From Steel City to Cairo, One Paddle at a Time
GLEN DALE — It’s been a hot week. Hotter still without shade, and even hotter with the sunlight reflecting off the river underneath a hat.
For Joseph Solomon, being at the mercy of the weather has been his life for more than a week, and it will be that way for more than another month. Solomon is in the process of kayaking down the Ohio River from Pittsburgh to Cairo, Illinois, where the river joins with the Mississippi. In total, Solomon will travel about 891 miles.
Solomon, a Cincinnati native, passed through the Ohio Valley last week, stopping for a night at Bonnie Dwaine Bed and Breakfast in Glen Dale, where he had supplies delivered. Kayaking holds a special place in Solomon’s heart, he said, as it helped him regain his mobility after a serious adverse reaction to a surgery several years ago.
“I’m doing this to raise awareness about mental health issues in America,” Solomon said. “I feel like access to mental health services is a major thing that has to be done. There are services out there, but it’s so hard for one to go out and get the help that they need, because they go through so much to go to a doctor and finally sit down with a psychiatrist. They really give you the runaround.
“I have friends and family who have mental health disorders, who struggle to get the help they need. I was really blessed to find a doctor who took stock in helping me get my life back together.”
A reaction to anesthesia Solomon was given for surgery put him in a catatonic state, leaving him comatose for about two weeks. To recover, Solomon took to kayaking, which he threw himself into daily to regain his mobility.
“I got a weekend pass to a local kayak outfit,” he said. “I kayaked there for four months straight, every single day, just to be out in nature and reclaim myself from this happening. I kayaked eight miles a day for four months straight. While doing that, I thought, ‘Why not do the entire river?’ That was five years ago, and now I’m at the point where I’m here, being able to do this.”
Later this month, Solomon plans to meet up with friends and family in Cincinnati for a cookout and celebration before getting on his way to complete the rest of his trip, which he expects complete by mid-to-late September. Solomon said he works with Americorps, and is scheduled to work in Illinois at the end of September, which gives him a deadline to aim for.
In addition to the weather, Solomon said part of the struggle is maintain proper nutrients, as without large amounts of protein, his body starts to wear down.
“I’m punishing myself. I’m doing 12 hours, 30 miles a day, and with this slack water, it’s slow going.”
Solomon said the ideal weather for kayaking is a breeze to the back, but that it rarely cooperates. Instead, the month so far had featured rain and thunderstorms, which required him to pull off to the banks, or wind blowing in his face, hampering his progress. Solomon said he had to self-rescue at least once from capsizing in the river.
Solomon’s sister serves as his social media team for the journey, and a friend of his serves as his weatherman.
When Solomon reaches Cairo, he has a vague idea of what the last part of his journey will be, and it won’t be turning around and paddling back home.
“I plan on standing on the banks of the Mississippi, jumping up and down, screaming and crying, excited that I was able to finish this.”