Northland couple plans to circumnavigate all five Great Lakes by - KBJR 6 Your Weather Authority: News, Weather & Sports

Northland couple plans to circumnavigate all five Great Lakes by kayak

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If you circumnavigated all five of the Great Lakes, it would take you more than 6,100 miles. A Northland couple knows this, because they mapped it out when they started planning the trip. 

Joe Zellner and Peggy Gabrielson will take off April 1 from Port Huron, Michigan. If everything goes as planned, they will be the first man and woman to paddle all five of the Great Lakes in one calendar year. 

"It's probably going to be closer to 6,500 miles to 6,800 by the time we get done," said Zellner. 

It was his idea to embark on the journey. He asked Gabrielson, of Siren, Wis., to come with.

"We did a 92-mile race [together]," said Gabrielson, "I didn't realize it was an audition."

Companies are donating gear and food. Zellner's sister is trailing alongside on land in a camper, where they'll store supplies and sleep when it's too cold to camp.

Zellner, who's lived in Grand Marais for 35 years, is an avid paddler. He's been racing for at least 25 years, many of them long distance.

"I keep going back to a race until I've won 'em," Zellner said.

The expedition will start at the southern tip of Lake Huron. They'll make their way around each of the Great Lakes, before ending in Detroit. 

It's a journey taking place to honor one cut short.

Zellner and Gabrielson are raising money during the trip, asking for sponsorship by the mile. The money will go to pediatric brain cancer research, in honor of Callie Rohr, who died from brain cancer. 

"She was diagnosed at age seven and she died five days before her 10th birthday," Gabrielson said.

Zellner and Gabrielson met Callie's parents through a kayak race they hold every year in their daughter's memory. They've never met Callie, but said they knew they wanted to help. 

"You look at her eyes and you just think you know her. It's just not fair," said Gabrielson, "So, we just decided if we're going to do this, it should be for something."

They share a mission and they also share a loss. 

Peggy's husband, Dan, was in the U.S. Army. He was killed in 2003. 

"We married right out of high school. We were married for 20 years. We have three kids and he was killed in Iraq," Gabrielson said, "He was just my big buddy."

Nine years later Joe would lose his spouse, too. His wife, Anne, died of cancer in 2012. 

"She loved water, loved big waves, you know," he said. 

It was a conversation with his wife that was Zellner's inspiration for the trip. 

"Because we live next to the lake up here, you know, we'd paddle it all the time," he said, "One thing led to another and we eventually wanted to do all five of the Great Lakes and, well, she passed away. So, I thought, well, you know, I'm not getting any younger."

Now they're getting ready for the journey of a lifetime and not taking a minute of it for granted. 

"Life is way too short to save all the good stuff for later," said Gabrielson.

Along the way, Joe and Peggy are stopping in Chicago to visit a Children's Hospital.

Joe and Peggy are blogging about their journey on their website, That's also where you can donate money.

Joe says he hopes they finish the trip sometime in October, because he needs to be back in time for hunting season. 

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