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Apollo native kayaking from Chicago to NYC to raise money for charity

| Monday, April 29, 2013, 10:45 a.m.
Matt Gavasto kayaks on the Mississippi River in 2010.
Matt Gavasto kayaks on the Mississippi River in 2010.
Matt Gavasto sits before an abandoned bus in the Alaskan wilderness where hiker Christopher McCandless' body was found in 1992. McCandless' story was retold in a book and movie titled, 'Into the Wild.' The bus has become a tourist destination.

Matt Gavasto could take a plane, train or automobile from Chicago to New York, but he's taking a most unusual form of transportation: a kayak.

A self-described adventurer, Apollo native Gavasto takes on annual summer challenges, such as kayaking from Apollo to New Orleans, biking from Virginia to California, and completing the 42-mile hike into the Alaskan wilderness made famous by the movie “Into the Wild.”

Last summer, he started using his excursions to raise money for the Oncology and Hematology Unit at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, when he walked the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail in one attempt.

This year Gavasto will raise money for the hospital by attempting what might be his most challenging expedition yet, as he attempts to kayak from the Windy City to the Big Apple.

“My neighbor has been building a sailboat for a long time, because he wants to sail from Chicago to New York,” said Gavasto, 36, who now lives in Monroeville. “So, I figured, ‘Why don't I just try to kayak it?' ”

Gavasto decided to help the Oncology and Hematology Unit at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh in memory of his father, who died of cancer in 2010.

Gavasto plans to put his boat in the Chicago River next Sunday. He will paddle on Lake Michigan, Lake Superior and Lake Erie before he uses the Erie Canal to meet the Hudson River and navigate down to New York City.

“I'd say it's about 1,700 miles,” Gavasto said. “That's if I can cut across the six to eight bays around the peninsula of Michigan.

“If I can't, it will be another 300 miles.”

Gavasto plans to cover about 20 miles a day. At that rate, he estimates he can complete the journey in about three months.

Gavasto's trip is unusual but not the first of its kind.

From 1994 to 1996, the American Canoe Association held a kayak race from Chicago to New York, according to the association's website.

A spokesman for the association could not be reached for comment.

Gavasto said the most unnerving part of the trip is how often he will be in open water with the shoreline out of sight.

“I might have to be doing 10 to 15 miles of open water at a time,” he said.

Gavasto said he will have a lot of help before he gets in the water, but not much after.

“I had no idea my kayak wasn't right for this sort of travel until I went to Excursions in Monroeville and they helped me get the right fit,” he said.

Gavasto said the outdoors shop allowed him to buy the 19-foot kayak at cost because he's raising money for charity.

Gavasto also said Jason Lezark, a co-worker at Veltre's Pizza in Oakmont, where he is a delivery manager, will drive him to Chicago. Riverview Junior-Senior High School officials have allowed him to park in their parking lot in the mornings for his training sessions on the Allegheny River.

“We're going to strap the 19-foot kayak on to my 15-foot Ford Focus and head to Chicago,” Lezark, 19, said. “Ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to travel. I've never met anyone who's done things like Matt.”

Lezark said Gavasto has made him want to travel more.

“Maybe not as extreme as he does,” he added. “But he's seen so much stuff that a lot of people haven't seen.”

Gavasto has a lot of supporters on land in the A-K Valley, but once he's in the water, he's on his own.

“I never know what's really going to happen,” he said. “There was one person to keep track of me every single day, that was may dad. And he died three years ago.

“I don't have anyone to track me.”

R.A. Monti is a freelance writer.

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