By: Tammy Francois, Lake County News Chronicle
Last week I wrote a story about Daniel Alvarez, the young man who is paddling his 17-foot kayak from the Northwest Angle to the Florida Keys — a total of 400 miles . I wouldn’t have known about Daniel if not for Ken Larson of Two Harbors, who made a point to tell me. I’m so glad he did.
If you recall, Ken and Keith Larson and Gunnar Johnson were fishing out by Isle Royale when they met Daniel. They spent days hanging around together and eventually invited Daniel to stop over in Two Harbors before he headed to Duluth, the Savanna Portage and the Big Miss.
When Daniel told me about the Larson/Johnson party who shared their food and extended hospitality to him, I asked him if he'd heard the expression "Minnesota nice." He laughed, said he had, but also said he had found it to be true over and over again — not just an expression.
When the Necky kayak company gave Daniel his kayak, they asked where he wanted it sent and Daniel gave them the address of a friend in Minneapolis. Once in Minneapolis, Daniel had to get the kayak up to Lake of the Woods County. He rented a car, drove it up and then faced the problem of where to keep it until he returned to start his epic kayak voyage. He went into a little store and asked the proprietor if he had any ideas." Yeah, just put it out back. Nobody'll take it," he said. When Daniel returned, his brand-new kayak didn't have so much as a fingerprint on it.
He told of a librarian he met who, upon learning about his adventure, told him he could camp in her yard. And there was the story about the guys who were incredulous that he was going to be in water day after day but had no plans to fish. They gave him a rod, reel and tackle.
I was inspired by Daniel. He had accomplished more in 31 years than most people do in a lifetime. But he was also aware that it is a privilege to be able to do such things, so he made donations to four environmental organizations as a way to give something back.
He made me think about all the things I still want to do in life, but his stories of the kindness shown by others made me realize that we can all do things that make a difference. We can send someone else on the journey of a lifetime with warm memories, a full belly, a kind word or a need met. There are times when being kind isn’t the easy thing, but it keeps the world in balance.
Being a human being on this planet can be a messy, difficult undertaking. I don’t have to tell you that. But I continue to meet people who seem undaunted by barriers. Of course they have struggles like everyone else, but they do what needs to be done in their communities; they don’t care about accolades or attention. They just want to do what they can — because they can. They may not ever have the opportunity to follow their dreams down a river in a kayak, but they’re still heroes. Just don’t try to tell them so.