To raise funds for the children of Myanmar, Dr. Hedger and his son Max have set a goal to canoe down 2,400 miles of the Mississippi River in the United States, this summer. These funds will be donated, from ISY, to two of the organizations: United World Schools (UWS) and Care for the Least Center (CLC). Recently, Global was provided with the opportunity to interview Dr. Hedger, who shared interesting insights into his upcoming trip. 


How did you get the idea to start the Mississippi Challenge?

A couple factors led me to start the Mississippi Challenge. I grew up in Minneapolis Minnesota, which is where the headwaters of the Mississippi River start. Growing up near the river as a child, I used to go hiking and rafting along the creeks, and this was a big part of my life because the river had lots of folklore/history surrounding it that intrigued me. I finally had the chance to actually row down the river when I was a senior in college, when The National Youth Leadership Council (NYLC) started a project where kids could take turns canoeing across the Mississippi river starting from the headwaters. Although I was hired initially just to do the planning for the NYLC, I eventually gained the opportunity to work as one of the trip leaders and help kids canoe down the river. During these canoe trips, I was exposed to diverse communities of people; back in the day, there were a lot of towns around the river of different nationalities, from German to Irish to Swedish. While canoeing down the river, I fell in love with the diversity and thought that some day I want to repeat this canoeing trip with my own children. 


How long do you think it’ll take to get down the river?

The river is a pretty long river, around 3770 km in length and going through 10 states. When I researched how long it would take with Max, we found that for most people, if they stay really focused, the trip can be completed in 8-12 weeks, with a majority finishing in 10 weeks. For us, I think it might take a bit more time depending on what the weather is like during our trip. If there’s a drought, there’s going to be certain areas that we can’t canoe through so we might have to walk, which will probably add to the total time. On the other hand, in lower, southern parts of the river, there might be hurricane areas, so we might have to stop in some places, so that will probably make our trip longer than we expected. 


Where are you going to stay during the trip?

We’ve been plotting the route and the spots where we’re hoping to reach each day. Right now, our plan is to canoe 30 miles a day, and we’ve identified camping spots, and designated campgrounds that we can stay. In lower parts of the river, we’re planning on camping on little islands or staying at hotels if we happen to pass through small towns. 


How did the people around you react to the idea?

Initially, a lot of people were a bit surprised because I had never talked about wanting to canoe down the Mississippi River, even though I had thought about it a lot. But once I told them my idea, a lot of people around us got their heads around the idea and were pretty much on board! My family lives in Duluth, Minnesota right now, which is a pretty small and outdoors-y town surrounded by a lot of wilderness. A lot of people here do many physical outdoors activities, so they were very supportive of the Mississippi River Project. My family was also super supportive; in fact, my wife and daughters are planning to join us for certain parts of our trip! 


How are you and your son preparing for the upcoming project?

First, we’re gathering materials for the trip. We began this from the beginning of last summer in a large storage closet in our house. Whenever we thought of something we might need for the trip, we’d buy the materials and throw them in the storage closet; so the storage closet is getting fuller and fuller everyday. We’ve also been doing some reading on canoeing and the Mississippi river, looking at the food we might need, and researching places we could stock up on our food and water along the way.  

Also because the project will be pretty physically burdening, I’m trying to engage in physical activities and preparing myself physically for the trip. Max is in good shape and is always engaged in physical activity, so it’s not as big of an issue for him. For me, however, the trip is probably a bit harder for me because of my age, so I’m running 5-10 miles a day, increasing my exercise, and trying to get myself in better shape. The first few weeks, I’m pretty sure I’m going to have a lot of aches and pains after rowing the canoe the whole day, but I’m sure it’ll get better as I get used to it.


How are you planning on carrying the materials? 

Everything will be in the canoe with us in Duluth packs, which can hold any necessities or foods inside them. Because those packs are very large, if we need to come out of the river and settle it is more manageable to put them on our backs and set up camp. There aren’t a lot of places to stop and resupply in the beginning of the trip, so we’ll probably have to carry a lot of stuff when we start. But later on, as we get down the river, my wife and daughters are planning on giving us a cooler so that we can carry more food! 


What is something that you are looking forward to during the expedition?

I’m excited to explore such a large section of the US. One thing that people might not realize about the US is that it differs so much from place to place, and it almost feels like a different country in certain areas. I’m excited to explore the diverse experiences that different states will give me throughout the trip. I also think the trip is a great opportunity to further bond with Max and share this unique experience with him. I love that the trip is also an opportunity to support and make a contribution to UWS. 


What do you think the most challenging aspect of the journey will be?

The first few weeks, we’re going to be very sore, so that will be a very big difficulty. During the pandemic, I also spent a lot of time on the Internet and watching TV. But during the trip, we’re going to be spending several weeks without those two, so that could also be a bit difficult. Lower parts of the river are very commercial, so we’re expecting to meet very big commercial ships that will cause large waves. Any major weather problem will also be quite a challenge. The weather we’ll get in the northern parts of the river will be very different from the southern parts: when we leave there will probably still be ice and snow on the ground, so those first couple weeks will be extremely cold for us. But when we get to the south, there will be lots of mosquitoes and black flies; it’ll also be very hot and humid, and if we’re unlucky we might get into hurricane season. 


Is there any specific reason why you choose to do a fundraiser for the CLC and UWS?  

UWS supports schools in Shan State, and ISY has committed to supporting that school. It has been a very difficult time for these schools amidst the current political situation along with COVID-19, so Max and I decided we want to help. CLC is an orphanage on the outskirts of Yangon which has been around for a long time. Around 700 children grow up there, and the orphanage requires a lot of essential materials as there isn’t any electricity or roads around it. Many buildings also require renovation and the orphanage needs to build some more buildings as the number of children who need help are increasing. Max and I are trying to get people to sponsor us for the trip, so we would love it if people could donate 10, 20, or 30 dollars! Currently, we’ve raised up to 4000 dollars, and once we reach our goal, we plan on dividing the money in half to each organization. Anybody can donate through the ISY school website, and everybody can keep themselves updated on our journey through my blog, where we’re going to make postings twice a week as we travel. 


Readers can keep up to date with Dr. Hedger and Max’s journey on his blog! Here is the web address:

If you can, please donate and sponsor his journey to help UWS and CLC! If you are in the US or you are a US citizen, the donation is tax deductible, and this will be a great adventure that everybody can follow along with.

By Dr.Hedger

Published by Global