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.”
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.”