Paddlers pursue Guinness World Record

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Paddlers attempting to set the Guinness World Record for fastest canoe trip down the Mississippi River entered Lock and Dam 10 on May 10. A support boat is accompanying the ultra-athletes, providing food, water and supplies. (Press photo by Caroline Rosacker)

By Caroline Rosacker

Guttenberg has seen many ambitious paddlers make their way down the Mississippi River. Most boaters map out several weeks to complete the journey. On the evening of Monday, May 10, paddlers Scott Miller, Joel Ford, Perry Whitaker and Adam Macht passed through Lock and Dam 10 attempting to set the Guinness World Record for fastest canoe trip down the Mississippi River. 

The following biographies were submitted by the team's media spokesperson.

Scott Miller

Scott Miller of Minneapolis, Minn., is the leader of team “Mississippi Speed Record.” He has paddled over 4,000 miles in a canoe in his life. In 2005 he paddled from the Twin Cities to Hudson Bay, and in 2020 he competed in the Missouri River 340 and Great Alabama 650 races. Scott first got the idea to try and set this world record in 2018, and has been training and planning for it ever since. He was part of a team that planned to make an attempt in 2019, but it was cancelled due to pandemic related stay-at-home orders. Scott works as a registered nurse at the University of Minnesota Medical Center and as a massage therapist at his shop called Body Repair. He is married and lives with his wife, Heidi, and cat, Tuxie, just a few blocks from the Mississippi River in south Minneapolis.

Joel Ford

Joel Ford of Fallston, Md., spent years as a lacrosse goalie, then followed his father into mountain biking and his friends into multi-sport. 

Adventure racing has become his passion and as a proud member of Rootstock Racing, he and his teammates won the US National Championship in 2018. Not one to shy away from challenge and adventure, he spent 2011 thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail and 2019 thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.

In 2013, Joel took a break from adventure racing and spent the next years serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Cambodia and touring the National Parks in his converted Nissan van. 

He is excited to contribute to the world record attempt with a racing perspective, a positive attitude, and stories to share with teammates under starry nights along the Mississippi River. Outside of racing, he enjoys board games, woodworking, camping, and taking advantage of new experiences.

Perry Whitaker

Perry Whitaker is an experienced kayaker and canoeist from St. Louis, Mo. He has finished the Missouri River 340-mile race twelve times and is an expert on the Mississippi River in the St. Louis area. He frequently paddles and leads groups on the stretch of the Mississippi from St. Louis to Cape Girardeau. Perry volunteers his time with numerous organizations that focus on the health of Missouri rivers and the building of hiking trails. 

Adam Macht

Adam Macht currently of Ely, Minn., began his canoeing life on the backwaters of the Mississippi River near La Crosse, Wis. Since moving to Ely, he has travelled thousands of miles through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) and Quetico Provincial Park, spending hundreds of nights in the wilderness. He enjoys a challenge and the unknown, and he is always willing to push a little bit farther to get to a better fishing spot or to a more secluded lake. Adam works as an outfitter at Piragis Northwoods Company where he gets to share his enthusiasm for wilderness canoeing and camping by helping people plan and prepare for their own adventures into the BWCA and Quetico.

No breaks allowed!

The lengthy canoe is in motion 24/7 with the exception for small breaks or to change positions. Each paddler gets a break of three hours twice each day to sleep and rest. Their sleeping bags are housed in the bottom of the canoe and a tarp is used to cover them to keep them warm and dry.

Food and water are delivered to them by the support boat, and seats two and three in the canoe can be turned into a commode of sorts for paddlers to do their business.

"So far the team has not experienced any weather related delays, but the paddlers have had some rudder issues they had to fix on the fly," said their media spokesperson.

The canoeists are trying to beat the old record, which was 18 days 4 hours 51 minutes set by Bob Bradford and Clark Eid in 2003, but the record was recently broken May 10, and is now tentatively 17 days, 19 hours and 44 minutes. 

