Verlen Kruger didn’t start paddling until he was 41, but spent the next 41 years of his life quickly making up for lost time.
Kruger is a legend in the world of expedition canoeing, and for good reason. He logged over 100,000 miles in a canoe, which is nearly the equivalent of four times around the globe.
That number or distance might not sink in, so think about it like this: The Grand Canyon run from Lee’s Ferry to Diamond Creek on the Colorado River is 226 miles. You’d have to manage to do 442 trips down the Grand to get to 100,000 miles. That average trip length is 16 days, so that would be over 7,000 days on the Grand – 19 years of paddling every single day nonstop.
If you are still doubting his badassery, Kruger did do that 226-mile Grand Canyon stretch. Upstream, against the flow. As just one short leg of a much bigger three-and-a-half-year expedition he was on.
From 1980 to 1983, he and Steve Landick paddled a 28,040-mile path which they called the “Ultimate Canoe Challenge.” They started in Red Rock, Montana, and finished in Lansing, Michigan. They paddled rivers, oceans, lakes, and seas – from Alaska to Cabo San Lucas, and from the Pacific to the Atlantic coastlines. They eddy-hopped their way up the Colorado River, and paddled hard upstream against the impressive currents of the Mississippi River. Just because they could.
His first major expedition was in 1971, when he and Clint Waddell made what goes down in history as the fastest crossing of the traditional fur trade routes from Montreal, Canada, to the Bering Sea in Alaska. They covered 7,000 miles in a mere 176 days. Not bad for a first expedition run.
From 1986 to 1989, Kruger partnered with Valerie Fons for the Two Continent Expedition. This 21,000-mile adventure took them from the Northwest Territories, Canada, to Cape Horn, Tierra del Fuego, Chile. They paddled southeast across North America to the Gulf of Mexico, across the Caribbean Sea to Venezuela, and down the South American network of rivers to the Cape. They endured open water ocean crossings and massive floods that forced them to stay in the canoe for many nights on end.
He partnered up with Bob Bradford in 2001 for the Mississippi Challenges, and the partners finished the 2,000-plus-mile course in 24 days, earning them first place. Kruger was 79 years old. His 80th birthday present to himself was running the 2,040-mile length of the Yukon River.
As the canoeing legend himself once said, “I believe that most people have such dreams. We need to reach out. And in reaching out, you grow, you learn, and you find out you can do things you’re not sure you can do.”