New Verlen Kruger Book: Bio of Inspiring, Innovative Adventurer
Verlen was an inspiration for me. Here was a local guy, in his 60's, who was saying "Think big! Dream on your own!" He took risks, not to get rich, but to experience nature and learn about history and our world firsthand. He wasn't a wild radical, just an energetic guy who liked to make and work on a few things, mostly one thing: a canoe. Then he liked to see where that river in his backyard went to. Then he enjoyed telling other folks about what he learned. He basically lived a campsite reality. He was a plumber, a family man, religious, no real college, who took his big family on probably zero-budget canoe vacations when the passle of them were growing up. Even in his adventure years he seemed to be happy to include anyone who wanted to tag along, and to make them pancakes in the morning along with his own. Both sociable and happy in the woods all day. I've often found woodsfolk to be sociable.
His biggest adventuring---his 20,000 mile challenge to canoe all of Nor-Am's major waterways upstream---took off right when I graduated from journalism school so I thought to report on him. I visited his local shop as he dialed in his unique boat design. And when he came back through our area to give a slideshow he was happy to have me tag along. The canoe-family who was putting him up was happy to put me up, too, and let me camp on their floor. The next day we had a big breakfast and all went paddling on the river in their backyard. That's canoefolk for ya.
Verlen was a charismatic fellow---bright, bubbly and possessed, in his 60's, of a physique that was panther-like: relaxed, powerful and dynamic at the same time. To me he seemed to paddle like a panther, too---like he was both harmoniously blended with the environment and in pursuit of something.
This was perhaps also a time when people were thirsty for fresh new things, for independence. The small press explosion of the 80's was just taking off. Verlen and his partner Steve published a hefty newsletter of their big adventure and it had a thousand subscribers. And they did it while on the rivers. The mainstream canoe mag also hooked into the adventure and seemed to get a national boost from it. Just from one indy adventure!
Here was a paddler whose colorful energy reached out beyond canoeing. He changed canoeing itself in several big ways but I think he did more. Maybe not. Maybe that's enough.
There were other paddlers in the early 80's who left a big mark within paddling, who inspired many---George Dyson and his revival of the cosmicly-historic sea kayak; Gene Jensen and his boat design created the canoe racing boom. Going bigger, Jon Wilson launched WoodenBoat mag on a classico-hippy notion and changed boating in general. (Has there been a lull in innovative outdoor personalities since then?)
Verlen offered his own twist. I think it was his practice of connecting his projects to other paddlers of different ages and genders and of keeping his projects connected to the paddling community, and to low-budget easy access, but also of connecting to history and the environment---this all helped him have wide impact.
Well, now you can decide for yourself. Phil Peterson just wrote Verlen's authorized biography and it's not just a puff piece. It shows the whole set and setting. But I'm still in the thick of it! I'll report back more soon. Of course Verlen wasn't perfect. It seems like he liked quiet paddling partners and I haven't gotten to the "new wives" portion, so we'll see how it all plays out. It's interesting to me that he did his last big adventures, in his 80's, remarried to his first wife. What happened in the meantime? Let's find out...
This is a full-color hardcover book. Done big, like Verlen.
What a life, what a read! Check it out...