By Denice Rovira Hazlett
Jon Detweiler’s an outdoorsman who craves adventure. Even as a preschooler, he’d pull on a pair of boots and stomp through the Sugar Creek, less than a mile from his Dalton home.
So, it’s not surprising that, while typing a paper during his senior year at Malone University, the irrepressible explorer grew impatient with life as a city-dwelling college student. Since his body couldn’t escape, his mind wandered to The Frontiersmen, an engaging narrative about the life of pioneer Sam Kenton.
“I’m fascinated by nonfiction,” said Detweiler, 22. “I’ve always had an affinity for the natives and pioneers who experienced genuine exploration.”
Detweiler considered that old Sugar Creek. What if…? The daydreaming Malone Pioneer pondered a plan that would carry him off campus and into something epic.
The Lewis to Detweiler’s Clark would be cousin and best friend Ben Swartz, 21, a tall, dark and well-mannered boy from Botkins, Ohio who split his time between ministry and his father’s construction business. He, too, was a pioneer - a Temple Christian School Pioneer. He had the love for both God and people that Detweiler knew would be important for this trip.
On August 14, when Detweiler would have started his final semester at Malone, the cousins hoisted a canoe onto their shoulders and marched, accompanied by a parade of family and friends, from Detweiler’s childhood home to the Sugar Creek he’d fished, swam and stomped in all of his life. From there, the boys would spend every waking - and sleeping - moment together for two and a half months, paddling first to the Tuscarawas River, then on to the Muskingum, the beautiful Ohio, and the mighty Mississippi. Their final goal, to not only emerge in the salty waters of the Gulf of Mexico, but to raise money for the orphans and pastors of Iris Ministries in Mozambique. They cleverly christened their excursion Sugar2Salt.
The first leg of the journey was the rockiest. Because Jon had researched the route, they knew the trip from Sugar(creek) to Salt(water) was possible, but getting to the open waters of the Mississippi proved challenging.
“Sugar Creek was probably the roughest waterway,” said Swartz, recalling more than 20 log jams in as many miles and portaging over the Beach City dam.
Those two weeks on the smaller rivers prepared Swartz, who hadn’t trained for the trip, for the strenuous paddling the Ohio required, where the waters were stilled by locks and dams, offering very little current. After that, said Swartz, it was pretty smooth sailing. But other rough waters lay ahead.
“The hardest thing,” said Swartz, “after you live with just one person for a long time, well…” He paused. “It takes a while to get used to that. It was a first taste of marriage.” Detweiler agreed. Spending so much time together, he said, was the biggest challenge.
“I learned I had a lot of internal issues,” admitted Detweiler, his rough, bearded appearance a strong contrast to Swartz’s, well-groomed and clean-cut.
“I’m strong-willed and condescending. Ben would let me steamroll him.”
Detweiler said the two could not be more opposite, he being overbearing and obstinate, Swartz, conciliatory and courteous.
“He’s very precise, super clean, and makes his bed all the time,” said Detweiler. “He always says ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ And I’m like, ‘aw come on.’”
But they navigated the rapids together and emerged stronger for it.
“We had to work out a few things, talking openly about what was going on,” said Swartz. “That’s the only way to solve problems.”
After all, relationships are primarily why they undertook this journey, to camp on riverbanks, make friends from strangers. Never once, said Detweiler, were they denied hospitality. Instead, they were gifted provisions, meals and great conversation.
And if their going away party was epic, their reception into the Gulf of Mexico Nov. 2 was the stuff of legend.
“The last five miles were weedy marshlands the size of Sugar Creek,” Detweiler said.
The two wondered if the trees were ever going to end. And then, 100 yards from the mouth of the channel, Detweiler glanced into the water, glimpsing a fin. A pod of dolphins escorted them as they washed into the Gulf where they were joined by a half-dozen more. Jon scooped a handful of water to his mouth, buoyed by ocean waves and his own exhilaration. They had canoed nearly 2,000 miles, from sugar to salt, raising more than $20,000 for Iris Ministries.
Now the boys are back home, trying to process all they’ve experienced, a two and a half month adventure that rushed by in what seemed like a single day. While Detweiler is eager to kick back with his dog while his mom makes spaghetti, his four younger siblings scampering through the house, his mind is already wandering to the next adventure, a topic he and Swartz have had plenty of time to discuss. And, without question, there will be more adventure.
“I think every young man needs his fix,” said Detweiler. “If he doesn’t get it, if he stifles it, he’ll have problems in life. I think fear of not having work keeps a young man from pursuing his dreams, but adventure now will give him peace later.”
“Something like this opens your eyes to the broader world,” Detweiler continued. “It opens you to more fully love others because you have been shown love.”
Detweiler and Swartz chronicled all of their adventures through journals, travel logs and astoundingly beautiful photographs, which can be found at http://www.sugar2salt.com.
A sea chantey by Kidron composer Tim Shue written in their honor can be enjoyed at http://tinyurl.com/sugarcreekchantey.