This past Memorial Weekend, Matthew Peterson and Peter Wagner attempted and wildly succeeded setting a new record for the Kruger-Waddell Challenge.
In their trip report, Peter wrote:
“This is a story of setting a goal and giving it everything we had, mentally and physically, across Voyageur’s National Park and the Boundary Waters. Many have asked how we broke the longstanding record by a full 11 hours. It was simple. After a great first day with favorable conditions, we were too committed to let our good start slip away, so we hung on grimly until the finish.”
What is the Kruger-Waddell Challenge?
The Kruger-Waddell Challenge is named after the duo—Verlen Kruger and Clint Waddell—who set the record for the fastest time canoeing from Rainy Lake to Grand Portage. Their time, paddled in 1968, was 80 hours, 40 minutes.
Sir George Simpson (then Governor-in-Chief of the Hudson’s Bay Company) and a small crew were the first to record their time back in the mid-1800s. It was then an active fur trading route. It took them 6-1/2 days in a birch bark canoe.
The Challenge—also known as the Minnesota Border Route Challenge—is undertaken annually by a handful of canoeists up for a few days of grueling wilderness canoeing and portaging against the clock.
Those who accept the challenge normally paddle around the clock, stopping only for short breaks to rest and eat.
Taking on The Challenge
Peter and Matt had already paddled the Challenge together last September, 2018. It took them 97-1/2 hours, giving them a huge amount of respect for the standing record.
As they seriously considered attempting to break the record, they knew several things would have to be on their side in order to succeed:
- They knew they would have to stay awake most of the time, making it a mental game if they were to beat the time.
- They knew the weather would have to cooperate, especially wind direction and speed.
- They knew they’d have to respect the temperatures, still cold at night in late May, to avoid hypothermia.
- They knew they’d need to stay on course.
- They knew they’d have to rock their first day.
To keep the playing field as level as possible, they paddled the exact route Kruger and Waddell did in ’68, including shortcuts, totaling 216 miles. They also made the decision to paddle without GPS, although they had it with them in case of an emergency. They used just maps and compasses for guidance, as their predecessors had done.
Their biggest advantage was equipment: their modified Wenonah MN2 18.5-foot kevlar canoe and bent-shaft carbon paddles, gear that was unavailable in 1968.
What They had to Plan For
Each of the men knew they’d deal with their own particular weaknesses. Peter’s was keeping warm and Matt’s was keeping food and water in him.
They also knew a huge challenge would be navigating some of the big lakes during the night with no moon. For example, Crooked Lake has hundreds of islands—a wrong turn would potentially add several hours to their trip.
A major part of their preparation was studying the maps and settling on their best route. Peter, being the stern paddler and navigator, was able to take them through all the obstacles without mishap.
A Shattered Record
Peter and Matt finished the Challenge in 69 hours and 25 minutes, beating the previous record of 80 hours, 40 minutes handily.
“We were in shock at the end of the first 24 hours that we had gone 100 miles. We felt we owed it to ourselves to just keep going no matter what, and finish strong.”
Peter writes in their trip report intro:
“There were beautiful moments enjoyed in the most pristine corners of the wilderness, with incredible stars, sunrises and sunsets, a rainbow, a black bear, and peaceful glassy waters. There were moments of fun and laughter as we pushed through goals, ran rapids, cheered each other on, and met family and friends.
“There were moments of weakness, discouragement, and frustration in the damp cold and dark, struggling to hold together and depending on each other to push through. The pace was grueling and relentless.
“Attempting this challenge meant sacrificing many of the good and renewing aspects of a wilderness canoe trip, but now that our crazy goal is complete we can finally relax and return to enjoying the wilderness in the way we love.”
Why did Peter and Matt take on this monumental challenge?
They had seen an article by Clint Waddell written in 1968 about his and Verlen’s record paddle—a training run for a cross-continental canoe trip. It was titled Just for Fun.
“We know Clint Waddell and we think he’s a wonderful guy. We also know the Boundary Waters and we think they’re a beautiful place—we hope to raise awareness for the place. But mostly just for fun!”
Last words from Peter:
“We think our time is beatable. We aren't professionals and we don't have marathon racing experience. We'd be glad to see others make the attempt by either joining the annual WaterTribe challenge group each September, or making the attempt on their own. Future challengers should make their SPOT tracking link publicly available through BWCA.com and WaterTribe so that others can follow along and cheer them on.”
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