The racers have experienced a lot of respect on their river journey. "On one occasion the team was headed towards a lock and they were 'racing' a barge to see who would get there first," said a spokesperson for the team. "When they radioed the lockmaster, the lockmaster radioed the barge and told them what the paddlers were doing, and the barge captain graciously said to let the paddlers go first.  Amazing!"

Inspiration for the challenge

Clearly, beating the world record is important to the team, but what is appealing or inspiring to them? 

"For me, it’s about joy. I love to paddle and I love to exercise and be outside and I love to plan things and work as a team," said one paddler. "This project combines all of that. I couldn't wait to be in the world of the river for over two weeks non-stop. I love looking at the sky, the water, the light, the clouds, the trees, the boats and the cities – they are all ever-changing and fascinating.” 

The ultra athletes could have chosen many other challenges. Why a canoe trip on the Mississippi River?

“The Mississippi is my home river,” explained another team member. “I grew up riding my bike to the Coon Rapids Dam and walking my bike across the river. I live eight blocks from the river in south Minneapolis. Also, it’s America’s most iconic river and the river of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer – it’s a river that conjures up a feeling of epic-ness. Also, it starts in my home state of Minnesota and has more miles in Minnesota than any other state.”

The men have found inspiration from family and friends throughout the years. 

“My father took me on canoe trips as a kid and we had such a fun time, so I credit him with instilling a love of the outdoors and canoeing,” the athlete shared with gratitude. “And then my best friend, Todd Foster, asked if I wanted to go on a long trip into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, and later if I wanted to paddle 2,000 miles from Minneapolis to Hudson Bay when I was in my 20’s, and I learned from him that I could continue to have wild adventures even as an adult.”

Many qualities make up a good team. The members describe themselves as adventurers not travelers, choosing a free trip to the wilderness over all other choices. 

“As I’ve asked questions and written about my planning for this journey online – I’ve been active in a few different online paddling groups, including the community of the “MR340” race, a 340-mile race on the Missouri river across the state of Missouri,” a team member noted. “It’s from this community that Perry Whitaker comes, as he’s paddled the race 12 times. Perry heard about our adventure and expressed interest and I found out he is an expert on the stretch of the Mississippi between St. Louis and Cairo, Ill., and has paddled it many times. He also loves to paddle as much as possible.” 

He continued, “Joel Ford also heard I was looking for people online. In his case he heard about it through the world of Adventure Racing, a sport in which Joel has been on a national championship winning team. Joel is an experienced endurance athlete who knows how to work with a team, and he thought what we were doing sounded really fun and he thought it would be fun to learn the marathon canoe paddling techniques we all have had to learn.”

He concluded, “Finally, when I went to buy my canoe from Piragis Outfitters in northern Minnesota on the edge of the Boundary Waters in June of 2020, I met a guy there whose colleagues all said he was the guy that liked to paddle as often as possible in the Boundary Waters and likes to go as far and fast as he can. In the fall of 2020 I remembered that and called the outfitter and asked to talk to the guy that ‘paddles fast and far.’ They said, ‘Oh you mean Adam!’ I told him about our plan and he was excited to join the team with his wealth of knowledge and experience.” 

The qualities needed to accomplish this challenge include a love of canoeing, teamwork, training, planning, and most of all the ability and desire to stick with something 24-hours a day for over two weeks. One paddler told The Press, “My friend Todd encouraged me to do what I want in life and not what I think others want for me. As I’ve learned more and more how to do that, my life has gotten better and better. If anyone asks me the same question I say the same thing Todd told me!”

Follow along with their journey on Facebook at fb.com/mississippispeedrecord. There will be a link to their live GPS location and lots of videos and updates keeping track of their progress. 

Team members encourage readers to sign up to be a river citizen at 1mississippi.org. “It’s free and when you sign up, 1mississippi will send you updates a few times a year about events, actions and information related to protecting and appreciating the incredible Mississippi river,” they shared.

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