Going against the grain — and with the flow
School is out for college student Gene Iserman, but he is still busy meeting deadlines.
“There is definitely a lot to do,” Iserman said.
While most of his classmates are preparing for their final year of higher education with internships or working summer jobs to save for one last year of college poverty, Iserman is in the last days of preparation for the trip of a lifetime.
Iserman, 21, who will be a senior at Crown College in St. Bonifacius next fall, is planning a trip down the Mississippi River— all the way down the Mississippi River.
“It’s always been in the back of my mind,” Iserman said of his summer adventure, “It didn’t become something I started acting on until last summer.”
Iserman, who grew up in the Brainerd lakes area, and his college roommate, Austin Peterson, also 21, will start their expedition from the Mississippi Headwaters at Lake Itasca and travel nearly 2,400 miles south to the Gulf of Mexico in a two-man kayak.
“We can put more man power to one vessel to get there faster,” Iserman said. “We want to get down there in a decent time.”
Iserman estimates that the trip should take them about 40 to 50 days. Taking into consideration weather and water conditions, Iserman and Peterson plan to start their trip around June 7. They will pack light and have friends at home managing a network of support that will supply their food and other necessities along the way.
Intending to travel 50 miles a day, the pair hopes to reach their destination in the Gulf sometime in mid-July.
Iserman, who is studying business management and music at Crown College, said he has wanted to travel the Mississippi for some time, but as his ambition for adventure has grown, so has his desire to attach a cause to his wild idea.
“We had that 21-year-old ambition to do something big,” he said. “But if we’re going to do this, it has to count for something more.”
In planning for his trip, Iserman established a movement called Faith in Action to help facilitate donations for his cause.
“It’s not about us,” Iserman said. “We’re hoping this trip is the beginning of other people getting involved and doing something.”
Iserman’s goal is to raise $20,000 to be distributed to Feed My Starving Children, a Minneapolis-based organization, and Life Outreach International.
Iserman said he was overwhelmed with the number of causes worth supporting.
“It was tough to choose,” he said. “We had to decide which was the most personal for us.”
Feed My Starving Children, headquartered in Coon Rapids, provides meals to hungry people in 70 countries around the world. The organization prepares a portion of distributed meals at its Coon Rapids facility.
“They have a good reach in the Twin Cities — the community I go to college in,” Iserman said. “They look at the need and determine how to meet it. That’s what we want.”
Donations directed to Life Outreach International will help fund projects to provide clean water access in communities around the world. Iserman said he is particularly bothered by the idea that, in some parts of the world, people lack access to clean water.
“With how much we have in the U.S., and yet there are people dying because they don’t have clean water? That should be a basic human right,” he said. “For us it’s about going back to the basics, giving people the necessities of life — food, water and, ultimately, the message of Jesus Christ.”
Good intentions rarely come without some resistance. With an abnormally wet winter contributing to unusually high waters on the Mississippi, Iserman knows he has his work cut out for him.
“We don’t want to purposely put ourselves in danger,” he said.
But remaining true to his ambition, he isn’t ready to back down.
“There are far too many concerns on this whole trip to be stressed out about one,” Iserman said. “We just have to hit it head-on and have faith that God will carry us through.”
The flood waters will actually provide an advantage for Iserman and Peterson in reaching their goal on time. But more than fast waters, the flood provides the pair with an opportunity to put their faith into action.
“It feels like no matter how far we get in this it’s never satisfying,” he said. “No matter how many we reach it will never be enough.”
Moved by the need for relief in the Southern states affected by the flooded Mississippi, Iserman has been in contact with American Red Cross Emergency Relief to arrange a couple of service days.
“How can we kayak down the whole Mississippi going past so much disaster and destruction and not lend a helping hand?” Iserman said. “We know we can’t do everything because we do have a goal, but if we can stop along the way and make a difference, we are going to do that.”
With final plans under way, Iserman said he is looking forward to how the trip is going to change his own life.
“It’s so personal for me,” he said. “A trip like this is going to change my life forever. It already has.”
SARAH NELSON may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5879.