Paddling south on the Fox River past the Rochester bridge, Dan Belden bid adieu to family and friends Sept. 24 to set off on the adventure of a lifetime.

Dan Belden

Local man paddles all the way to New Orleans

By Dave Fidlin

Correspondent

Dan Belden no longer wonders where the Fox River goes.

He found out for himself last weekend, fulfilling a childhood fantasy with the help of a trusty canoe, endurance and lots of faith.

Belden, 23, grew up along the Fox River in Waterford and developed a childhood interest in geography.

As a kid, Belden said he used to wonder where the waterway went.

For the last two-and-a-half months, he’s experienced it first-hand.

An expert paddler, Belden grabbed hold of his spirit of adventure and took to the open waterways Sept. 24.

 With much fanfare from family and friends, Belden waved goodbye, pushed off and set out from his parents’ backyard on an excursion that became the experience of a lifetime.

“Every day has had challenges, and that’s been part of the fun of it,” said Belden, who ended his journey Sunday in Venice, La., a community located along the west bank of the Mississippi River that empties into the Gulf of Mexico.

Belden’s decision to actually move forward with his lofty daydream took hold about a month-and-a-half before he actually set out.

He began planning the logistics and purchased his most important instrument: a 15-foot solo canoe.

By Belden’s estimations, he paddled more than 1,600 miles to get from Waterford to the Gulf.

After traversing the Fox River through Wisconsin, Belden linked up to the Illinois River before catching a ride on the mighty Mississippi River near St. Louis.

 Nature was not always cooperative during Belden’s lengthy journey.

The Illinois River, he said, was particularly challenging with its lack of a slope and the need for strenuous paddling to keep the canoe moving. Also, Asian carp were a foe.

Belden said he has taken thousands of photos in the various states he ventured through. Along the way, he has met some amazing people who were willing to lend him a hand.

 From one town to the next, state after state, Belden said he encountered the best of humanity through a variety of kindnesses that strangers offered.

 “I think that’s one of the biggest things I’ve learned from this whole experience,” Belden said, talking about making himself vulnerable and more willing to trust other people.

“My stereotypes were broken down, and I stopped being scared. I realized we humans aren’t as bad as we’re cracked up to be. Being open and talking to other people was an amazing experience.”

Belden took only the most basic necessities with him on his journey – a scenario he described as liberating.

Most nights, he slept in a tent he had packed in his canoe, although people he met along the way would put him up when the weather was bad.

Regardless of where he was, Belden made it a point to check in regularly with loved ones back home, including his mom, Pam Belden, director of the Waterford Public Library.

“It’s been just one amazing journey after another for him,” Pam said, recalling the many phone conversations she had with her son.

“He checked in with me every night, which is something I really appreciated. I’m a very relieved mother.”

As he basks in his accomplishment, Belden is spending some time in New Orleans before heading back home Dec. 16 via a different mode of transportation: an airplane.

 While he said he’ll miss the sights and sounds and feels of his adventure on the water, Belden said he relishes returning home to spend time with family and friends – just in time for Christmas.