When Tyler and Cole Northrup go kayaking, the father-son duo sets off in style.
“In 2010, I decided I was going to build a boat. I don’t know, something to do, I guess. Something different,” Tyler says.
“500 hours later I had a boat. I didn’t learn my lesson the first time, so I built a second one.”
Cole, 16, adds, “These are nice. I don’t know how he did this. These are crazy.”
With such carefully crafted kayaks, Tyler, a Good Samaritan Society leader in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, thought a special family adventure would be a great way to paddle into summer.
“We decided on a two-night, three-day Missouri River trip in our kayaks where we’d camp out on islands in the Missouri River,” Tyler says. They planned to voyage from Pickstown to Running Water.
‘We had ourselves a problem’
Two days into the trek, the river wasn’t cooperating.
“The river wasn’t flowing like we thought it would, so we had to paddle,” Tyler says. “Went 30 miles that day. At one point, we were tracking paddle strokes and I’m pretty sure we did over 30,000 each. By the time we got to the island we were going to stay at, we were spent would be a pretty good way to say it.
“So we beached our kayaks as best we could. Put up our hammocks. Crashed for the night.”
When evening turned into morning, a stroke of bad luck.
“I was booked from the night before,” Cole admits. “I just kind of thought I was dreaming or something. I’m barely awake and he’s like, ‘Kayak’s gone.'”
Tyler says when he “looked over the edge, what had been sand the day before was water and one kayak was missing.”
“I went from feeling like world’s greatest dad to world’s most incompetent dad.”
The water was too cold to swim through.
“Can’t get two people on one kayak, so we had ourselves a problem,” Tyler recalls.
After hours of searching, even with the help of nearby fishermen, the kayak was nowhere to be found.
“I was pretty sure that thing had sunk,” Cole says. “All the time that he spent making that, that was rough.”
Social media post goes viral
A quiet retreat home had the distraught dad turning to social media.
“We then posted to Facebook on the way home. I didn’t expect too much from that,” Tyler says.
“But within three hours it had over 3,000 shares on it.”
The Hail Mary Facebook plea had spread to an army of local Good Samaritans.
“I noticed it on social media. I noticed it on Facebook,” says Nick Kniffen, a farmer from Tyndall, South Dakota.
“I called him and asked him if he found his kayak. Nope, he didn’t find his kayak. I said, ‘Well, I have an airplane in Springfield. I’d be more than happy to go help you look for it.'”
Not knowing Tyler personally, Nick just wanted to offer his assistance.
“I just was starting to pretty well settle in with the fact that it must have hit something, rolled up on its side, took on water and probably swamped and sank,” Tyler says.
Spotted from the sky
Hope took off inside Tyler after a face-to-face meeting with Nick, a fellow kayaker and pilot of 40 years.
“We jumped in his plane, went up, I took him back to where we had camped,” Tyler says.
Despite the view from above, chances still felt slim.
“The river system is kind of a snarly mess where he lost the kayak,” Nick says.
Tyler remembers the moment when, “he throttles back to 60. When he did that, he turned, he dipped to the right a little and I looked out my window and there it was right below us. Just stranded on a sandbar.”
Sitting roughly six miles from where he lost it.
“And I hit Nick and I said there it is, there it is!” Tyler shouts.
“Oh boy that felt good. It was great. I didn’t think that was coming back.”
While Tyler fetched the kayak shortly after, Nick shared the good news with his wife LeAnn Kniffen.
A Good Samaritan connection
LeAnn just so happens to be a 25-year employee at the Good Samaritan Society in Tyndall.
“When he texted me and said we found the kayak, which I didn’t know he was doing, I said, ‘(Tyler) works for Good Samaritan!’ Then he told Tyler, ‘Hey my wife works for Good Samaritan too.’ Crazy what a small world it is,” LeAnn laughs.
Nick’s been known to pitch in at the Society, an organization filled with dedicated staff coming through for others every day.
“I know what they’re about and the mission and how compassionate LeAnn and this entire staff is for the people and for the residents. That’s why they’re here, for the residents,” Nick says.
“Small town America, it’s all about the community because we all got to chip in to keep it going.”
Nick adds, “I like to just try to be a good person, however I can do that.”
“We need more stories like this – more people making a difference,” LeAnn says. “It’s the reason God put us on this earth is to help one another. That’s what Good Sam does. We’re here to help those that can’t help themselves, that need an extra hand. It’s an awesome story.”
Help from unexpected places
With the kayaks back with their creator, Tyler is walking away with a few lessons to contemplate.
“One. Even when you’re tired, spend a little extra time putting your kayak where it belongs. I knew where it needed to be,” Tyler says.
And two, know there are still Good Samaritans rowing among us.
“The big thing for me was just how people came out of the woodwork to help,” Tyler says.
“What I saw happen there, happens every day at our Good Samaritan Society communities.”
After a hectic summer, Tyler is spending this fall sharing this story at Society locations throughout the Midwest.
“It’s about people helping each other and doing the right thing,” Cole says about the ordeal.
Nick adds he “just felt there was a need to help. That’s all.”
A happy ending inspiring many journeys to come.
“Something that’s limited to us is time,” Cole says. “I feel like people take that for granted. It’s a good chance to get out there and be able to spend time with my dad. These trips will be cool. I’m looking forward to the next one.”
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