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Can-do attitude in the canoe: Florida man canoes Mississippi to raise funds for international relief organization

Erik Elsea of Florida paddles down the Mississippi River on Tuesday near Bemidji. He plans to canoe the full length of the river as a fundraiser for ShelterBox USA, which provides shelter to victims of natural disasters or conflict. (Jordan Shearer | Bemidji Pioneer) 1 / 2
Erik Elsea of Cape Coral, Fla., hopes to complete his solo trip down the Mississippi River in 90 days. (Jordan Shearer | Bemidji Pioneer)2 / 2

BEMIDJI—Two numbers: 85 million and 2,552 miles.

The first number: 85 million—how many people are displaced in the world through natural disasters or through civil conflicts.

The second: 2,552 miles—how many miles to canoe the Mississippi River.

Erik Elsea knows both of those numbers by heart.

The Cape Coral, Fla., man came through Bemidji on Tuesday as he continues his 90-day mission to canoe the length of the Mississippi and raise funds to help those 85 million people.

Elsea, a realtor by trade, also is a Rotarian and an ambassador for ShelterBox USA, an official Project Partner of Rotary International. ShelterBox provides emergency shelter and supplies to people across the globe who have lost their homes after a natural disaster such as earthquakes, floods and volcanoes and also to areas ravaged by civil conflicts. Each ShelterBox contains a disaster relief tent for a family, blankets, a water filtration system, emergency lighting and

other tools for survival, according to a release. Also, ShelterBox also supplies kits, which can include items such as cooking sets, solar lights, blankets, water filtration and activity sets for children.

Elsea started his journey July 7 in Park Rapids. He plans to do the trip in 90 days; he could do it faster, but he plans to stop and speak to Rotary clubs and other groups along the way, raising awareness about ShelterBox at each stop. His aim is to raise $100 per mile of the Mississippi, for an overall goal of $255,200.

"We have a lofty goal, but I think we can do it," Elsea told Bemidji Sunrise Rotary members at their meeting Tuesday morning before he set off. As of Tuesday afternoon, nearly $24,000 had been raised.

The other reason for the 90-day event, Elsea said, is because scientists say that is how long it takes a drop of water to flow from the Itasca headwaters to the Gulf of Mexico.

Originally from the St. Louis area, Elsea is no stranger to the outdoors. As a boy he canoed in the lake behind his home, and also in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota, where his dream to one day canoe the entire length of the Mississippi was born, he said.

He learned of ShelterBox through his affiliation with Rotary; he just finished his term as the president of the Cape Coral club. The organization is actually based in the United Kingdom, but expanded to the U.S. several years after forming in 2000. To date, ShelterBox, known by its distinct green tote-like boxes, has provided aid to more than 300 disaster in more than 100 countries.

You can follow Elsea's Mississippi adventure by visiting www.mississippiexpedition.com or via his Facebook page, Instagram or Twitter. There's a GPS tracker so you can see where Elsea is at on the river. To support the fundraiser, donate at: www.shelterboxusa.org/expedition.

He's canoeing by himself, but he has a team of volunteers helping along the way, he said. He hopes to average 25 miles a day. His supplies? A ShelterBox, of course.