BATTLING AUTISM: Setting paddle to the task

Elodie Reed

By Elodie Reed

Staff Writer

Just
The Facts

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‘If we can raise some money, great.’

- Eric Jessiman, of Bakersfield

BAKERSFIELD — Eric Jessiman, 74, is no stranger to long journeys. The Scotland-born Bakersfield resident moved to the U.S. as a child in 1952, and since then he’s sailed, kayaked and driven around the country, landing in Vermont 12 years ago.

This week, Jessiman will set out on a new trip: he’ll paddle his sailing kayak from Buffalo, N.Y. to Burlington, Vt. and beyond, ending in Alburgh or Swanton at the end of the 25-day trip.

“This is my first attempt at anything like this,” Jessiman said early this week.

Jessiman is paddling not only for personal enjoyment but to raise awareness about autism, a condition his family has experienced directly. Two of Jessiman’s grandchildren have been diagnosed with the disorder and have difficulty with certain social interactions and communication skills.

According to Jessiman, other family members have not been diagnosed but appear to be on the autism spectrum as well.

Jessiman would like to be joined by local paddlers and autism awareness groups along his journey, and he is also looking to raise funds for autism research in Vermont, New York, and nationwide. Northwestern Counseling & Support Services, the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation, and the National Autism Association are all groups to which Jessiman plans to donate.

He and his wife are planning on picking up the $2,000 cost of the kayak trip, and that 95 to 100 percent of the funds raised through the trip will go towards autism research.

He’ll start his journey in the Blackrock Canal, follow the west-east spanning Eerie Canal through New York State, head into the Hudson River close to Albany, N.Y., and connecting soon after to the Champlain Canal, ending by traveling the length of Lake Champlain through Vermont.

At one of his last practice sessions on the Missisquoi River Monday evening, Jessiman and set out from “Lawyer’s Landing” off of Route 108 in Enosburg Falls. While paddling easily along the river’s calm waters and past its tree and farm-lined banks, Jessiman laid out the details of his upcoming trip.

On a journey inspired by family, Jessiman will paddle with family all along the way. His wife, Marianne, 66, will travel in a motorhome alongside Jessiman with their daughter Elizabeth, and her 10-year-old son, Christopher. At one point in July, Jessiman’s brother-in-law is scheduled to come from Florida and ride along as well.

The family’s black lab, Ebony, also will ride in Jessiman’s red kayak, which has an extra seat, for portions of the trip.

Jessiman plans to travel about 20 miles a day and harness wind power whenever possible. “It’s my invention,” he said of the white sail attached to the middle of his kayak.

Jessiman said he averages about 3 miles an hour, though with his sail and a breeze, he could speed up. Everything is, of course, weather dependent. No such breeze existed Monday along the Missisquoi River.

Several stops are planned along the trip in addition to nightly docking, including in, St. Albans Bay, and North Hero.

Jessiman and his family are setting out for Buffalo today, and he plans on setting to the water on Friday to start the month-long journey. On Monday, he was eager to get started paddling and spreading the word about autism.

“If we can raise some money, great,” Jessiman said. “I’d love to have people pledge by mile.” But, he added, what’s more important to him and his family is continued research on autism, what causes the disorder, and how it can be remedied.

According to Jessiman, that exploration will need to continue long past his kayaking trip.

To follow Jessiman’s journey and to donate to autism research programs, visit the website for his trip: www.paddlingforautism.com.

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