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Amid sun, heat and waves, Cherian continues canoe trip for Fox Foundation

August 6, 2011

On his journey to New Orleans for the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, Michael Cherian has documented a number of sights, such as Fatboy’s Diner. (Photo courtesy of Michael Cherian)

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Of all the items that Michael Cherian packed for his canoe journey via the Mississippi River to New Orleans, one has become invaluable almost every day.

“I love my mosquito net,” Cherian said Thursday, taking a break from his 2,000-mile canoe trip. “I take care of it. I’m really glad I brought it. As soon as the sun sets, I grill until it’s dark then have to set up camp. By then, they’re out biting you.”

Mosquitos are just some of the challenges Cherian has found on his way to New Orleans, which he plans on reaching by Labor Day as he rows his customized canoe — dubbed “Steady Eddie,” in honor of his grandfather, the late Edward H. Burrows — to benefit the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.

There was the broken oar this week, and a pontoon almost lost on the craft.

“On the Ohio River, there are tow boats, and they are pushing 15 barges,” he said. “Here on the Mississippi, one tug boat can push 35 barges. The river is a lot bigger, and it’s fine, but (the boats) can kick up some serious waves.”

The other day, Cherian observed tug boats pushing barges that can normally kick up five foot waves.

But the water was shooting out the back end, and this wave was bouncing off the barges, and they kept building, seven foot waves in all directions,” he said. “In the middle of all this, I had a broken oar” and a damaged pontoon.

In the end, the waves didn’t capsize Cherian and the craft.

While traveling the Ohio River, Cherian said he could row between 20 and 25 miles per day. But describing the Mississippi River as “much more deserted, much faster,” it’s easy to get 40 miles a day, he said.

“It’s more of a wilderness adventures,” he said about the Mississippi. “It’s a white sand beach; it’s really beautiful.”

Cherian has also been among those dealing with the heat. In Memphis Wednesday, it was about 103 degrees.

“It was pretty bad,” he said. “Even in air-conditioned spaces, it only brought it down to 85.”

The intense heat makes it difficult to row during the day, Cherian said. He’s taking a day or two in Memphis to enjoy the city and its people.

“It’s a fun town,” he said. “People are very helpful.”

Cherian said people elsewhere have also been kind enough to offer home-cooked meals, a place to rest for the night, a shower and clean clothes.

He also said people are familiar with the Fox Foundation and its mission.

“They think it’s amazing,” Cherian said. “They say, ‘More power to you,’ and try to help me out with whatever I need.”

Burrows died of Parkinson’s disease when Cherian was 13, and it was his battle that inspired Cherian to raise $5,000 for the Fox Foundation, which was established by former “Back to the Future,” “Family Ties” and “Spin City” star Michael J. Fox, who has been battling the disease since 1991 and disclosed his condition in 1998.

Right now, Cherian has raised about $4,700 toward his goal of $10,000 for the Fox Foundation.

For more about Cherian’s trip and how to donate, see the information below.

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Michael Cherian is continuing his two-month, 2,000-mile canoe trip to New Orleans to benefit the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, in honor of his grandfather, Edward H. Burrows.

You can still follow Cherian on his journey by checking out his blog,, where he posts updates, photos and anecdotes from the trip. You can also learn how to donate to Team Fox for Parkinson’s Research.

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