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Mississippi trio to kayak river to raise money for missions; Journey starts at Itasca State Park

Bowman Hitchens, Max Zoghbi and Rob Treppendahl took off on a kayaking journey along the Mississippi Tuesday morning. (Anna Erickson / Enterprise)

Three Mississippi natives started a 2,300-mile venture Tuesday morning that will lead them from Itasca State Park to New Orleans.

Rob Treppendahl, Bowman Hitchens and Max Zoghbi are paddling kayaks the entire distance of the Mississippi to raise money and awareness for two charities.

Their mission, which they call "A Wake in the Current," became a calling for the college students.

"I felt the need to do something to benefit the homeless through Interfaith Compassion Ministry," Hitchens said.

He approached his friend, Treppendahl, and each of them prayed and waited for a sign to make sure a kayak trip was what they were meant to do.

Later, Zoghbi approached Treppendahl about the possibility of a kayak trip along the Mississippi, completely unaware he had separately been contemplating the trip.

It was a sign.

They chose two organizations to raise money for during their trip. All donations will benefit the Interfaith Compassion Ministry, which serves in Oxford, Miss., and the Gardere Community Christian School in Baton Rouge, La., which provides after-school tutoring in the Gardere area. This fall, there are plans to start a school for children of low-income families for a nominal fee.

"God was calling me to do this," Zoghbi said.

As the kayakers made their way to northern Minnesota they found hospitality at St. Francis Lodge in Lake George, thanks to Sal Dileo, a friend of Treppendahl's family.

They spent Monday night at the lodge and were driven to the Headwaters of the Mississippi Tuesday morning.

The trio has received support from many people and has several sponsors, including Ole Miss Outdoors. Their friend, David Bonnoitt, remained home to help with fundraising efforts.

The plan is to complete the trip in 60 days, camping along the way. They chose not to seek out other places to stay because their mission is to help the homeless. They thought living along the shores of the river would be appropriate for their journey.

"We appreciate gifts of food, though, or hugs," Treppendahl said with a smile.

"Even a couch to nap on for an hour or two," Zoghbi said.

They will be burning an estimated 6,000 calories a day and will need to eat a lot of the food they say most people try to avoid.

Care packages can be left along their trip with food or other gifts to help them with their journey.

"We're told there's a big box waiting for us in Bemidji," Hitchens said.

They aren't professional kayakers but have done some training to prepare for the trip.

"A lot of cross fit routines and shoulder and back exercises," Treppendahl said.

He expects the Minnesota length of the journey to take the longest because of the many dams where they will have to portage. As they head south, the current will pick up and they should be able to travel more quickly, he said.

The goal is to raise money to send six children to Gardere Community Christian School, or about $48,000. The overall goal is to raise $100,000 to also support the homeless in Oxford.

Updates will be posted on the group's website, Donations cal also be made through the site. They can be followed on Facebook and Twitter.

They will also be documenting their journey through video and will produce a documentary.

"We're hoping to stir people's hearts and show them a way to support others," Zoghbi said.