Firefighters paddle 193 miles for charity

ajames@newsobserver.comApril 20, 2013 

  • Follow their journey

    Check out Williford’s blog at to learn more about the trek, buy T-shirts, or to wish them luck.

— A pair of firefighters may be in over their heads, but they say they’re up for an adventure.

Allen Williford and Paul Zias are attempting to paddle the Neuse River from Raleigh to New Bern in less than a week. Their motivation: raising funds for fallen firefighters and wounded soldiers.

“It’s my birthday the day we start,” said Zias. “My wife thinks I’m crazy.”

The two will be leaving at midnight on Monday from Falls Lake Dam. They plan to reach New Bern around 9 a.m. the following Saturday.

“I’ve paddled, canoed, and kayaked basically my whole life,” said Williford. The longest trip he’s done before this was about 26 miles, from Smithfield to Goldsboro.

“The people we’re doing it for give us the most motivation,” said Williford.

The firefighters will be raising money for The North Carolina Fallen Fireman Foundation and Fire Fighters Assisting Armed Forces Families. All proceeds will be divided between the two charities.

Zias, who has been a firefighter for more than 20 years, said he has seen a number guys injured or killed during their service. Supporting soldiers is a cause that’s close to him, too, because he has served during wartime.

Williford, who works part-time as a firefighter, has a background in fundraising. He helped start a charity that gives money to cancer research in memory of a friend.

“What’s a week of being tired, dirty, and hating the person you’re with,” joked Zias.

In preparation, they have been kayaking for the past couple months, including going on the river at night. But each of those journeys has only been for a couple hours at a time.

The pace they plan to paddle in order to reach their destination in time will also be a challenge.

Williford says they are going to try to clock two miles per hour, a pace quicker than what either of them have done before. They won’t be able to slack off too much, because they’ve both got to be back in Clayton that Sunday to attend a training exercise with the fire department.

They will be making a couple stops on their journey, including at 4 p.m. Monday at the bridge over NC 42 East.

Supplies for the journey

The two said they haven’t figured out the sleeping situation yet. They may sleep in hammocks, or one may paddle while the other sleeps, and then rotate shifts.

“We might have to rely on an adrenaline rush,” said Zias.

They can fit two days of water and food in the kayak and will have to resupply a couple times.

As for bathing, they might have to do without.

“I don’t know if I’d bathe too much in [the Neuse River],” said Williford. “I might come out just as dirty.”

For food, they plan to eat a lot of canned meats, at least two bananas per day, trail mix, and portable items, like beef jerkey, and 5-hour-energy drinks.

They won’t have any extra space to keep up with trash or cooking supplies, so there probably won’t be any multi-course dining or hot meals.

They stood outside Wal-Mart a couple weeks ago to raise money and they’ve also reached out to several sponsors who are helping to make the trip possible.

The pair plans to update their blog a couple of times each day, using an iPhone, and solar panels for the phones. They will be constantly uploading photos onto the blog.

Though they haven’t set a fundraising goal, they are asking people to donate just a penny per mile, or $1.93.

James: 919-553-7234

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