Paddling 50 States in 51 Days: A Chat

Admit it. You thought about being a high school teacher so you could have summers off. It’s not a bad plan: work hard for nine months and then go on an epic journey. But how often do teachers really do that? Life gets in the way, children are born, responsibilities stack, meager checks dwindle and then, suddenly, the next school year is upon you.

But sometimes teachers seize the opportunity. Teachers like Chris Anderson. Anderson, a high school English teacher in Long Beach, Calif., will paddle at least five miles in all 50 states over 51 days starting June 14, the day after his high school’s graduation ceremony. Why does someone undertake such a thing? To raise money for the Wounded Warriors Project and have one hell of a summer vacation.

SUP mag: What inspired you to do this trip?
CA: I needed to take advantage of my summer. Why not do things that are big and philanthropic? I had this crazy idea of walking across the United States. When I researched, I found the fastest time was 180 days, too long for summer. My mom also freaked out and reminded me I’m 39. I thought, “I’ll just drive and standup in every damn state then.” I immediately started doing research and it started coming together.

SUP mag: Why Wounded Warriors?
CA: The reason I went with Wounded Warriors is I was looking for a charity that helps out with mental health. I think it’s one of the biggest under served part of our population. If you had a brother who had cancer we’d talk about it in the first five days of knowing each other. But if your brother had schizophrenia then you probably wouldn’t tell me about it. Our culture doesn’t talk about it.

PTSD is one of the biggest problems coming out of the military. My dad, who was a sergeant major, a 26-year career guy in the Army, struggled a little bit after retirement. He couldn’t mentally handle being by himself so he got a job at the post office.

SUP mag: Is this your first big trip like this?
CA: Yeah. And probably one and done too (laughs). I’m recently single and I sold my home. I just don’t see how the context could come together again like this. It’s like you get called to these things. Things happen in our lives, you’re freed up and that dictates how you make choices. You have to do it.

SUP mag: What do you think this trip will do for you personally?
CA: Humble me even more than I’ve been humbled in recent years and help me continue my growth of empathy. Being by yourself also helps in seeing new things and meeting new people. And I think it will really make me aware of others, proof that we are just one big community.

SUP mag: It seems logistically complicated. How has the planning been?
CA: It’s been smooth. I don’t feel locked in too much for any one thing. You’ve got to find it out as you go along. There’s some definite planning but there’s some definite organic-ness to it. I’ve already made some changes to my plans to accommodate groups that want me to paddle with them. I want that and that’s who I am as a person.

SUP mag: What kind of challenges do you think you’ll run into?
CA: Finding a place to park where the boards can stay secure (laughs). Another will be to temper my risk taking. At some place I’ll be fatigued and I’ll have to remind myself that paddling that extra distance, or whatever, might not be the smartest thing to do. You get tired and you think you can do more than you really can. If it ends having to be a paddle on the knees then so be it. You have to finish the trip, ultimately.

To donate to Chris’ cause or get more information, check out his website.