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A 6,000+ mile kayak trek through the waterways of the eastern seaboard of America and Canada that takes about 15 months to complete is not everyone’s idea of fun. But for new retiree Steve Chard, it’s a bit of a dream come true.

Steve is kayaking what is known as The Great Loop. He starts in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on 1 June, and he’ll finish at same place in September 2019, having kayaked through 4 Canadian provinces and 22 US states, navigating some of the biggest lakes and waterways of North America; mostly solo.

Steve Chard, fundraiser

Steve Chard, fundraiser

For Steve, this extreme challenge is his way of celebrating his retirement. He starts the trek at age 60 and will be 61 by the time he finishes it. What’s more he is doing it for charities close to his heart, and that includes Kidney Research UK.

Steve loves fundraising and has been doing it since he left school and joined the Royal Navy. He said: “I’ve always been a bit of a serial fundraiser. It was mainly running, but I can’t do that anymore due to a weakened hamstring. I had to try something different and took up kayaking. So far, I haven’t looked back.

“I set myself a challenge and each challenge comes with a great opportunity to fundraise and to raise awareness of issues that are important to me.

“Kidney disease and all that goes with it, including the trauma of long-term dialysis on patients and their families is something that means much to me, ever since I worked in a renal unit.”

After a career in the Royal Navy, in 2005 Steve started work as a healthcare assistant for Dorset County Hospital in the renal ward and on the haemodialysis unit. Later he became an Emergency Care Assistant for the Ambulance Service.

“I’m a people person and I loved working so closely with patients, their families and staff at the hospital. Patients with chronic conditions such as kidney failure are not just patients that come in for a treatment and then go and you never see them again. The amount of time you spend with a patient, their family and friends, in such difficult circumstances, makes you become very close to them. You see people when they are their most vulnerable and you are there to ensure their treatment, which can be so invasive, does what it’s supposed to do.

“It was a privilege working at the Dorset County Hospital back then. And wanting to help kidney patients has stuck with me. Hence my ongoing fundraising for kidney charities.”

So why this particular challenge; why The Great Loop?

“Someone gave me a book about The Great Loop. ‘Honey, let’s get a boat’. I was inspired by it and it made sense that this would be my next challenge.

“That was three years ago, but due to ill health, I’ve only been able to train and prepare for this for just over a year. It’s a bit scary as I’m doing this by myself. But as I’ve shared my story on social media, so many people have been in touch offering help and support for when I pass through their local areas. I’m delighted people will take the time to do this with me, even if it’s for a day or two!”

Loopers, as those who take on this challenge are called, follow rivers, canals and protected waterways, including the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, through all sorts of landscape from wilderness to city river.

“I think most people only do the US part of the Loop but I wanted my trek to be fully authentic, so set myself the challenge of the whole thing. And that includes the Canada section.”

Steve starts from Halifax at the beginning of June, heading off into the Gulf of St Lawrence and up the St Lawrence River to Quebec and Montreal, then Ottawa via the Ottawa River and the Rideau Canal back down to the Great Lakes at Kingston. After a break to visit Toronto and Niagara Falls, he will take the Trent-Severn Waterway to Georgian Bay and the North Channel of Lake Huron. And that’s just Canada!

Steve will enter the USA at Mackinac Island and cross Lake Michigan to reach Chicago where he heads south for the Gulf of Mexico via the Illinois, Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, leading to the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, and back into the sea at Mobile, Alabama. Then it's circumnavigating Florida, up the east coast through the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway to Chesapeake Bay, Washington DC, New York City, Boston, the Gulf of Maine, the Bay of Fundy and finally back to Halifax over a year later.

Steve is starting in midsummer to get most of the northern miles out of the way before winter sets in but his daily plans are totally dependent on local weather.

“Essentially, I’ll be living by the weather forecast. If it’s more than a Force 4, I’ll not be able to be on the waterways. And even though I’m starting in June, which is the height of the northern summer, the Canadian segment alone will take three months.

“I must keep moving. I aim to be in Chicago by end September because I must be off the Great Lakes before they begin to freeze over in October. After then I’ll be going south and hopefully the weather won’t be so severe.

“June’s only just around the corner now and I’m into final preparation mode. My kayaks are already in Canada waiting for me, and I can’t wait to get started.”

You can find out more about Steve’s challenge on his fundraising page here:

Keep an eye out on social media too, as he’ll be posting stories and photos from along the route.

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