You know that old saying about being up a creek without a paddle?
Well, at least Jay Hawranik has a paddle. And a mission.
On Saturday, the phys-ed teacher from Grand Marais will attempt to paddle 25 kilometres across Lake Winnipeg in an effort to raise money -- and just as important, awareness -- to tackle the plight of the sixth-largest fresh water lake in Canada.
His fundraising trip is dubbed Paddle for a Purpose.
Hawranik lives beside the lake. Almost every day he's on the water, paddling or wind surfing. But when the Global Nature Fund named Lake Winnipeg as the "most threatened lake in 2013" a few weeks ago, it was a call to action for Hawranik.
That inglorious title was largely due to the lake's growing algae issues, created by the high levels of phosphorus that drain from the Red River Valley into Lake Winnipeg each year. The result has been the increasing appearance of blue-green algae that inhibits recreational activities and creates toxins harmful to the lake's ecosystem.
"I was scared," Hawranik said. "It's close to my heart. Every year you're one of the first to see the algae blooms on the lake. You're hearing stories about people in the community about the algae. Doing what I do, I want to keep my playground safe, so here I am."
Hawranik usually hugs the shoreline on his almost daily treks. Crossing the lake, from Gimli to Grand Beach, will require a follow boat and a more cautious eye on his surroundings.
"The daunting part is being totally exposed on the lake to where the shoreline isn't there," he said. "It's the unknown. You might leave Gimli and have perfectly glassy water to paddle and halfway through it might be 20 knots of wind and three-feet rollers."
If the weather turns harsh, Hawranik will pack up and try again the next day, if possible. "I'll plug away until the weather aligns for me," he said.
Pledges for Hawranik, which will be donated to the Lake Winnipeg Foundation, can be made through Nothing But Style Apparel on Taylor Avenue or the Spirit Rock Cafe and Inn in Grand Marais.
Foundation spokeswoman Vicki Burns acknowledged Hawranik's quest probably won't raise thousands of dollars but will help raise awareness and encourage others to mount their own call to action.
"It just indicates how much members of the public care about Lake Winnipeg and the lengths they'll go to help out," Burns said. "He's a good example of all the people who ask me, 'What can I do?' He really wants to make a difference. And I think there are lots and lots of people like Jay. He's not willing to feel helpless. That's what's encouraging about all this.
"Ultimately, we want to create such a force that the government will have to respond with the resources that we'll need to improve the health of the lake."
Hawranik agreed, adding: "It's not just the people of Lake Winnipeg that have to be concerned. It's a national issue. If you can't take care of your land... that's a bit of a fundamental issue, I think."
If all goes well, Hawranik hopes his Paddle for a Purpose fundraiser will become an annual event, where only the mode of travel might change.