Paddling America’s Heartland

Daniel Alvarez - Outside Magazine grant winner

Daniel Alvarez | Necky Kayaks

It’s not often that a daydream to escape the office and venture outdoors attracts the notice (and large-scale funding) of a major sponsor. But that’s exactly what happened to Daniel Alvarez.

When I spoke to Daniel, he laughed as he described the unusual path that has led him to his most recent adventure: a 4,000 mile paddle from Northern Minnesota to Key West, Florida that landed him with Outside Magazine’s $10,000 Adventure Grant.

A gap year hike along the entire Appalachian Trail first led Daniel to discover his aptitude for long, expedition-type ventures, he said. Despite the rigors of law school, he managed to complete the Pacific Crest Trail as well before setting his sights on the last of the “big three,” the Continental Divide Trail. A career as a corporate lawyer stood in the way of this plan, however, until the economic recession and a series of layoffs opened the door to adventure once again. “When they came to deliver the news,” he said, still laughing, “I was almost giddy.”

Having completed the Continental Divide Trail and exhausted his primary list of major hiking trips, Daniel’s thoughts turned to other options. “Traversing the entire country north to south was a very intriguing idea,” he said. When the idea of following a water route through the middle of the country crossed his mind, he knew he was onto something. “It’s an area of the country that hasn’t seen many expeditionary trips,” he said. “And that made this idea all the more exciting.”

Along the watery road to Key West, Daniel has traversed remote wilderness in the Boundary Waters, braved nearly kayak-capsizing swells on Lake Superior, and paddled hundreds of miles down the Mississippi. He’s faced the full spectrum of weather-related woes, carried his kayak some 50+ miles during overland portages, and shared his story with countless people and communities along the way.

Daniel sees his journey as an opportunity to rally support for a critically important cause: the health of our nation’s water resources, from lakes and rivers all the way to the ocean. As someone who finds inspiration outdoors, Daniel hopes to use his passion to motivate others.

“We all use and love these amazing places; they’re our playgrounds,” he said. “But what good are we doing if we’re not protecting them?” By demonstrating the wonder and adventure that can be found in our own backyards, Daniel hopes to help more people experience the beauty of our waterways and understand the threats they often face.

American Rivers is one of four nonprofits that Daniel has reached out to during his trip. Along with American Rivers, Daniel has teamed up with Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, Florida Wildlife Federation, and Friends of the Gulf. Each nonprofit represents a different leg of Daniel’s journey, and he has generously extended a portion of his grant money to each. You can read more about Daniel’s trip, as well as his past adventures, on his blog.