Paddling for Prevention braves Mississippi River for a worthy cause

Decorah natives Corey Smock and Lance Loney (front to back in foreground canoe in the above photo) navigate their way into the riverfront docking area near Shep’s Riverside Bar & Grill in Lansing Friday, June 26 for a fundraising event to aid the cause supported by their journey. Through their efforts labeled “Paddling for Prevention,” Smock and Loney are canoeing the entire length of the Mississippi River in an attempt to raise financial support and awareness for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, making this stop in Lansing on Day 23 of what is expected to be a 60- to 70-day venture covering the Mississippi’s 2,552-mile length. Photo by Paddling for Prevention.

by Susan Cantine-Maxson

A crazy dream? A worthy goal? A willing friend? All of these components create the perfect opportunity for two young men to take the trip of a lifetime: to paddle the entire length of the Mississippi River to raise money for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
When Corey Smock of Decorah first told his mom, Waukon native and current Decorah resident Renee (Thune) Smock, that he wanted to canoe down the Mississippi, she was not enthusiastic. She said she might feel better about it if he found someone to go with him. The first friend that Corey asked, fellow Decorah High School graduate Lance Loney, said, “Sure, let’s do it!” Thus the planning began and Mom’s worries had to turn to support for her son’s adventure.

Both Smock and Loney wanted their trip to be more than just an adventure for the two of them so they began looking at charities which they might support through their trip. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention came to the forefront because Smock’s cousin, Decorah native Adam Christopherson, had committed suicide in 2013. When family is affected, causes become personal.
The two decided on $10,000 as a goal and have been paddling their way toward that goal ever since they took off from the headwaters of the Mississippi at Lake Itasca June 4. When they have completed their 2,552-mile journey, they will have encountered many new friends, rounded many bends and been bitten by more than their share of bugs. Hopefully, they will have accomplished their goal of raising $10,000 for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention as well.

Corey Smock, the son of Waukon natives Renee and Mike Smock, now of Decorah, and Lance Loney, the son of Mike and Kristen Loney of Decorah, have been friends for several years. Both are Decorah High School graduates. Smock attended the University of Northern Iowa and graduated with an elementary education degree in 2013. Loney, who graduated from Iowa State University in 2013, majored in animal ecology with an emphasis in fisheries and aquatic sciences.
Neither of the young men had extensive training in canoeing. They both enjoyed canoeing but most of their experiences had been on the Upper Iowa River. They didn’t really train for the trip. It was simply a matter of planning, looking at what others had done and getting started.
Smock finished his teaching year in Postville in May; he teaches second/third grade, concentrating on English as a second language. Loney’s job is in Alaska where he works for an environmental consultant company called Alaskan Observers, Inc. as a fisheries biologist. He was particularly excited about seeing the different ecological environments along the river. He often works for long periods of time on commercial fishing vessels off the waters of Alaska where he takes samples of their catch and estimates populations, so he could also take a longer period of time off from that job to make the journey with Smock. They estimate the trip will take between 60 and 70 days. Their tentative finish date is August 10, but they can’t schedule more than three or four days in advance because of weather.

Day 23 of their trip, Friday, June 26, the two paddled into Lansing to greet friends and family who had gathered at the riverfront landing at Shep’s Riverside Bar & Grill. Several people had boated out to welcome them to port in an array of kayaks and pontoon boats. The gathering was organized as a fund raiser to support their cause of raising money for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
People bought t-shirts and raffle tickets, while enjoying brats and beverages. All proceeds from the gathering were donated to the cause. While Smock and Loney were catching up with family and friends, they took a few minutes to share some of the highlights of their trip so far.

