ELKTON - On a sweltering Friday morning, an Elkton father-son team launched their kayaks and began what they call the Bay 200 Challenge. Beginning at the Elk River Park Boat Launch in Elkton, the Challenge will take the kayakers 200 miles down the Chesapeake Bay in the hope of raising awareness and money for COVID-related hunger relief.

“We decided to use our summer vacation to launch the Bay 200 Challenge to let our community know that even though the pandemic is easing in the U.S., people here at home and in other countries are still facing very serious COVID-19 related challenges each day, especially hunger," said Hearly Mayr, a lifelong outdoorsman, who is undertaking the Challenge along with his oldest son, Andreas, 13.

In addition to raising general awareness of families afflicted by hunger or lack of food, Mayr's goal for the Challenge is also to raise money for the Adventist Development and Relief Agency’s (ADRA) hunger pandemic response campaign - which seeks to raise $3 million by July 31. Money donated to the campaign will be used to provide affected families with access to food and other essentials the pandemic caused them to lack.

"[My family] have so much to be thankful for," Mayr said. "We have jobs, healthcare, access to school, a home, food, and so many other things. Sadly, many people here in the U.S. and around the world can’t say the same. As we counted our blessings, we knew that we had to do something to help others."

The Bay 200 Challenge will see the Mayr duo traveling for 12 full days - from Elkton to Smith Island, Virginia, where Mayr's wife will meet the pair and drive them home.

Mayr says that the trip was planned not for speed, but to give himself and his son time to enjoy nature and enjoy the bay itself.

"The Bay isn't somewhere that I've focused on," said Mayr, referring to his 25 years of exploring Cecil County's outdoors. "It's a gem."

To prepare for the Challenge, the father and son have been working hard. Weight lifting, biking and hiking make up their daily training regimen. Back in March, they took a 3 day trip along the Potomac River to accustom themselves to kayaking for long distances, as well as learn how best to pack their equipment on their kayaks.

During the Challenge, Hearly Mayr is piloting Canadian-made Epsilon 200 kayaks which measure 17-feet long and can carry nearly 300 lbs.. Andreas Mayr is in the slightly smaller Epsilon 100: 6 inches shorter and carrying 50 less pounds. Packed into the kayaks are camping supplies, such as sleeping bags and food.

Despite joking about making a beeline for a restaurant as soon as he and Andreas were around the corner, Hearly Mayr said that the pair packed mostly food that are simple to carry and cook, while remaining high in calories - such as multigrain bars and potatoes.

At the launch ceremony, the Mayrs were joined by ADRA staff members as well as members of the Elkton Adventist community.

"This was all Hearly's idea, he's been a big ADRA supporter," said Kimi-Roux James, ADRA's Media Relations Manager.

James noted that the goal of the campaign that the Bay 200 Challenge is supporting is to provide aid to 200 food pantries both in America and internationally.

Before the pair were sent off, the pastor of New Hope Baptist Church, which the Mayrs attend, stood up to say a few words and pray for the safety of the pair's trip.

As the team pushed off to begin their challenge, a group of Pathfinders - a youth program similar to the Boy/Girl Scouts at New Hope - sang out encouragement for the pair to find their way safely.

Progress updates can be found by following the hashtag #BAY200CHALLENGE or by following @hearlymayr on Facebook and Instagram.

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