CASSVILLE -- Students at St. Charles Borromeo School in Cassville recently made some new friends.
Their names are Audra, Calli, Eric, Jordan, and Sam. They are the crew members of the 2016 OAR Northwest.
OAR Northwest is a non-profit organization based out of Seattle, Wash.
It does human-powered water-based expeditions of large water bodies such as rivers and oceans.
This year, the crew is spending 100 days rowing and paddling the 2,000 miles of the Mississippi River to do research and make stops at schools along the way to share their experiences.
Past journeys by other crews have included the Columbia River and over a part of the Atlantic Ocean.
They started their journey on August 15 where the river starts at Lake Itasca in Minnesota.
Day 38 brought them to Cassville -- population 947 -- and St. Charles School and its more than 40 students.
The team plans to be in the Gulf of Mexico by day 100 -- around Thanksgiving Day.
Two of the crew members, Eric Nathanson and Calli Vasatka, gave a presentation to St. Charles students, while Sam Friedman and Audra Tromly spoke at the nearby public schools.
Also with them was Jordan Hanssen, board president for OAR Northwest, and their leader on the journey.
The crew members, aside from Hanssen, are all recent graduates from the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wash. They graduated with a variety of majors from communications to exercise science.
Hanssen is a past graduate and instructor at the university.
"Our motto is 'getting adventure into the classroom,'" said Nathanson as he met the students during their presentation.
He and Vasatka showed pictures of their time on the river and what they've been doing since leaving the source.
"It's a really cool, interesting place to study, travel through," said Nathanson.
They told the students how all of their supplies for the whole journey -- food, clothing, tents, and more -- need to be able to be transported on the boats.
Sometimes they'll buy fresh food during stops, but they eat a lot of canned and dried foods.
"It makes you feel like an astronaut," said Nathanson.
Vasatka described one challenge they faced on the water -- an oncoming thunderstorm.
"You could watch the raining coming," she said, "it was like a football field away . . . I got my coat on just in time and within the next minutes, our coats were soaked. I've never been in such a more intense storm in my life."
The crew members took time to answer students' questions.
One student asked right away if the crew members shower -- they do. It usually takes the form of a quick jump in the river, but more thoroughly when they are in communities for school visits.
Another student asked where the crew members sleep. They said if they're on the water, they find an island on the river or a shore to spend the night.
More questions about food were asked. Oatmeal is the typical breakfast of the day, with additions including peanut butter, craisins, or whatever else is on hand.
Lunch is usually eaten on the boats, with the crafts tied together, drifting along the water to get some extra distance traveled while munching. The food is usually sandwiches, again made with whatever food the crew members have on hand for themselves.
Apples and beef jerky are also available.
Dinner is usually something like dehydrated pasta or fresher foods such as potatoes or vegetables if they were in a community recently.
Whole blocks of cheese eaten in a day are not uncommon as well.
They added amounts of food are not an issue because they are essentially doing "eight to 12 hours of exercise per day" rowing on the boats.
The crew members told the students if they had more questions later, they could ask the team via social media and they would answer them in the form of a YouTube video made while on the river.
The younger grades, during their presentation, got to experience some hands-on learning as Nathanson and Vasatka demonstrated and taught them how to oar and paddle as if they were in a canoe or boat on the Mississippi River.
Getting a first-hand look
Later in the afternoon, the students got a chance to see one of the rowboats up close, resting in the nearby Mississippi River.
Friedman and Tromly showed off some features of the boat, including where all their gear is stored for the journey and the heavy Google tracking camera attached to it that captures pictures of the river for future Street View use.
The students' time with their new friends didn't end when the school day was over.
Earlier in the day, after a courageous, "What are you doing tonight?" asked by one of the middle school girls -- the crew was invited to the Cassville team's volleyball game later that evening.
The crew said they planned on going and were looking forward to cheering on their new friends.
For more information on OAR Northwest, go to www.oarnorthwest.org which also contains links to all its social media platforms.
The website and social media are run by a Shore Crew in Seattle that also helps coordinate the school visits and other support situations that may come up.