By Travis Sloat
Phoenix Staff Writer
Will Hembree paddled into Three Forks Harbor late Thursday night with 2,200 miles of his trip to Twin Bridges State Park completed.
Hembree, who hails from New York, started his kayaking trip on May 5, paddling out of Cold Springs, N.Y., with his life jacket, video supplies and a solar charger, a hydration bladder, camping supplies, and enough food to get him to the next stop.
“My summer plans consist of a 2,473-mile expedition in a kayak,” Hembree said. “I’m doing this for two reasons. The first is to raise awareness for Morale, Welfare and Recreation for military personnel and their families, and the second is to make a documentary of the trip to enter in some outdoors film festivals.”
Each branch of the military has their own MWR, which provides free and discounted entertainment and recreation to the military personnel. Hembree said he believes water sports could become a vital part of that.
“My brother was in the Marine Corps, and he did a couple of tours overseas,” Hembree said. “When he came back, there were a few issues that came up. One of my aspirations is to use this trip to get companies to donate funds and supplies to make water sports a part of MWR. Water eases stress. After 30 minutes on the water, I feel better.”
Hembree is originally from northwestern Oklahoma, and he said the trip was also a chance to come back home to see his family. After the visit, he plans to raffle off his kayak, then borrow his brother’s car to make the trip back to New York.
Hembree said so far he’s almost a full month ahead of schedule because of flooding in the Chicago area.
“My biggest concern is the weather,” Hembree said. “I’ve capsized three times; once in Lake Erie and twice in Lake Michigan. All three times the waves were over five feet high. When I came to Chicago, I had to change course and wound up using drainage canals to get to the Fox River.”
From the Fox River, Hembree took the Illinois River to the Arkansas River, eventually landing at Three Forks Harbor. He left the harbor to paddle up the Grand River, then paddle across Fort Gibson Lake to stay at Sequoyah State Park on Friday night. He said he camps on the bank most nights.
“I have slept in houses with host families a few times,” Hembree said. “But I can count those times on one hand. Most of the time I sleep on the river bank or the lake shore. I try to find places where I won’t be disturbed, but I have been asked to move camp about three times.”
Before departing from Three Forks Harbor, Hembree was given a Port of Muskogee T-shirt and a pin to put on his hat by Kim Henkleman and Marie Seabolt, who expressed their thanks to him for stopping at the harbor.
Hembree said kindness was something he’d experienced a lot of on his trip.
“The networking of the boating community has helped make this possible,” he said. “I could not have planned this trip any better. The generosity of people has been overwhelming.”
Reach Travis Sloat at (918) 684-2908 or email@example.com.