When Verlen Kruger died at the age of 82, he had been canoeing for 41 years. He was a giant of the sport, tenaciously paddling some 100,000 miles in some of the most challenging of courses. That’s the equivalent of canoeing the Grand Canyon 442 times!
The Grand Canyon is indeed a good illustration of Kruger’s prowess. He paddled its entire length upstream as part of a much larger venture that lasted three and a half years.
With one Steve Landick, he started a trip in Red Rock, Montana in 1980 and ended in Lansing, Michigan in 1983 – a total length of 28,040 miles. This mighty course involved the Colorado River, the Mississippi River, the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.
Kruger was born in 1922. He served in World War II, married and divorced several times and had nine children. Enigmatic and somewhat coarse, he exhibited extraordinary confidence and courage. The only thing he appeared to be afraid of were bears, and, oddly, armadillos.
The only reason we know this is that he revealed this in his sleep. He hated logistical planning, but when forced to do so he would often consult Tom Sawyer.
His love of canoeing began in 1963. We know little about his first ventures, but his first major expedition was in 1971. With Clint Waddell, he effected the fastest ever crossing between Montreal and the Bering Sea, which was a distance of 7000 miles, in 176 days. In 1984 he raced on the Mississippi with Valerie Fons.
From 1986 -1989 canoed with Fons from the Northwest Territories, Canada, to Cape Horn, Chile, an odyssey of 21000 miles. In 2001 he raced on the Mississippi again, this time with Chris Bradford, and won.
He was 79. He paddled the Yukon River in 2004 as a birthday present to himself. Later that year he died of prostate cancer.
He posthumously received a ‘Legends of Canoeing’ award from the American Canoe Association and is honoured by a statue in Portland, Michigan.
His legacy survives in the knowledge he shared with fellow enthusiasts, and in the canoes he designed. Three models are still produced by Kruger Canoes.