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Record-Breaking Attempt at Kayaking the Mississippi, Source to Sea

Update July 25, 2017

The crew of Race to the Gulf and kayaker Michael Waterford have responded to questions about ending their trip down the Mississippi River. After his support team quit, Waterford decided not to continue his record-breaking attempt because his kayak was builtonly for short-term performance. It could carry little more than Waterford himself, and, if he were to continue downriver without a support team, he would have needed to haul not only food but also several gallons of water each day to keep from dehydrating. It just wasn’t possible, he said.

In an email, Abby Kaeser said that among the reasons she and fellow support-team member Traci Kroupa left the expedition were a miscommunication about the ultimate goals of the trip and in support along the way. “This added to the social pressure [and] physical and mental exhaustion,” Keaser wrote, “and miscommunication led to Traci and I stepping away from the expedition. It is sad that Mike could not finish the expedition as planned and it truly was a hard decision to make to step away.”

Waterford has since returned to Bloomington, and everyone is looking ahead to their next adventures. As Kaeser put it, “I know there are going to be more opportunities for the three of us to work towards future expeditions on our own and we can continue to use this as a learning experience.”

Update July 5, 2017

Michael Waterford’s attempt to solo kayak the entire length of the Mississippi River from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico ended in Dubuque, Iowa, after traveling 700 miles down the 2,320-mile river. All members of the team report to be fine. Limestone Post has asked for comments from each of them about the trip and their reasons for ending the expedition. We will post an update when we hear from them.

Original Post June 27, 2017

Michael Waterford paddles down the Mississippi River on one of the first few days of his attempt to break the record for a solo kayak trip on America’s longest river. | Courtesy photo

Michael Waterford paddles down the Mississippi River on one of the first few days of his attempt to break the record for a solo kayak trip on America’s longest river. | Courtesy photo

You may have seen the stickers around town: a wild, crimson beard wearing aviator sunglasses and a patriotic headband. This wooly visage is the emblem of Mountain Folk Adventure, the charity-supporting, adventure-outfitting, dream-come-true-making company of Michael Waterford and his team of outfitters. They thrive on helping people push the limits of the body and mind. Members of Mountain Folk have hiked, biked, and paddled all over the world, even accomplishing such feats as the first documented “solo and unsupported walk across Mongolia.”

This summer, Waterford, a Bloomington native, is pushing his own limits, returning to the Mississippi River in an attempt to solo kayak the “big water” in record-breaking time.

Since 5 a.m. CST on June 19, when he plopped his kayak in the river’s headwaters in Lake Itasca, Minnesota, Waterford has aimed to reach the Gulf of Mexico in under 42 days to beat the world record for a 2,552-mile solo trip down America’s longest river. For a little more than a week now, paddling by day and camping on land by night, he has already had his share of setbacks: 17-hour days on the water, strong winds in his face, and blisters on his hands. But he’s also had a few 70-mile days (including portages) and is well on his way down the river.

For the rest of the trip, Waterford and his support team, Abby Keaser and Traci Kroupa, will face unpredictable weather, wildlife (e.g., alligators), and countless other challenges. You can follow their progress via GPS tracker here, on their Facebook and Instagram pages, or by visiting Waterford’s website here. Limestone Post will also be updating this page and sharing our own posts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter as they strive for the source-to-sea speed record.

Waterford recently wrote about his first not-so-prepared trip down the Mississippi River a few years back, which you can read here. Want more? While he was training in Portland, Oregon, this spring for his Race to the Gulf excursion, Waterford was interviewed on WFHB by Michael Glab for his show Big Talk. Glab then wrote a profile on Waterford in his Limestone Post column, Big Mike’s B-town.

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Courtesy photos

(left) Waterford started his journey at Lake Itasca on June 19 at 5 a.m. CST. (right) Waterford poses with his teammates, (l-r) Abby Keaser and Traci Kroupa, at the headwaters of the Mississippi.

Courtesy photos

Courtesy photos

On day one, Waterford began to wind his way through the lakes of Minnesota. Strong headwinds forced him to stop at only 55 miles, ending the day at Lake Bemidji.

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Lake Winnibigoshish. | Courtesy photo

Lake Winnibigoshish. | Courtesy photo

Day two led Waterford and his team through 57 miles of lakes — including Lake Bemidji, Wolf Lake, Lake Andy, and Cass Lake — and all the way across Lake Winnibigoshish, where the support crew met a “river angel,” a fisherman who offered to take them out in his boat to grab some of these amazing views.

After that, Waterford increased his daily mileage, with day three totaling 60 miles from Winnibigoshish Dam to Blackberry Bridge, and day four totaling 67 miles ending right outside of Sandy Lake Recreation Area. Day five gave them their first 70-mile day, and the camping routine started to get more efficient. Day six gave him scattered thunderstorms, but he was still able to make 63 miles to Blanchard Dam with a .25-mile portage to that night’s campsite. He then paddled 73 miles on day seven, making it to Elk River, Minnesota. On 72-mile day eight, Waterford maneuvered through a few locks and dams for the first time, ending in Hastings, Minnesota.

Day six brought scattered thunderstorms, making for a rough day of paddling. | Courtesy photo

Day six brought scattered thunderstorms, making for a rough day of paddling. | Courtesy photo

(left) Support-team member Traci Kroupa makes coffee on the roadside and (right) helps feed Waterford during one of his pit stops along the Mississippi River. | Courtesy photos

(left) Support-team member Traci Kroupa makes coffee on the roadside and (right) helps feed Waterford during one of his pit stops along the Mississippi River. | Courtesy photos

Keaser and Kroupa have been hard at work making sure Waterford’s needs are met while he navigates the Mississippi River in his kayak. They set up camp nightly, cook meals, and wrap his hands to cover blisters that have formed while paddling up to 17 hours a day on the river. They say their schedule generally looks like this:

Waterford's hands. | Courtesy photo

Waterford’s hands. | Courtesy photo

—wake up
—quick meal
—15-17 miles
—hot breakfast
—20-25 miles
—snacks
—17-20 miles
—lunch
—13-17 miles
—snack
—paddle until dark
—hot dinner
—bed
—repeat!

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Limestone Post
This story was compiled by Limestone Post staff.

Limestone Post is an online culture and lifestyle publication for Bloomington, Indiana, and beyond. Covering a broad range of topics — music, sports, hiking, food, theater, travel, and family, among others — Limestone Post features the many fascinating people, places, and events that make Bloomington unique and a true gem of a town.
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