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Daniel Alvarez's paddle to the sea

Observing the Appalachian Trail tradition of eating a half-gallon of ice cream at the halfway point, Daniel Alvarez celebrates mile 825 of his paddle down the MIssissippi with a tasty treat. This photo was taken on the Lower Mississippi, just past the Arkansas border - November 18, 2012

Daniel Alvarez, the 31-year-old Florida man who passed through Lake County last summer on his 4,000- mile kayak adventure from the Northwest Angle in northern Minnesota to the Florida Keys, has been making steady progress down the Mississippi River.

The News-Chronicle spoke to Ken Larson, who met Alvarez last summer near Isle Royal after Alvarez completed his trek through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and paddled out to the island. Larson, his brother Keith and a fishing buddy got to know Alvarez and invited him to stop in Two Harbors. The men have stayed in touch ever since.

"We talked to him on Thanksgiving," said Larson," he said he was making real good time, but I think he was glad to be off the river for a while."

When they spoke, Alvarez had made it to the Lower Mississippi where he spent Thanksgiving with a family in Memphis, their neighbors and friends, according to Larson.

The Lower Mississippi River, is the 1,000 mile segment downriver that stretches from the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi at Cairo, Ill., to the Mississippi Delta. This is the busiest part of the river for shipping traffic, making travel even more risky for Alvarez in his 17-foot kayak.

" I don't see many other small craft at all. I haven't seen another paddler other than a guy out for the day around Memphis and the little motor boats are scarce, too. It's just me and barges that are huge," he said in an email to the News-Chronicle, "the biggest one I've seen is a tug with 42 barges, which is something like 6 acres of barge moving around the river. Very big next to a little 17- foot kayak."

Still Alvarez said he's finding enjoyment along the route. I've... loved camping on the sandbars along the curves of the river. Every night I get my own giant beach to hang out on and watch barges pass in the darkness."

While he said he's been missing "Minnesota nice," there are moments and people who have been memorable. Asked about recent encounters, Alvarez shared this story:

"One of my favorite moments had to be when I got to the last lock and the lock operator there was so nice and cheerful. They are usually very business-like and don't talk much beyond what is necessary to move me through the lock safely, but this guy seemed happy and excited and told me where I could pull over to get water if I needed it," Alvarez said. " He even told a barge that was coming down the river towards me to watch out for me and not run me over! I was pretty thrilled to be at the last lock and he made it even better with his cheerfulness."

Alvarez said he expects to make it to Key West, the southern- most point in the lower 48 states, by January. He'll still be en route in December, but won't be spending the holiday alone.

"For Christmas I think I'm going to be somewhere along the Gulf Coast right around the Mississippi, Alabama and Florida area. A friend of mine is coming out to paddle with me for a few days starting Christmas day so it should be a fun holiday."

Alvarez didn't mention what awaits him when he arrives at his final destination, but Ken and Lorry Larson plan to make the trip to Florida to visit him in January.

As his trip winds down to its final month, Alvarez said that he's still pondering what he's learned along the way. "The trip is such a whirlwind. I feel like a person who is in the middle of an amazing feast and is eating and eating and hasn't had a chance to digest it all yet."

However, he said he has some advice for anyone who is inspired to make a similar trip or embark on a great adventure.

"Go do it," he urged. "There are always going to be a thousand reasons to wait, to delay, to say, 'maybe tomorrow.' You have to stop waiting for the perfect moment because you will die waiting for it. You have to just go, step to the edge and leap.

Find Daniel Alvarez's blog at