Ian Davis, of Green Tree, Pa., near Pittsburgh, has taken a long journey down the Ohio River with his 10 and one-half month old Britney Spaniel, Gracie. But, there is a third passenger who is unseen, but is the inspiration for Davis’ trip.
Davis’ full-time profession is a teacher and coach with Called to Communicate, a not-for-profit organization he established to help students. His mission is to instruct students on how to be world-class communicators. Public and private schools, parents and individuals hire him to help instruct students with public speaking, debating and critical thinking.
One of the purposes of his trip is a fundraising effort to raise funds for Called to Communicate. Individuals interested in donating may visit Davis’ fundraising page at www.gofundme.com/2om6fs.
“We exist in order to equip children that they can sing the songs in their hearts and then after that, they can change the world,” said Davis.
He says another reason for his jaunt down the Ohio is it’s a crazy adventure every guy wants to do once in his life. This is his first big trip, pointing out this trip is five times bigger than his last paddling excursion, which was traveling 200 miles down the Allegany River, the largest tributary to the Ohio River.
When Davis answered an advertisement on Craig’s List about a canoe for sale, little did he know at that time, he would end up canoeing 1000 miles down the Ohio River. But after purchasing the canoe and finding out about its former owner, the late David Burt, he felt compelled to make a journey in honor of Burt.
“I’m sort of doing this for him,” said Davis, who said his journey down the Ohio is much like the song, Riding with Private Malone, that relays the story about a person who bought a 1966 Chevy Corvette which was stored in a barn for decades under a tarp.
Private Malone was a soldier who did not make it back from the war. In the song, the new owner finds a letter from Private Malone in the glove box that says, “If you’re reading this, I didn’t make it. This car used to be my dream and now it’s your dream so I hope you’ll always remember you’re riding with Private Malone,” Davis explains.
The same thing is true for the canoe Davis said he feels much like the character in the song, “Only my 1996 Chevy Corvette was a 1962 Old Town canoe,” he said.
Davis was shopping for a canoe in 2011 and answered the ad placed by Susie Fitzgerald, the sister of Burt. The canoe, “Elinor” was in Fitzgerald’s barn, where it sat with a tarp over it for 45 years.
Burt had purchased Elinor in 1963 and with his friend Chuck Shupe had paddled Elinor on some short excursions in 1964 and 1965.
Davis explained how Fitzgerald told him about Burt’s life and what an adventurous young man he was. At the age of 16 he went to Canada, alone, in order to learn how to run a trap line. “The border patrol thought he was running away from home,” said Davis.
Burt and Shupe both died in a car accident at age 18 in 1966, when a semi side swiped Burt’s car just prior to the two graduating high school. “That was the end of Burt’s great life adventure,” said Davis, adding, “I’m kind of finishing Burt’s life adventure for him.”
On his travels down the Ohio, he says there have been memorable moments, like meeting and talking with an 80-year-old man, Bill Seel, on June 23, on Seel’s front porch in Little Hocking, Ohio. Seel had extended an invitation to Davis to come over for coffee and shared with him about how his first wife had died from rheumatoid arthritis. “I have found that if people are transparent with each other and get to the real issues in life, they become friends very quickly,” said Davis.
Another eventful moment, Davis happened when on a river island near Owensboro, Ky., he was shot at. “These guys in a boat just started popping off in my direction. I heard the bang and then the whiz of the bullets. I screamed at them to stop and they did.
Elinor is 15 feet long and made of wood and canvass. “It’s relatively small by most standards, but it’s all I need for my gear,” said Davis. Everything he needs, is packed on the canoe from his tent, water filtration system to his clothes and toiletries.
“It’s [the canoe] surprisingly sturdy,” said Davis. “I don’t have any damage on the bottom of the canoe, and it has been water tight the whole trip.”
Davis’ link to his Facebook page, and his and Gracie’s followers, is through his iPhone. People who have been following his trip on www.facebook.com/thepointtocairo have become acquainted with Davis and Gracie, who has become a star. She even has her own page, www.facebook.com/adventureswithgracie.
“Gracie’s a pretty special dog,” said Davis. She is a Britney or Britney Spaniel, a bird hunting dog. “She loves to run,” said Davis, pointing out though that Gracie is pretty well-trained and obedient.
According to Davis, on cooler days Gracie sits on top of the canoe but to get out of the sun she gets underneath the tarp.
“I’m feeling enthusiastic and anxious,” he said, adding, “Looking forward to getting done in one sense, but it’s very bittersweet.” As Davis passed through Dam 52 Sunday afternoon, he said he realized it would be the last time he would hear the creak of the huge doors and be all alone in the chamber, as Dam 53 is down and he will paddle on past it.
Davis will arrive in Cairo on Sunday, concluding his journey. Davis said, “We live pretty sedentary lives these days.” That is why he said he would encourage anyone with a dream to pursue it. He said it does not have to be a big trip like paddling a 1000 miles down the Ohio River. But, “If it’s big, you know, heck with it, go for it. Life’s too short to wonder what you might have done. And we’re thrilled we said ‘the heck with it’ three and a half months ago and decided to do this,” said Davis.
To read more about his journey, visit www.facebook.com/thepointtocairo. To watch the Planet’s interview with Davis, visit the Planet’s You Tube channel.