Canoe team sets record-setting pace down the Mississippi River

Published 5:10 pm Tuesday, May 30, 2023

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By Estelle Timar-Wilcox

Just before 3 a.m. Saturday, a team paddled into the Gulf of Mexico with a new record for the fastest time to canoe the Mississippi River – 16 days, 20 hours, and 16 minutes.

The four canoers set out from the headwaters at Itasca State Park in Minnesota on May 10. They made their way south accompanied by a team of assistants who travelled alongside the canoe by boat and road.

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Scott Miller of Minneapolis led the crew to the record-setting time. Speaking from a hotel near the finish line on Saturday, he said he’s “tremendously satisfied.”

“We had hundreds of people helping us … and everybody was invested and hoping for a good outcome, so to be able to deliver that on behalf of hundreds of people is very satisfying.”

The team beat the previous record set in 2021 of 17 days, 19 hours, 46 minutes, which was also set by a Minnesotan-led crew.

This record-setting run was five years in the making. This was Miller’s second attempt. In 2021, he led a team that made it up to about 150 miles from the finish, when bad weather forced them to come ashore early.

“You have to be good to get this record, but you also have to be lucky,” Miller said.

This time around, the crew got lucky with high water levels, low wind, and short waits at locks and dams.

The crew had a lot of support during the attempt. Besides the team travelling alongside them, local river pilots came aboard their assisting boats to help point the canoe through the industrial waterways in Louisiana.

The effort garnered enthusiastic supporters – both in-person along the way and through the team’s photos, updates, and livestreams on Facebook. They crossed the finish line to cheers and applause in the middle of the night.

Miller said this support got them to the finish.

“The more we got into it the more we realized that we could keep asking people for help, and people would be willing to become part of the adventure and lend their particular expertise,” Miller said. “We benefitted from every single bit of help that we had.”

The crew is celebrating and resting in Louisiana.

After that, Miller will be returning to the Twin Cities. He and his friend Todd Foster, who was the lead adviser on the record-setting trip, are hosting a weekend of canoe and kayak events on June 11. It’s led by the experts, but open to anyone.

“The river is unbelievably beautiful right into the Twin Cities,” Miller said. “It’s accessible, it’s beautiful, it’s wild, and you’ve got currents moving you along, you don’t even have to paddle very fast if you don’t want to.”

Guinness World Records will vet the Mississippi run before officially giving it the winning title. Miller is optimistic that the record will stand.

“To beat the old record by almost 24 hours is pretty good, I think,” Miller said. “We welcome any and all challengers, but it’s definitely gonna be tough.”