Daniel Alvarez battled frigid temperatures paddling through Iowa and dodged barges and freighters off New Orleans on his kayak journey from northern Minnesota to Key West.
Alvarez, 31, started on the nearly 4,000-mile trip June 11 in Northwest Angle, Minn. and arrived Saturday at the Southernmost Point in Key West.
The Tallahassee native embarked on the trek to challenge himself and have an adventure, but he also wanted to raise awareness about the importance of protecting this country's rivers, which were significant in the evolution of transportation and shipping in the United States, he said.
He started in a small lake in Minnesota and then paddled through the rivers and historic fur trading routes of the northern Midwest, before being dumped into Lake Superior. He made his way to the mighty Mississippi River and finally into the Gulf of Mexico, shadowing the coast of Florida, across Florida Bay, cutting through Long Key to the Atlantic Ocean and then on to Key West.
"It was a fantastic way to the see the country," Alvarez said. "Water is the heart of our country and a big part of its evolution. [Waterways] were how our cities were formed."
He may have had an iPhone with GPS technology, but he did not map out a route or use a charts or maps, simply saying "I'm not much of a planner."
"I didn't do a lot of research," Alvarez admitted. "I relied more on asking people along the way .... I wouldn't say I was lost, but there were days I wasn't sure exactly where I was."
"I could have never done this trip myself," added Alvarez, who said he stayed with at least 30 strangers along the way. "There were a lot of people who went way out of their way to help me."
While most people would be happy to be on land after being on the water for nine months, Alvarez said he plans to hop back in his kayak today and paddle up to Miami to see family and friends, he said.