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Paddling for a better life in Haiti

Eight adventurous young paddlers are going down the Mississippi River to New Orleans, raising funds for earthquake victims in Haiti. Five days into trip, they ran into rough weather at Lake Bemidji State Park Monday evening. Tuesday, they encountered large white caps on Lake Bemidji, but with some help from Bemidj residents their canoes and gear were transported to the Mississippi River outlet late Tuesday afternoon and their journey continued. Monte Draper/Forum Communications Co.

Last February, cousins Michael Gutschenritter of Wisconsin and Louis Gutschenritter of Georgia began planning a canoe trip from the Mississippi Headwaters at Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico.

"We got to talking about a cool adventure," Michael said. "The Mississippi came up and decided we shouldn't do it for selfish reasons."

They decided to make the trip a charity for Lambi Fund of Haiti, a nonprofit organization working in Haiti since 1994 to help people with sustainable development, community micro-credit, animal husbandry and environmental improvement. The word "lambi" is Haitian Creole for the conch shell that people blow as a trumpet to summon townsfolk to community meetings.

"The goal is to raise $50,000," Michael said.

From the two cousins, the expeditionary fellowship grew to eight paddlers and four canoes, two of which were donated by the Mohawk Canoe Co., and with paddles donated by the Bending Branches Co. The other members of the group are Karrie Kressler from Pennsylvania, Brett Poche from Colorado, Zach Wehr and Amanda Stenman, both from Wisconsin, and Matt Bailey and Dave Lathrop, both from Georgia. Everyone knew someone else in the group, mostly as college acquaintances, but until they started their journey, none of them knew everyone. Karrie said they are raising funds from direct donations at -- where they are also blogging their adventures -- and from three festivals they will hold along the way in Minneapolis, St. Louis and Baton Rouge. The festivals will feature music and auction items, such as Twins gear. And a brewery has donated beer, Michael said.

"You can follow, tracking through that website," said Amanda.

None of the paddlers had seen the Mississippi Headwaters before or realized how tiny and shallow the great river is at its beginning.

"The first few days, we did a lot of walking," said Karrie.

They left the Mississippi Headwaters Sept. 3 and camped at Lake Bemidji State Park Monday night. They said they expect to arrive at the Gulf of Mexico in November with time to return to their families for Thanksgiving.

"It's a commitment," said Amanda.

"This is a pretty big learning experience for all of us," said Brett.

Molly Miron is a reporter at The Pioneer in Bemidji which is owned by Forum Communications Co.