Part of the appeal of a nearly 2,000-mile canoe journey to the Gulf of Mexico is solitude with nature, but cousins Ben Swartz and Jon Detweiler have quickly realized they're not alone on their adventure.
"It's also really a lot about people - those we meet and those who love us back home and those people we're trying to help far away," Detweiler said Tuesday, during a stop at the confluence of the Muskingum and Ohio rivers in Marietta.
The cousins camped overnight near the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers facility on Post Street before embarking on the tenth day of their journey from Dalton, Ohio, to the Gulf of Mexico. They're asking people to sponsor miles of their trip to raise money for Iris Ministries in Mozambique, which cares for orphans and trains pastors.
Ben Swartz and Jon Detweiler describe the hospitality they've encountered on their journey.
"After praying about it, we just felt like that was the ministry we should support," said Swartz, 21, of Botkins. "We knew they were doing good things and the money wouldn't be wasted."
Detweiler, a 22-year-old Malone University student and resident of Dalton, said the idea for the trip first came to him when he was writing a paper.
"I started daydreaming about adventure," he said. "It was just a fanciful thought. I was like, 'It sounds great but I don't think it will ever happen.'"
EVAN BEVINS The Marietta Times
Cousins Ben Swartz, left, and Jon Detweiler load their canoe at the confluence of the Muskingum and Ohio rivers Tuesday morning in preparation to row to Belleville, W.Va., as part of their nearly 2,000-mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico. They are using the trip to raise money for Iris Ministries, which cares for orphans and trains pastors in Mozambique.
But as he thought and prayed about it more, the idea became even more realistic. Detweiler wanted someone to come along with him and Swartz was the first person he called. After taking a couple months to think it over, Swartz agreed.
With about 200 pounds of equipment - much of it donated by companies sponsoring their journey - Detweiler and Swartz travel about 30 miles a day. They started on Sugar Creek, about a mile from Detweiler's house, then picked up the Tuscarawas River 31 miles later. After 57 miles there, they reached the Muskingum River and traveled its entire length to Marietta.
The hospitality they've encountered along the river has exceeded their expectations.
By the numbers
1,963 - miles from the journey's start on Sugar Creek in Dalton, Ohio, to the Gulf of Mexico.
$100 - cost to sponsor a mile and support an orphan for a month through Iris Ministries in Mozambique.
$210 - cost to sponsor a mile and help Iris train a pastor for a year.
On the Web
www.sugar2salt.com Video at www.mariettatimes.com
"We didn't expect Jet Skis to pull up and (people to) say, 'Come over to my campsite,'" Detweiler said.
They've been welcomed on land, too. On Sunday, the men walked in a deluge to the Fifth Street Church of Christ in Beverly, where they met Waterford residents Max and Connie Rouanzoin.
"Pouring down rain Sunday morning, in walked these two boys with their backpacks and canoe paddles," said Connie Rouanzoin, 71.
Detweiler and Swartz worshiped with the congregation, then were welcomed back to the Rouanzoins' home, where they washed their clothes, took a shower and enjoyed naps in the couple's recliners.
"After sitting on these hard seats on the canoe, a La-Z-Boy is, like, heavenly," Detweiler said.
Rouanzoin said the couple never hesitated about inviting the men to their home.
"They just seemed like very good Christian boys," she said. "We've got seven kids, 17 grandkids and nine great-grandkids, so we're used to kids."
They took Detweiler and Swartz to the tractor pull at the Waterford Community Fair that evening and treated them to steak sandwiches.
Swartz and Detweiler have met a number of other people along the way, some who read about their journey in The Columbus Dispatch. One boater recognized them and donated money to their cause right on the water.
It costs $100 for Iris to support one orphan for a single month. Swartz and Detweiler are dedicating the first 1,000 miles of their journey to that part of Iris' work. Money for the remaining miles will go to the pastor training, which costs $216 for a year. Some of that money goes to the families of those being trained while they are away.
Donations can be made online at www.sugar2salt.com ("sugar" for Sugar Creek, "salt" for the saltwater of the Gulf) or sent by mail. If someone can't sponsor a full mile, any donation amount is welcomed.
The duo's progress can also be followed on the site, thanks to a GPS unit they carry with them.
If they continue at their current pace, Swartz and Detweiler expect to reach the Gulf by November.
Their goal for Tuesday was to reach the Belleville lock before heading south today.
"We should get to Cincinnati by our appointed time (Sept. 2) barring any extreme hospitality," Detweiler laughed.
While they're raising money for Iris and hope to deliver the donations there in person, the men said they look forward to helping people along the way as well. Detweiler recalled visiting Cincinnati once and seeing homeless people encamped along the river. He looks forward to helping individuals like that, even if just by listening to their stories and showing them someone cares, he said.
"We're not 100 percent sure about how we're going to help each one ... but as the Lord leads, we're hoping to help," he said.