Sixty-eight days and 2,300 miles after launching their canoe into the headwaters of the Mississippi River in Minnesota, Keanu and Sarah Krech arrived in New Orleans and reached their goal of canoeing the river from source to sea.
At times they battled strong winds, scorching heat and a small army of mosquitoes. They nearly capsized at one point. But they also saw beautiful scenery, met some wonderful people and grew closer to one another.
“It feels like a dream. It was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done in my entire life, both physically and mentally, but it was 100 percent rewarding,” said Sarah, a Zimmerman native and 2012 graduate of Spectrum High School in Elk River.
She and Keanu canoed the length of the Mississippi to raise money and awareness to fight against human sex trafficking. They teamed up with the organization Women At Risk, International, a Michigan-based nonprofit, and have raised more than half of their $10,000 goal through their GoFundMe page at www.gofundme.com/canoe-down-the-mississippi. They are planning a gala in September to raise the remaining amount.
Beauty, challenges going down the river
The Krechs paddled through a number of states on their way to the Gulf of Mexico, but the section of the river Sarah found most stunning was close to home — the bluff country from south of St. Paul to LaCrosse, Wisconsin.
She also was surprised by the beauty of Iowa.
“You think corn and all that, but the river cities in Iowa are so gorgeous and the people are so cute,” she said.
Two of their favorite spots in Iowa were Guttenberg and Burlington.
Hannibal, Missouri, also left a positive impression. They spent several days there over the Fourth of July, which was their first wedding anniversary.
“We met the most wonderful guy there who showed us the whole area,” Sarah said. They swam in a pool in the middle of the woods and took in Tom Sawyer Days.
Then it was back to the river.
The most they traveled in a day was 73 miles. That was on July 13, when some of their supporters had pledged to donate $1 for every mile to Women At Risk.
Their worst incident was with a “wing dike,” which are small dams found on the Mississippi. The river was high and they decided to go over one wing dike they came across, but nearly capsized their canoe in the process.
They also had to be wary of boat traffic, particularly on the lower Mississippi when they were sharing the river with ocean liners, barges, tugs and other watercraft.
“We had a marine radio, but there was just so much boat traffic,” Sarah said. “They try to avoid you, but sometimes they just pop up out of nowhere.”
Ports in places like New Orleans and Baton Rouge were also scary, she said.
But the trip had many highlights, too.
Sarah said the best part of their river adventure was being rejuvenated by the people they met along the way. Some gave them food and offered them a place to take a shower and do laundry. Others invited them into their homes to stay the night or paid for a stay in a motel.
As Keanu wrote in their blog on July 23: “This trip is really making us thankful for beds, food and relationships. People are amazing.”
They also met fellow paddlers who were making their way south and came into contact with the paddling community, whose members look out for one another.
They met two famous paddlers, Janet Moreland in St. Louis and Dale Sanders in Memphis.
Moreland was the first woman to kayak the length of the Missouri River solo. Sanders is the oldest man to canoe the length of the Mississippi, a feat he accomplished at age 81.
“He was inspiring. We loved him,” Sarah said.
One of the fellow paddlers they met was Joe Rogan from British Columbia, Canada, who was kayaking the Mississippi. He paddled with them for a number of days.
They saw interesting wildlife, too. They spotted their first alligator on the banks of the Mississippi in Louisiana and, in another incident, had an Asian carp jump into their canoe.
The trip tested their perseverance, but they were determined to finish. As Keanu wrote in their blog on June 18, Day 24 of their trip, “Sarah and I smell like death, and our tent smells like wet dog. Give or take 40 days left to go. We got this.”
The Krechs completed their journey on Aug. 1, exiting the river in the French Quarter of New Orleans.
Sarah said several thoughts went through her mind when they arrived at their destination.
“Thank the Lord I survived, relief, joy, a sense of achievement,” she said. “We felt like bosses.”
They put their lives on hold to make the river trip, but now will return to their jobs.
Sarah works as a recovery coach with Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge. Keanu, who has a bachelor’s degree in pastoral ministry from the University of Northwestern, started Anchor Church, which meets in Inver Grove Heights.
To read more about their river adventure, go to https://m.facebook.com/SarahandKeanuCanoe.