Both Smock and Loney have high praises for a Facebook group called “Mississippi River Paddlers.” They say these “River Angels” have been very helpful to their journey. Members of the group offer everything from suggestions to overnight stays with a comfy bed, food, showers and laundry.
Smock said, “We were exhausted and knew a River Angel was waiting for us at the next stop in Minnesota. We rounded a bend and there was a sign welcoming us. Lance called her and she told us she wasn’t home but we should go in, take showers, do laundry, do whatever we needed. It was amazing. Another helped us out since one of the locks was closed because of flying carp. He came from work, picked us up and took us and our canoe to the spot where we could get in again. We would have had to portage over a mile if he hadn’t helped us out. The River Angels have been amazing.
“Iowa is easier because we have lots of family and friends, but as we progress through states where we don’t have as many connections, we can look forward to more help from the River Angels. I know we have one lined up in Vicksburg for sure, as well as a few others.”
Loney elaborated, “We don’t always stay with people. Minnesota has several established campsites for paddlers. In Iowa we’ve relied more on sand bars. We occasionally stay at a motel or campground close to the river so we can shower and catch up on blog and Facebook postings. If people want to know where we are and what we’ve been up to, they can visit our website and blog: or our Facebook page:”
Smock stated, “We try to do about forty miles per day. We looked at some previous paddle trips and where they stopped. Forty miles seemed like a reasonable goal per day. Our boat really glides through the water. We feel very stable in it. We carry enough supplies for three or four days in case we are stopping at sand bars.”
The blue canoe has “Paddling for Prevention” painted on both sides and is also christened “Miss Lacey.”
Loney continued to describe the canoe, saying, “It’s made of some combination of materials. It may have some Kevlar in it, and it’s a great ride. When we do have to portage, the canoe weight, 61 pounds, isn’t really too big of an issue, it’s all the other stuff we have to carry such as backpacks, cooler, water and  supplies, that make it difficult. The trip has been about what I’ve expected so far. Going through the locks made me a little nervous at first.”
Smock interjected his feelings on the lock and dam encounters, sharing, “I wasn’t worried at all. The first one wasn’t too bad. Usually we call ahead or we come up to the lock and pull the cord. They open the doors and we go into the lock. It takes about fifteen minutes. One wait was longer because there was a big drop of about thirty feet in the river. We went through one lock with the La Crosse paddleboat. Another time we went through with twelve other boats. We were the first boat into the lock so when the lock opened, all the other boats passed us and took off. It created some pretty rough water for a while.”
Loney adds, “After the first one, I was ok. There are 29 locks in all. The last lock is in St. Louis, so the trip should go faster after that. After the locks and dams are done, the river gets much faster. I’ve been surprised by the lack of rapids. I thought there would be more but it’s been pretty calm. We did have to stop a day by Lake Pepin because it was too windy. Lightning and wind are not good for paddlers. Another interesting observation is that I’m amazed by the number of foxes and turtles we’ve seen. I’ve studied ecology so I want to observe how the ecology of the river changes. I can’t fish much or we’d never make any progress down the river. Each day brings a new challenge: weather, bugs, sun or fatigue. We have to keep sharp mentally as well. When we stop at night we take our phones off airplane mode (maybe canoe mode?) so we can use the data to do our posting.”
Loney and Smock were excited to see such a great turnout in Lansing and appreciated all the donations that people were making for this worthy cause. They are paying their own expenses of the trip with some help from their families, but all the money raised goes to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Totals for the Lansing event were not yet available, but prior to that event the two had raised $6,800.

Charity ranks American Foundation for Suicide Prevention as four out of four possible stars with a ranking of 94% in terms of funds donated going toward the mission of the group. This is an extremely high rating and shows that this group uses donated money well, not spending large portions on administration and overhead.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention website, someone in the United States dies by suicide every 13.3 minutes; annually, 40,000 lives end in suicide, making it the second leading cause of death among teens and young adults. This public health issue makes headlines when someone famous, such as Robin Williams, takes his own life, but many friends and families of ordinary people also face this tragedy. These two young men have chosen this cause because they want to celebrate the memory of Smock’s cousin, Adam Christopherson, and to help others who may be struggling. By supporting this organization’s efforts through fund raising, it is hoped that others will find the help they need.
Donations can be made to the "Paddling for Prevention" cause by going online to and clicking on the “Donate” button.

Rate this article: 
Average: 4.9 (10 votes)