.


As for Conor, he will return to OU where he is a student tour guide.


All four agreed their summer experience will be worthwhile.


“Ultimately, this will be a great adventure, But our mission is to return money to help Habitat for Humanity and to do something for the greater good,” Beau said.


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