CHANNAHON – Perhaps it’s only natural for 25-year-old Peter Stadalsky to be drawn to a long canoe trip.
Raised in Channahon, an Indian name meaning “the meeting of the waters,” Stadalsky lived most of his life practically enveloped by the DuPage, Des Plaines and Kankakee rivers.
So, on June 24, he and his Aurora roommate, 21-year-old Nolan McClelland, plan to launch their 16-foot canoe into the waters of Fontana Lake in the Smokey Mountains National Park for a 70-day, thousand-mile trip through some of the most scenic waterways in the country to the Gulf of Mexico.
It’s for a good cause, too: The Paddle to Cure Diabetes trip is a fundraiser for the American Diabetes Association. The two have set a goal of raising $10,000 to support the organization that funds research and leads the efforts to improve the lives of people who live with diabetes. Peter Stadalsky is the son of Kris Stadalsky, a correspondent for Shaw Media, which owns Herald Life.
The cause is important to Stadalsky and McClelland: Both of their fathers, Mark Stadalsky and Tom McClelland, have had Type I diabetes since childhood.
“I’m excited, but scared to death,” Mark Stadalsky said of his son’s trip. “He does his homework on it, but there are a lot of elements on this journey that he hasn’t faced.”
Peter Stadalsky is not new to marathon travels. When he was 21, he embarked on a hitchhiking trip across the country that took him to 42 states and a long list of adventures. His inspirations for the spiritual journey were two books he had recently read – “Siddhartha,” by Hermann Hesse, and “The Alchemist,” by Paulo Coelho.
“It was a really cool experience,” Stadalsky said. “It opened my eyes up to different cultures and different ways to live.”
During one part of the adventure, he lived in a remote cabin with no running water, and helped its owner rehab the place. He and a friend also rode 5,000 miles together on a small scooter. One winter, he lived in a station wagon in Florida.
“I lived on the beach and made some really good friends,” he said. “It was cool to see so many people who were so welcoming. A lot of people reached out to be kind. ... It restored my faith in humanity.”
Stadalsky also made a 10,000-mile motorcycle trip where he camped out along the way. He called that trip “amazing.”
He and his roommate decided on the canoeing adventure after hiking along the Fox River near their Aurora home and coming upon an old boat. It was still somewhat water-worthy, and the two took it out for a spin on the river.
“I was overtaken with the river and how peaceful and mysterious it was,” Stadalsky said.
His upcoming canoeing fundraiser trip was inspired by that experience. He’s been planning it for more than a year, researching what it would take for such an extensive excursion. He and McClelland will begin in the Smokey Mountains National Park at Fontana Lake, which is a reservoir on the Little Tennessee River. The lake gives access to remote areas of the national park that are difficult to reach by land.
Then they’ll paddle the Tombigbee Waterway, or the “Tenn-Tom,” the Tombigbee River, and end in the Gulf of Mexico just beyond Mobile, Alabama.
The trip will be a fundraiser for diabetes. Stadalsky said he grew up seeing his father handle the disease every day.
“He’s extremely healthy and very active,” he said of his dad. “He’s had a very organized kind of regime. He lives like clockwork. He wakes up at the same time every day. Eating is like a mathematical equation. It’s hard to do the work of an organ like the pancreas on your own. You have to be meticulous and maintain a healthy lifestyle.”
The canoe trip will be full of challenges, just like their fathers’ lives are, Stadalsky said. They have committed to using no motors, no GPS and no motels. Stadalsky said he knows they will face storms, snakes, alligators and other “bumps in the road,” much like the problems their fathers have faced throughout their lives with diabetes.
They are meeting with a wilderness survival expert before the trip to help prepare.
Stadalsky said he thinks the most difficult part will be the three-mile portage around the third dam they will encounter. They will have to ascend 2,000 feet with their 85-pound canoe.
Peter Stadalsky and Nolan McClelland will post updates during their trip on their website www.paddletocurediabetes.com, and donations to the American Diabetes Association can also be made there, as well as separate donations that will go toward their trip expenses.