World record holder paddles into town

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Dale Sanders, 87, and his team are paddling down the Mississippi River in an effort to recapture Sander's previous world record: the oldest person to paddle the Mississippi river, source to sea. From left are "Mississippi River Angels" Deanna and Dan Kuempel of Guttenberg, Dale "Grey Beard" Sanders, Matt Briggs and "Melody" and Dale Faust. (Press photo by Caroline Rosacker)

By Caroline Rosacker

On May 15, Dale "Grey Beard" Sanders, 87, of Bartlett, Tenn., began paddling at the headwaters of the Mississippi River, Lake Itasca, Minn. He will continue paddling in one continuous trip until he reaches the Gulf of Mexico, 12 miles beyond mile "zero" of the Missississippi River. 

"All 2,350 miles of the river will be paddled, under my own personal human power, in my canoe named 'Perseverance'," noted Sanders. "I am on a mission to recapture my previously set Guinness World record."

Sanders grew up in Lickskillet, Ky., on the banks of the Whippoorwill Creek. He spent his early years enjoying the water and woods adjoining his parents’ tobacco farm. "Frank and Jessie James parents were also born and raised in Lickskillet," he said with a smile. "They were related to my father's side of the family." 

Paddling team

Sanders is accompanied by two other paddlers, Dan Faust, of Pontiac, Ill., and Matt Briggs, of Jackson, Miss., and Matt's, dog, "Melody," a Pomeranian who thinks she is the most important part of the journey. 

In 2018, Matt Briggs paddled the same source to sea expedition raising money for the Wolf River Conservancy – a non-profit organization Sanders was an instrumental part of. "I was greeted by the Wolf River Conservancy welcoming committee at the end of my expedition," explained Matt. "That is where I first met Dale. We hit it off and began long- distance hiking together."

Dan Faust became acquainted with Dale online. "I was researching my own source to sea journey and became aware of Dale and all his records and other things he has accomplished," explained Faust. "Dale has a 'Paddlers Wall of Fame' in his home and invites paddlers, that have successfully completed their source to sea mission, to sign. I made sure I stopped in to sign it and to meet Dale. That's when I became aware that Dale was looking for paddlers to accompany him on his next adventure." 

The additional paddlers, in their own personal craft, will paddle along side of Sanders, not only for Guinness verification, but also for safety reasons. 

"One of the reasons Dan got approved was because he completed the challenge, and has an amazing personality and a wonderful online presence. He and Matt also have a great rapport, which is very important."

He continued, "Matt is doing all our logistics and planning. He is one of the best river navigators I have ever worked with. The three of us are like brothers – if we have a disagreement it's over with in a hurry."

A film crew follows behind the paddlers in a chase boat about three days a week. "The film's director is Zach Rivers. The crew is using a primary camera, four drones with 8K resolutions, and still photography," Matt commented. 

Mississippi River Angels

The foursome landed in Guttenberg on Saturday, July 16, for a quick lunch at Dan and Deanna Kuempel's residence, who signed up to be "Mississippi River Angels."

"Mississippi River Angels" are comprised of local residents living near the waters' edge. They offer paddlers shelter, dinner, portage assistance or anything else paddlers need along the way.

"We have watched paddlers go by and wondered if we could offer some kind of support," shared Deanna. "I started doing research online and found the 'Mississippi River Angels' Facebook page. We both agreed we could do this. We are right here. We have enjoyed meeting interesting people and sharing our blessings."

Wait – there's more!

This is not a new experience for the adventurous outdoorsman. "I held the 'oldest person to paddle the Mississippi River, Source to Sea' record from 2015 - 2020," he commented.  "Then youngster Stan Stark broke my record, setting the current Guinness record at 81 years old. My challenge, if successful, will add six years to that age. I believe Stan will try and break my new record when he turns 87."

After completing his first record-breaking Mississippi River paddle he and his teammates, also in record time, successfully paddle-boarded the MR340 human powered craft race across the State of Missouri, from Kansas City, Kan., to St. Louis, in 81 hours at 81 years old,  A feat no others have completed in his age group. 

Sanders also completed a thru-hike of the entire Appalachian Trail in 2017. In doing so, Sanders became the oldest person, at age 82, to hike all 2100 plus miles in one calendar year.

In 2019, Sanders and Briggs hiked the second portion of the Eastern Continental Trail (ECT) from Key West, Fla., to the Appalachian Trail southern terminus at Springer Mt., Georgia. Plans were to hike the remaining roughly 800 miles in the future. Because the Florida Trail (FT) is part of the overall ECT he will also hold the age records for "Completing" and "Through Hiking" the Florida Trail and the Florida National Scenic Trail. "Unfortunately Covid 19 closed the border between Canada and the United States, and  it has remained closed for almost two years," said Briggs, "But we have hiked every step between Key West, Fla., and Mt. Katahdin in Baxter State Park, Maine. Our plans are to hike the remaining distance in the future." In 2020, the spirited hiker also broke the old Guinness World Book record for being the oldest person, at age 85, to hike rim-to-rim-to-rim in the Grand Canyon. The World Record hike began at the South Rim and followed the Bright Angel Trail through Phantom Ranch at the confluence of the Bright Angel Creek and the Colorado River. At Phantom Ranch, he continued on to the North Rim via North Kaibab Trail, and made the return trip down through Phantom Ranch energized with excitement. “From the Colorado River it was all uphill to the South Rim,” he explained. “I completed the trek hiking out through Indian Gardens, back to where I started, at the South Rim Trail Head six days earlier. God was good - the creeks didn’t rise and I was able to sneak in a couple Rod Wellington victory dances!”

This was Sanders’ fourth hike into the Grand Canyon, and he is already looking forward to the next.

Sanders is also the recipient of the acclaimed 2016 Canoe and Kayak Magazine’s Spirit of Adventure Award; the International Underwater Spearfishing Association, Athlete of the Year; holds the record for Underwater Breath Holding; the individual U.S.A Nationals Sports Foundation award for Excellence in Parks and Recreation, and has numerous United States, national/southeast Asian team and individual spearfishing awards.  

For additional information see or or follow them on Facebook. 

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