Recent college grad launches 6,000-mile sit-on-top odyssey on the 'Great Loop'
By Conor Mihell
On Saturday, July 23, kayaker Josh Tart will set off on the Ohio River in Cincinnati on one of North America’s classic water routes. The so-called “Great Loop” traces the perimeter of the eastern United States. What sets Tart’s expedition apart from the countless pleasure boaters and odd sea kayakers and canoeists that have made the journey before him is that the 22-year-old from Springboro, Ohio, will make the 6,000-mile trip in a sit-on-top fishing kayak. For Tart, the estimated 15-month expedition is all about combining his love of paddling, fishing and the outdoors with the ambitious goal of raising money for Team World Vision’s campaign to drill clean-water wells in remote Africa.
Upon descending the Ohio, Tart will go with the flow of the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico. From there he’ll trace the shores of Florida, enter the Intercoastal Waterway and head north to New York state. Then he’ll ascend the Hudson River and follow a series of canals to Great Lakes Erie, Huron and Michigan, before returning to Cincinnati via the Illinois River. CanoeKayak.com caught up with Tart, a recent graduate of the Cincinnati Christian University, for a chat while he prepares for his epic. (Check out Tart’s website here: www.paddleforwells.com.)
CanoeKayak.com: Where did you get the idea to do this trip?
JOSH TART: My dad has always talked about the Great Loop being a popular cruising route for yachts. Then I started wondering if anyone had ever kayaked it. Jake Stachovak’s website was the first thing I came across. I thought his trip was so cool—paddling and blogging about it to share his trip with the world. I got in touch with him and he gave me a lot of info and pointers. Then I talked to World Vision and the idea turned into a fundraiser for charity.
And you just graduated from college, right? I graduated in May and started thinking about this trip a little over a year ago. I didn’t have any jobs lined up career-wise and I wanted to do something adventurous and ambitious before settling down. As soon as I got in touch with the charity work, it really opened the doors. So I guess this is kind of my big adventure after college.
What’s the big appeal to you? What are you most looking forward to? The adventure, meeting different people, and just being on the water for a year or so. The fishing is going to be a big part of it for me. I’ve grown up in the outdoors and spent a lot of time on the North Carolina coast. I think it’s all that rolled into one.
How many miles do you figure you’ll paddle per day? At that rate, how long will it take you to finish the loop? On the rivers, I’ll probably cover 30 or 40 miles per day. On the coast it will be more like 15 to 20 miles. Jake definitely did bigger days but he was going for miles and paddling a faster, sleeker boat. This trip for me is more about taking it slow, fishing and meeting people along the way. I’m giving myself about 15 months, or until October 2012, to finish the trip.
What boat are you paddling? Have you made any mods to it to help you cover the distance? I’m paddling an Ocean Kayak sit-on-top, their longest model—the Trident 15. Most of my camping equipment, food and water goes into the hatch on the hull. About the only modification I’ve made to it is painting the deck blue-green, to cut down on glare, and attaching a crate on the back for rod holders and day gear. I got a lot of my ideas from Kayak Kevin [Whitley] over at Chesapeake Bay. He paddled the route from Pensacola around Florida and back to Chesapeake Bay. Turns out we share a lot of the same ideas.
Just how much time will you have for fishing each day? It will depend on where I’m at. On the rivers I should have quite a bit of time for fishing. Going with the current I won’t be as pressed for time. I guess it will depend on the day.
Will you be camping along the way? I’m planning to camp every night. But with the nature of the trip—the fundraising and the charity—I’m going to try to be in small towns on the weekends so I can go to the churches and work on raising money. That’s really the big picture for me—raising money. I have a feeling I will be offered places to stay along the way but I’m carrying a one-man tent and a hammock system for camping.
I guess you’ll be supplementing your food rations with lots of fresh fish? Once I get to the coast I will be. I’m taking it safe on the rivers and won’t be eating the fish there.
Tell me about the cause you’re hoping to support. I’m working with World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organization. You’ve probably heard of their child sponsorship programs. Team World Vision, the division I’m working with directly, specializes in raising money through athletic events. I contacted them and mentioned that all their other programs are one-day events. I suggested something that’s going to last a year or longer and they loved the idea. My actual fundraising will go towards clean water projects in Africa.
Do you think it will be a challenge to get people to open up their wallets for a cause that’s so far removed from life in America? In some respects, yes, but then again it’s a way to open our eyes. We’re so blessed here. I’m challenging people to go through there own house and count the number of water faucets in their house. I can count at least 10 in my house. I’ve seen the water that people in other parts of the world are drinking… it’s just nasty stuff. Over 4,000 children die every day due to diarrhea because of contaminated water—that’s something we just don’t think about in the United States.
So you leave on July 23. What’s your route plan to start? My plan for this fall is to get down to the Gulf in one-and-a-half or two months. Then I’ll spend the fall on the Gulf, hopefully reaching Tampa or St. Petersburg for Christmas. I’ll take a break for family stuff and then spend the winter paddling in Florida—doing the Everglades and hopefully out to Key West.
A winter in Florida sounds nice. Florida is kind of the Promised Land to me as far as fishing goes. That’s what I’m really looking forward to.
Does the thought of traveling alone intimidate you? It makes me a little nervous, but I do pretty well on my own so I’m not intimidated. Mostly I’m just anxious to get out there. I won’t be alone all the time. I’ve got one friend who’s doing a couple days with me at the start and another who will be with me for 500 miles on the lower Mississippi. I’ve been hitting all the fishing forums and trying to get people interested in what I’m doing and maybe come out and paddle with me. It’s all about getting people out and involved. The more people who are following the adventure the better.