Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

BeaV’s 2017 Kruger Challenge, Border Route Solo Speed Record
by BeaV

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 09/01/2017
Entry Point: Little Vermilion Lake (Crane Lake) (EP 12)
Exit Point: North Fowl Lake (EP 70)  
Number of Days: 4
Group Size: 1
Trip Introduction:
This was to be the third annual paddle trip organized by a boating group calling themselves WaterTribe. The past two years, participants paddled unsupported, across the entire BWCA west to east starting at Crane Lake and ending on Lake Superior (this being called the Voyageurs Challenge). This route is along the border of the US and Canada and is part of the route that the fur trade era Voyageurs traversed hundreds of years before. New for this year would be a longer route option extending the starting location to International Falls and would follow the route canoe paddling legends Verlen Kruger and Clint Waddell did in 1969 in a time of 80 hours 40 minutes- a record that still stands today! That’s a record that will be hard for any team to beat. Traveling roughly 260 miles of lakes, rivers, and land portages including a shoulder-crunching 9-mile Grand Portage at the end to reach the historic re-created fort on Lake Superior. Why make a new tougher route in 2017? Well, it may be partly my fault as I mentioned International Falls and how fast it might be traveled to WaterTribe following the 2016 Challenge. WaterTribe is all about challenge so the idea grew and the 260-mile Kruger Challenge was created and would commemorate the record-setting feat of Kruger/Waddell. I had no choice but do this long route from International Falls to Lake Superior.
Part 1 of 5
Background and Preparation

In recent times, a couple of attempts were made along this route to set new records. One team launched at Crane Lake and the other upped the ante and launched from International Falls. The most successful was the 2nd attempt, recording a time of 99 hours 26 minutes. That’s an outstanding time but not approaching their set upon goal of beating Kruger/Waddell’s time. In follow-up press releases from both attempts, the paddlers challenged others to attempt the same. A “new” record was claimed and statements made in such a way as to dismiss or question the validity of Kruger/Waddell’s record. I decided I would take them up on their challenge. I was intending to push hard anyway in this year’s Kruger Challenge but now I would push even harder to bring credit back to Kruger and Waddell. Kruger had been a WaterTriber when he was alive. I even have a Kruger Sea Wind expedition class canoe designed by the same. I would try for the second fastest time recorded.

To beat 99 hours 26 minutes was my goal. Who did I know capable and willing enough to abuse themselves to accomplish this? No one was all that came to mind. I would have to attempt this solo. Solo has the distinct disadvantage of only one paddler. When that paddler stops paddling for an instant, the boat stops. When the solo paddler comes to a portage, that one person must heft all the gear weight and that of the canoe for the carry. When the solo paddler’s mind becomes cloudy from exhaustion, there is no one to pull him back from the brink or correct faulty decisions. Challenge accepted! Regarding mental exhaustion- it is not uncommon for paddlers to have hallucinations and/or become confused during extreme events such as this. It happens at other WaterTribe challenges and in fact, it happened to Clint Waddell, according to Verlen Kruger, during their record-setting paddle.

March 2017- bad news, WaterTribe cancels the Minnesota Challenges. I will miss WaterTribe involvement but decide I will continue on (this is the WaterTribe way after all). Besides, I figure, think of all the folks who wanted or may want to face this challenge and won’t have the opportunity. I have a new secondary goal- keep these challenges alive so that other paddlers have the awesome opportunity to push themselves to new unknown limits and accomplish their goal(s). I will get the word out and organize dates and shuttles.

Training and preparations begin when the waters of Minnesota clear of ice. Paddle training and canoe-carrying practice ensues. My neighbors probably start calling me the “walking canoe” as I carry canoes over my head often on my gravel township road. I research some new gear to help with a solo approach to keep portage weight to a minimum- most notably a lightweight fast solo canoe. With a month to go, I start ramping up my paddling and portaging training. During this time I paddle three times a week doing about 10 miles each time. I need to get the feel of this new canoe and find out how fast a pace I can sustain. I practice capsizing and attempt to find the best way to reenter the boat in deep water. I find out that with this new boat, I cannot reenter. This is important to know- I must carefully consider now, how much risk to take if conditions are windy when I’m crossing big lakes. I weigh all my gear and decide I need to cut weight so that I can carry all my stuff in only one trip on the portages. I change my planned food to a no-cook diet consisting mostly of powdered carbohydrates that will allow me to leave cook stove and fuel behind. The last equipment scratch is my tent- I hate not having a good shelter but I intend to be on the move most of the time anyhow (hope it doesn’t rain when I stop to rest).

With 2 weeks to go, I begin writing down my planned itinerary and realize how foolish my goal of four days (96 hours) sounds. Doubt creeps in for the first time as I am faced with the facts of how far and how fast I must travel for four consecutive days to achieve my goal. What I think I can do doesn’t fit within the timeline allowed. I write this down somewhere as:

-my goal is set

-adjusting my itinerary to fit my goal

-realizing I'm not prepared to achieve my itinerary

-my goal is set

It really is too late to change. It is too late to train harder. My only solace is I haven’t let many people know what my time goal is; this will minimize my embarrassment if I fail. I am not much of a talker anyhow and I will focus on my goal. It has always been this way- once I commit to doing something then I do what it takes to see it through. With an eraser I change the itinerary and like magic, I make it in 96 hours, on paper that is.

The math is simple- if conditions are good that’s 262 miles divided by four days is 66 miles per day average. That’s crazy! I am all too familiar with what a hard day on the water is as I’ve spent hundreds of days testing my limits. Here’s my scale- 10 miles is easy, 20 miles is tiring, 30 miles is hard, and 40 miles is a long , physically tough day. I have done a few days over 50 miles and that’s exhausting not only physically but also mentally. Sixty or 70-mile days- that’s a whole different level of grueling. Then put 4 of these grueling kind of paddle days back to back with little recovery rest in between, add a bunch of portages that become more numerous and difficult later in the route, and likely some wind and waves to battle; well, not sure what to call it. Some people question me “why try it?” I don’t really have a convincing answer to give.