The Angle to the Keys: the incredible journey of Daniel Alvarez.
In a Kayak Festival t-shirt and flip-flops, 31-year-old Daniel Alvarez looked like he could have been one of the many who took part in the paddling and fun in Two Harbors a couple weeks ago. But Alvarez is not from these parts. He's just visiting as part of a much bigger adventure.
June 11, Alvarez, a Tallahassee, Fla. native, put his 17-foot Necky kayak in the water in the Northwest Angle in Lake of the Woods County, Minn., the northern-most point in the lower 48 states. He plans to paddle to Key West, Florida--the southern-most point--a total of 4,000 miles.
"I thought about doing this [as a hike] from north to south, but it seemed more interesting to do it by water. It goes through a part of the country that most people don't think about as an adventurous place," he said. "When they think adventure, they think Tahiti or somewhere across the globe, but there's tons of adventure right outside your door [in Minnesota]."
Alvarez estimates the entire journey will take six months, although, "if in doubt, I wait," he said. "I try not to be rushed and I always have to re-evaluate my plan, I'm not the boss out there."
His easy-going manner notwithstanding, Alvarez has read the accounts of paddlers and fishermen who have lost their lives out there. He has what he calls a healthy respect for the Big Lake and the challenges ahead. "The second you stop being a little scared of Lake Superior," he says, "it can kill you."
Thus far he has worked his way through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, including the arduous eight-mile Grand Portage to Lake Superior and out to Isle Royale National Park, where he met Ken and Keith Larson and Gunnar Johnson ( not the same Gunnar Johnson who's Duluth's city attorney) of Two Harbors.
For the three days the men were there, Alvarez said, "They treated me like family"--so much so that they also invited Alvarez to stay at their homes until it was time for him to set out on the next leg of his trip. He will paddle to Duluth, into the St. Louis River, over the Savannah Portage and on to the Mississippi, but in an email he reported being " on the fence about possibly going out to the Apostle Islands before the St. Louis River ... at some point, I will have to concede that I cannot see everything even if I want to!"
Originally, Alvarez planned to make the trip on a shoestring budget.
"It doesn't really have to cost that much," he said. But he decided to contact a few manufacturers, tell them about his plan and see if they'd be interested in giving him a kayak. Necky agreed. All they needed to know was where to send it. He also applied for a grant offered by Outside magazine, for which he had to submit a video and a written proposal. Alvarez won the $10,000 and was happy that he would be able to spend more money on food than he had originally planned, but he also felt "too fortunate," he said.
"Being able to do these adventures feels a little selfish, so I contacted some groups and decided to donate the money I would have spent on the kayak to four charities," he said. Friends of the Boundary Waters will be one of them. Other recipients include American Rivers, the Gulf Restoration Network and the Florida Wildlife Federation.
Alvarez is no stranger to these epic undertakings. His first was a four-day hike across the Grand Canyon with his mother when he was 11. At the end, he remembers looking back across the canyon and realizing what they had accomplished. Ten years later, he stepped onto the Appalachian Trail, with the Continental Divide, Pacific Crest and Hayduke trails to follow. In sum, more than 8,500 miles.
Alvarez tackled the Pacific Crest Trail during his final semester at Yale Law School. Halfway through the term, he loaded his pack (including the study materials he would need) and headed off to complete the first 300 of the 2,650 miles of the trail. He knew if he waited until after graduation, he wouldn't make the entire length before it was buried in snow. The 300 miles under his belt, he returned to school, took his exams and graduated.
Since that time, Alvarez has worked as a lawyer, but "I would really like to be a writer," he said. He has been blogging his trip and just completed the first part of a book he's writing about his father, who came to the U.S. from Cuba as a child.
"It's an American Dream story. My father came to the U.S. knowing not a word of English. When he started school, his teacher told him to 'just copy the kid in front of you, do what he does,' so my dad copied what he did," said Alvarez, including "writing the kid's name on his own paper."
Later, his father, Carlos Alvarez, learned to play football.
"For him it was more than a game. It was a way to become American," he said of his dad, who went on to play for the University of Florida Gators, graduated summa cum laude from Duke Law School, and was recently inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
What's next for Daniel Alvarez?
"I have lots of ideas. Every time you step outside, you think of five more trips. New Zealand has a long trail that covers 1,800 miles across both islands and there's the Pilgrimage Route in Spain, but paddling has opened up all sorts of possibilities," he said. "Right now, I just want to get to Key West."
Read more about Daniel Alvarez, his journey, his previous adventures and see his pictures at