Andy Gallatin returned to reality this week and all the little things he didn’t have to think about when he was paddling a kayak for 3,052 miles — putting gas in his truck, for example — became part of his life again.
The 2005 Wittenberg graduate accomplished a lifetime goal with his eight-month journey down the Scioto River from downtown Columbus to the Ohio River in Portsmouth and on to the Mississippi River, the Gulf of Mexico and down the coast of Florida to Key West. Boredom may have kicked in after three months but a bigger challenge awaits when he gets home to Columbus.
“It was good to be done,” said Gallatin, who chronicled his trip on RiverWeasel.com, “but there’s also a lot of confused emotions. I have to start working again. I’m excited to finish. I’m more excited to hit the $20,000 goal for the fundraiser.”
Gallatin, 35, devoted his trip to raising money for the Seraph Fund, a nonprofit he helped found to provide financial support for people who need treatment for substance abuse. Gallatin describes himself as an addict and alcoholic and says he has been sober for 2½ years. His financial problems after leaving rehab provided part of the motivation for this trip.
“I came out of my detox period and they told me my insurance didn’t cover me,” Gallatin said. “I was freaking out. They put me on a payment plan with no interest. My parents helped out some. I know for a lot of people, if you don’t have insurance, it’s not going to happen. It was kind of our goal to help people get into treatment. I think that’s what people struggle with. It’s, ‘I’d love to do this but I can’t afford it.’ If you can’t afford it and you’re still out drinking and doing drugs, you’re probably never going to be able to afford it.”
11 years ago I finished one of the most incredible journeys of my life. 2,174.6 miles, 175 days on the Appalachian Trail. I knew it wouldn't be my last great journey. I had been planing an extended paddling journey like the one I am on now since that day. Little did I know that until I started another journey, that I am on everyday, would I be able to make it a reality. The major mountain that stood between me and the river was my addiction. When I started my journey in recovery, my paddling journey became a reality. All journeys start with the first step and the willingness to get uncomfortable and face the unknown. And it's always worth it.
The idea of a long kayaking trip began long before he got sober. Gallatin hiked all 2,190 miles of the Appalachian Trail in 2006. Sometime during that journey, he began thinking of another one that he could do with a cooler full of beer.
» THEN AND NOW: Photos of Wittenberg in winter
The idea stayed on the shelf for years. Then Gallatin lost his job selling software for Dell Computers and realized the time was now. He started the expedition on June 1 — minus the beer. His brother Matt Gallatin, a fellow Wittenberg graduate who played football for the Tigers and owned the school record for the longest punt until last fall, dropped him off at the Scioto.
Matt Gallatin said his brother has always been a dreamer.
“As the years have passed, he has turned these dreams into goals,” Matt Gallatin said. “While the journeys might start out to prove the people wrong who say he can’t, the drive and motivation throughout the daily grind is to prove to himself that he can. There are very few feelings greater than the satisfaction of proving others wrong and proving yourself right.”
Andy Gallatin not only proved something to himself, he learned plenty about others. The kindness of strangers impressed him throughout the journey. He had to turn down many free beers. He accepted other help.
“There are still good people out here in this country who might not have anything but will give you everything they have,” Andy Gallatin said.
If there’s one other lesson Andy Gallatin learned, it’s one that applies to overcoming addition, too.
“Literally, just take it one day at a time,” Andy Gallatin said. “It’s kind of cliche with recovery but it’s true. Some days are better than others but there’s always something nicer in the end.”
“I’m pretty tired...I think I’ll go home now” -Forrest Gump I spent 11 years trying to figure out how to make this trip happen. I always said if this was different, or if that was different then it would happen. And it never did. Finally that day came 233 days ago when I paddled away from Columbus, OH and only one thing had really changed. I got clean and sober. Something I never thought would happen in a million years. And now 7 and 1/2 months later I’m in Key West, FL. 3,052 miles later. This trip wasn’t the route I had dreamed. It wasn’t at the age I had dreamed it would be. It wasn’t under the circumstances I had dreamed. It wasn’t in the altered state of mind I had dreamed it would be. It was more than anything I could have dreamed it would be. It was fun and miserable, exciting and boring, relaxing and exhausting, hot and cold, wet and dry, muggy and buggy, beautiful sunsets and hurricanes the destroyed entire states, calm waters and 7 ft seas, but most of all it was worth it. The good days out weighed the bad. Something that I couldn’t say 2 and 1/2 years ago about life when I was drinking and using. I have learned that no matter what the news says, there are still good people in this country. People who will do anything for complete strangers. I have also learned that almost everyone has been affected by addiction either personally or through a loved one. I hope that I have been able to show people that recovery is possible. Not only those who are struggling themselves, but those who have never struggled with addiction and don’t understand it. People can change, but they have to want to. There are more people struggling with drugs and alcohol than just the homeless guy under a bridge. Addiction knows no age, gender, religion, or financial status. They deserve a second chance. Help is out there, you just have to ask for it. I am by no means a role model or spokesperson for recovery.I am just one of thousands who have been lucky enough to get out of addiction and into recovery. I’m by no way cured. It’s an everyday battle but it gets better. But for every person in recovery, there are 100’s of more struggling and dying thinking there’s no hope.