How Canoeing Can Help Fight Brain Cancer

 jeff kalil canoeing

Jeff (with his son, Cannoy) paddles on Lake Junaluska at sunset. “Those Javas really catch the last rays of the day!”

In July of this year (2021) Jeff Kalil will embark on his Catawba Chain of Lakes endurance fundraiser “Paddle for Progress” to raise an ambitious goal of $10,000 for brain tumor research.

Jeff is partnering with the National Brain Tumor Society for this Gray Nation Event in memory of a close friend of his, Jim Goeke-Morey. Jim passed away in 2018 after a long his battle with glioblastoma—an aggressive type of brain cancer.

Why a Canoe Trip for a Cause?

A middle school principal, Jeff did a long-distance bike ride in 2019 as his first effort in supporting the work of the National Brain Tumor Society (NBTS) after Jim’s death. He was able to raise $5,000 with that event.

Since then he’s gotten back into paddling and decided to add a second endurance event that will involve a canoe instead of a bike. (Jeff’s account of an earlier canoe trip won First Place in our 2020 Story Contest. Read it here.) He also hopes to double the amount he’s able to raise for NBTS’s brain cancer research.

Jeff’s route will be the Catawba Chain of Lakes, roughly 160 miles in a timeframe of 10-12 days, depending on conditions. “We’ll traverse the seven lakes—and the sections of the Catawba that link them—in an easterly and then southerly direction, beginning in Linville, NC and ending in Catawba, SC.”

Challenges along the Catawba Chain of Lakes Route

The logistics of planning and executing a 160-mile canoe trip on a route that includes several dams and lots of other boat and recreational traffic can be daunting. Jeff said, “I could use a full-time expedition manager at this point—but you’re talking to him!”

jeff kalil's canoe

Jeff has been in close contact with the local power company, Duke Energy, about dam releases so he knows when the water levels will be higher and faster. Not only that, Duke is also doing some construction around the dams, so the portages on aerial photos aren’t necessarily what he’ll find on arrival.

Jennifer Bennett at Duke Energy been incredibly helpful with details and suggestions he couldn’t have known otherwise. Likewise, Greg Nance at Catawba Riverkeeper has been giving Jeff tips on rendezvous points and possible camping spots along the way. Greg has also offered significant logistical support with some of the longer portages. Jeff is very grateful for the support of both of these organizations.

He commented, “There are challenges with a front country trip like this that are really different from a backcountry trip. Backcountry is simpler in a lot of ways. The complexity of this in a high-use area is definitely a challenge. I’m going to try to pre-set as much as I can and have camping areas marked on the map, but it’s probably going to take some flexibility when the paddle meets the water.”

The Prospective Rewards of this Endurance Paddle

Jeff won’t paddle this route alone. He has four sons, currently in high school and college. The plan is to divide the trip into four sections with each son taking a section to paddle with him.

Beyond looking forward to the individual time he’ll have with each of them, this built-in resupply every few days has definite advantages. Jeff laughed, “We’ll have more steak and ice cream nights instead of having to limit that to the first night!”

Another thing he sees coming is the serenity and natural beauty of the route he’ll paddle and the lifestyle that goes with it. “There’s something that’s so incredibly wonderful about a subsistence existence. All you’re worried about is: Can I make the distance? Can I feed myself and erect shelter? There’s a simplicity to life that’s a lot of the appeal of this kind of thing.”

canoeing books

These are four books Jeff has found invaluable as an expedition canoeist. Bill Mason's book is a true "how to paddle and read rapids" curriculum. The next two titles focus more on planning, organizing and outfitting for long-distance trips. The NOLS Cookery is a classic on preparing expedition food. (It's available in the slightly abridged field version pictured here and as a longer full-sized paperback.)

And then, of course, is the honoring of his friend. Jeff said:

“Jim would’ve loved something like this. Doing things that are quasi-adventurous that he would’ve loved to have done is a huge part of this for me. I definitely felt he was with me for that bike ride in a sense, and I have a feeling I’m going to feel closer to him on this trip as well.

“He had an insatiable curiosity and drive for adventure. He was always doing stuff either by himself or with his wife and three girls. To do something that he would’ve loved to have participated in is a huge thing I’m looking forward to.”

Paddle Gear Jeff Will Use

Jeff will paddle a 16’6” Bell Northwind Royalex canoe with Bending Branches Java ST and Java 11 canoe paddles. An NRS PFD, MSR Whisperlite camp stove, Mountainsmith Morrison 3-person tent will also accompany him, along with a few other important items.

He expressed amazement and gratitude for the support and kindness of some of the  small businesses with whom he’s shared his canoe trip plans. Level 3 provided military-grade water jugs for half price, and Kingfisher Maps donated two sets of maps for the entire route.

kingfisher canoe maps

Kingfisher Maps supplied two complete sets of maps for the whole route. This kind of support from small businesses has made Jeff's planning and outfitting considerably smoother. Many thanks to Kingfisher and owner, Justin!

How to Support Paddle for Progress

As mentioned earlier, Jeff hopes to raise $10,000 towards brain cancer research through Paddle for Progress. The funds raised will go to the National Brain Tumor Society.

Jeff said, "In order to reach the $10K goal, we're really going to need folks beyond our circle of friends to contribute, and any amount helps. It's a super ambitious number, but we hope folks will be inspired to contribute, not necessarily because they knew Jim, but because they too had a dear friend who battled cancer or can empathize with what that struggle must be like."

For all the giving details go to Ways to Give on Jeff's website. Jeff also set up a Facebook fundraising page that will link to the NBRS trip page. You’ll find that here.

Jeff concluded our interview with this: “There’s trepidation and some anxiety, but also a great deal of excitement. I’m thrilled for the support!”

To learn more about and support Paddle for Progress, go to Jeff’s website or Instagram page.

What paddle questions can we help you with? Contact our friendly Customer Service team today: 715-755-3405 • [email protected]

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