Save The Children Benefit: 13,000 Mile Canoe Trip Begins In North Escambia

April 23, 2011

An Oklahoma couple began a 13,000 mile canoe trip called “Paddle-to-the-Sea” in North Escambia Saturday to support the non-profit group Save The Children.

Jim Neal, 67,  started his journey at Becks Fish Camp in  Cantonment and will continue for about three years as his wife Jean. 69, follows as closely as possible in a support vehicle.

She will carry extra gear, provide re-provisioning of food and supplies, and be available to help with any emergency situations. Jim will carry a SPOT satellite beacon to provide on going track of his position. The boat being used is a decked solo canoe called a Superior Expedition, built by Scott Smith, of Lyons, Michigan. At first look, it has some similarity with a kayak, but has more internal volume, a larger cockpit, and is noted for its seaworthiness. The boat’s name is Ibi (pron. EYE-be), the Timuquan Indian word for water.

Jim and Jean may seem to be an unlikely expedition team, being in their latter 60’s, but Jim hopes if he can put out the effort to drive the canoe through challenging waters, currents, tides, adverse weather, and to some pretty wild camping areas, perhaps he can inspire others to get involved and cheer him on through support for Save The Children.

Save The Children was founded in Appalachia 75 years ago in response to the Great Depression to address children’s needs for food, medical care, education, and other effects of poverty and disaster. Their efforts expanded onto the national stage to advocate for the creation of the School Lunch Program and fight illiteracy.

“Jean and I have been involved in children’s programs often over the years, and I thought my fundraising days were over, but then the Japan disaster came along. When the four-month-old baby girl was pulled from the wreckage after being buried alive for four days after the tsunami, I began to think about the likelihood that she was now alone in the world without any parents or other family,” Jim said. “When I checked to see what organizations were active in dealing with the catastrophe, Save The Children seemed to be the logical answer for the children suffering after the disaster, and a natural fit for us.”

Paddle-to-the-Sea will serve as a vehicle to raise donor funds to support Save The Children’s ongoing programs. Paddle-to-the-Sea first came about from a 1941 children’s book of that name, written by H. C. Holling. It was about a young native boy from Lake Nipigon who carved a wooden Native American in a canoe with the intent that he could float it through each of the Great Lakes and down the St. Lawrence Seaway to the sea.

Paddle-to-the-Sea was expanded by Verlen Kruger of Michigan as a 13,000 mile canoe expedition. He  passed away from cancer before being able to accomplish this daunting feat of circumnavigating the Eastern United States via the Mississippi River, Gulf Coast, East Coast, the Hudson River, St. Lawrence Seaway, Canadian Maritimes, and circumnavigating each of the five Great Lakes.

Jim and Jean Neal then decided to pick up the journey themselves to benefit Save The Children. The entire 13,000 mile journey is expected to end sometime in 2014 back at Beck’s Fish Camp on the Escambia River.

Follow the adventure on Jim’s blog:

Pictured top: Jim Neal, 67, plans to paddle 13,000 miles in this canoe named Ibi. Pictured inset: Ibi arrives at Becks Lake in Cantonment. Pictured below: The journey begins here at Becks Fish Camp. Courtesy photos for, click to enlarge.


11 Responses to “Save The Children Benefit: 13,000 Mile Canoe Trip Begins In North Escambia”

  1. Sarah Lewis on April 26th, 2011 9:01 am

    We look forward to hosting you in Nipigon, where we have recently built the Paddle to the Sea Park in honour of the storybook. The journey of Paddle to the Sea began on the shore of the Nipigon River, on the most northerly point of the Great Lakes, and the township feels very connected to the story.



  2. Thomas Roberson on April 26th, 2011 8:53 am

    Wow! What an adventure and what a worthy organization. My daughter introduced me to Save the Children a year or so ago. May the Lord be with you.

  3. art on April 24th, 2011 4:50 pm

    more power to ‘em!

  4. Jean Neal on April 24th, 2011 11:03 am

    Thanks to for the wonderful coverage of the beginning of our journey and to all the wonderful people who responded. Hope to keep in touch with you all as we make our way, Paddle-to-the-Sea for Save the Children.

  5. Wharf Rat on April 23rd, 2011 11:38 pm

    I read “Paddle to the Sea” in the early 50’s. A story that always intrigued me as a “wharf rat.” Growing up on the water, I learned of the special group of people who lived, and died, working in the important seafood industry on St. Andrew Bay. I am hoping there will be book of this adventure. “Fair winds and following seas.”

  6. enlightened reader on April 23rd, 2011 3:07 pm

    May God go with you on this wonderful trip. It will be the trip of a lifetime. I’m sure the Save the Children group will benefit greatly. HAVE FUN!

  7. Beverly Hill on April 23rd, 2011 11:19 am

    Great story. Would love to hear follow-ups on it as they progress on their journey. Good luck!

  8. Kay on April 23rd, 2011 11:13 am

    What a great way for the golden oldies to give back to the children of
    the world. I hope they have a wonderful safe trip and everyone makes
    sure to make a contribution even if it’s a dollar to this wonderful cause.

    Thanks a million to people like these two

  9. Terri Sanders on April 23rd, 2011 11:00 am

    You are never too old to play.Take a step out of your comfort zone whether it is caneoing,hiking or any other sport that might interest you.You never get too old to play,you get old because you quit playing>Best of luck to both of you.

  10. I'm Optimistic! on April 23rd, 2011 9:12 am

    I second that! Keep us posted.

  11. xpeecee on April 23rd, 2011 7:14 am

    Great adventure for a good cause, beginning at a beautiful place! Good luck to them!

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