Ben Hoksch has always had a love of the outdoors. His dad grew up in rural Iowa, and as a child, Hoksch and his father would often spend time fishing and hunting along the Mississippi River. His love for nature has had a large influence on his life. As an undergraduate at UNI, Hoskch majored in biology and recently canoed down the Mississippi River.
While his childhood experience and general love of nature influenced his decision to take this trip, it was experiences at UNI that ultimately inspired Hoksch to set sail.
Hoksch studied abroad in New Zealand during his sophomore year, and set out for Australia early to backpack across the country. Hoksch enjoyed the experience so much, it was hard for him to return to his normal routine.
"Once I got back, I felt really constricted," he said. "I felt out of place and didn't know what I should do."
Luckily, he found out about UNI Outdoors, a campus organization that provides students with the opportunity to participate in a variety of outdoor recreational activities, including trips across the nation. In addition to leading trips through UNI Outdoors, Hoksch also participated in the summer undergraduate research program.
"Having the university support me through the recreation and research opportunities is really what got me back on track," said Hoksch.
It was also through these experiences that Hoksch met the person who inspired him to canoe the Mississippi.
"A year-and-a-half before college graduation, I met a guy who had just got done canoeing the Mississippi River. His eyes were big and glowing and he was just very excited about life," said Hoksch. "That's how I felt when I got back from New Zealand and Australia, and I really wanted to feel that again."
So in June 2012, he set out to take the trip himself. With no cell phone or radio, and just a few maps to guide him, Hoksch embarked on the 2,365 mile journey. The trip took Hoksch 134 days to complete, and he had many interesting experiences along the way.
Perhaps the most moving for Hoksch was an experience in an impoverished Mississippi town. At this point, Hoksch was running low on money himself.
"I remember walking into a grocery store and being amazed by the abundance of food but I had no way to get it. For the first time, I could really sympathize with this large group of disenfranchised people," he said. "It gave me a very interesting perspective on poverty and how people deal with it. That was probably the most life-changing part of the trip."
The experience wasn't always a struggle. Hoksch met many people along the way who were willing to help him.
"The mantra for my trip was 'the river provides,'" he said. "It always comes up with something for you. You always run into somebody around the river bend who's willing to give you a helping hand."
Hoksch completed his trip on Dec. 3 with more than 600 pages of journal entries and several videos and photos, which he has been uploading to his website at www.neverbeentilled.com. He's also been sharing his experiences with schools and community groups.
"My agenda is to educate people about the importance of the outdoors, of water quality and wildlife, but I just try to talk about what I did and hope that they carry away what they want to," he said. "I want people to know that they can follow their dreams. If you have the drive, it can get done."