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Chatham adventurer to stand-up paddle the Wolf River

Rod Wellington on William Street in Chatham. Photo CKReview

By Greg Holden

What is left to do for Rod Wellington?

Having already cycled over 8600 kilometers across Canada in 1997, Rod Wellington looked towards a new challenge. So Wellington packed up and cycled across Australia, however not before he navigated 4000 kilometers down the Mississippi River, 800 of them paddling in a large canoe. Never one to be held back, Wellington has also cycled 4800 kilometers from Vancouver to Deadhorse, Alaska, the most northern accessible place by road in all of North America. That was followed by an amazing journey 2560 kilometers paddling down the Murray River in Australia. For many people who seek adventure and the healthy outdoors, those experiences would offer enough memories to last a lifetime. Not so for Chatham-Kent native Rod Wellington, who has also organized and participated in many charity walks locally. His next adventure comes up next month, when from April 7-14 he will stand up and paddle the length of the Wolf River starting in Mississippi and ending in Tennessee.

Stand-Up Against Slavery

SUPAS stands for Stand Up Against Slavery”, Wellington told the CKReview recently, “I am pleased to join my friends in this adventure as we stand-up paddle from source to mouth the entire Wolf River.” The slavery issue refers to human trafficking in Memphis where the journey concludes. Event organizers hope to draw attention to the problem of human trafficking and raise funds for the after care of its victims on behalf of Operation Broken Silence. Joining Wellington on the SUPAS expedition are Dave Cornthwaite, a world-renowned adventurer, author and motivational speaker, John Henry who is a self-described photography mercenary and a lead organizer, Richard Sojourner who is a retired Memphis police officer, Jonathan Brown a veteran at extreme sports, Dale Sanders who sits on the board of the Wolf River Conservancy, and Luke Short who operates a stand-up paddle board company in Memphis. Together they form the SUPAS 2012 team and will stand up to human trafficking and the Wolf River.

So what is left to do for Rod Wellington? An awful lot. “I allow myself to dream and I allow myself to live my dreams. There is no end to the adventures that one person can have. Our imaginations and our abilities are limitless”, said Wellington, “We can all relate to the sense of escapism that tugs at our hearts each waking day; a need to be elsewhere, anywhere, somewhere down the crazy river.” I asked Wellington if he had always envisioned a life of adventure for himself. “When I was young I wanted to be a stuntman. I spent a lot of time jumping off garage roofs.”, he replied. “I was a risk taker, albeit a young and foolish risk taker. Now I am scared of heights!”

Ideas That Become Reality

When he started out, Wellington said he had only 2 goals in mind. First was to cross North America, second was to cross Australia. Both times his path went from west coast to east coast. “Eastering I called it”, Wellington also described how a mental vision became a real life passion, “In between those journeys, an exciting idea blossomed from a dream seedling that had been planted years prior. In June of 2001, I found myself standing at the source of the Mississippi River in northern Minnesota with my best friend, Scott McFarlane, about to embark on an amazing descent of this iconic American river from source to sea. “Rivering” took its proper place next to “eastering” in my world of expedition experiences. There would be no turning back.”

Ghost River section of the Wolf River Photo

The Wolf River presents challenges that include everything from subtle nuances to extreme currents. A section of the river is called Ghost River, as the current slows down but becomes disorienting among a maze of hardwood trees, swamps and marshes. Visitors rank the Ghost section of the river as one of the most scenic places anyone can go to.

Wellington says he explores the world to satisfy his own curiosity. “It’s the endless need to see what lies around the next bend in the river. I want to see the creatures that live in the lush foliage at the river’s edge and meet the people that call the world their home.”, he said, “It’s the people; their endless hospitality and generosity is indeed an inspiring thing. To quote the immortal words of the great Joe Strummer, vocalist and guitarist of The Clash, “Without people, you’re nothing.”

Communities Take Part

The Wolf River has never been navigated from source to mouth on a stand-up paddle board, making this adventure a historic first for the Wolf River. Many local activities are planned around the event on the last 3 days, including a father and son paddle, a crazy canoe college race, a children’s adventure camp,  and the University of Memphis hockey club will be joining the SUPAS team for the last day of the paddle.

Wellington has a website called Zero Emissions Expeditions that has maps and photos of his adventures. He is giving a presentation to the Bluff City Canoe Club in Memphis on April 4 and leaves Chatham on April 2. The group has a goal of $5,000 that will help fund the implementation of after care facilities for victims of human trafficking. You can donate to the cause from the Operation Broken Silence website.