Last time we checked in with Lewis Colam, the 24-year-old Brit was just starting out on what some onlookers considered an impossible challenge: rowing solo and unsupported from Miami to New York City, with no seafaring experience and a 15-foot rowboat for a bed.
But Colam, a former desk-ridden London management consultant who is rowing to raise funds for the Fischer Center for Alzheimer's Research Foundation, reached his halfway point of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina on Friday, putting 700 miles behind him, collecting $21,355 for charity, and acquiring a lifetime's supply of interesting adventures -- including a surprise weekend with Food Network star Paula Deen, warring with raccoons, and being swamped in his boat by manatees.
"The whole trip's been fantastic, really really good," he told HuffPost Miami, just days after finding a bottle of wine and a $100 bill from a supportive stranger in his boat. "Lots of people have cheered me on, waved, or handed me water."
One of those people turned out to be Deen, whose tugboat pilot husband Michael Groover caught wind of Colam's mission and called with an offer to feed him "well" when he rowed past Savannah, Georgia.
"I called him and said, 'We have a guest house, and you are welcome to stay,'" Groover told WJCL. "I admire his tenacity and his courage and conviction to help other people and possibly cure a horrible disease...I can get lost on the Intercoastal, and I've been doing it all my life at night."
Colam, who had no prior knowledge of Deen's celebrity, slowly figured out his hosts were something special. But after being treated to the pair's Southern hospitality, it was back to the water and sometimes miserable conditions. The novice rower anticipated that he would be in more of a groove more than a month into the challenge, but injuries, nature, and inexperience have taken their toll.
"I'm a bit of a mess, to be honest," Colam admitted. "Something to do with my rowing is wrong; everything on the right hand side of my body -- my knee, elbow, wrist -- is falling to pieces. I'm trying to take as much Ibuprofen as I can and try not to think about it. My body's kind of struggling."
But what worries Colam just as much is running out of time: his tourist visa expires May 18, and after using all of his contingency time fighting severe weather in Florida and dealing with first-time problems, he says he's now scheduled to arrive in New York about an hour before his flight back to Britain: "I was hoping to get a bagel and cheesecake before I left," he laughed as he headed toward the intimidating North Carolina coast.
None of that, however, is as important to Colam as raising money for Alzheimer's research. The idea for the journey came to him after a watching a grandmother succumb to the disease; he quit his job, bought a rowboat in Florida, and set out to raise $20,000.
After reaching that total two days after arriving in Myrtle Beach, Colam has raised his fundraising goal to $50,000 -- a target he's sure he can hit.
"People said, 'You're going to come back a changed person,' and I didn't believe it," he told HuffPost. "I've seen a huge amount of generosity."
Colam has also seen parts of America Americans don't even see, painstakingly picking his way up the isolated Georgia coast and through South Carolina. Pre-conceived notions of rowing through McDonald's along an urban Eastern Seaboard have given way to a wild, rural, and lonely reality with few luxuries, but despite the physical difficulties -- and the enormity of the task at blistered hand -- Colam said he is absolutely determined to finish.
"I've broken the back," he said of the first 700 miles, "and I can see how I'm going to finish."
HOW YOU CAN HELP: Donate to Colam's 'I Am Fine Challenge' to support the Fischer Center For Alzheimer's Research Foundation.
View photos of Colam's journey below:
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