History of the Mississippi Speed Paddling Record

Bradford and Eid in Iowa in in 2003 (from Beyond the Finish)

Clark Eid, the 2003 world co-record holder for paddling down the Mississippi, has it made one of his missions to document Mississippi River paddling attempts and records over the years–as well as “notable runs,” which I am not including here, for brevity’s sake. Below is a condensed overview of Eid’s history. I fleshed out the later attempts with information from my own reporting on the 2021 attempts, which you can read here: The Epic Battle to Break the Mississippi River Canoe Record.

1921 Attempt  (End: Hannibal, Missouri)

John Koors and Louis Neumann started from Bemidji, Minnesota on June 14th, 1921 and ended some time on or before July 25th, 1921 when they overturned after striking a wing dam near Hannibal.

1925 Record: 105 days

Journalist Albert Tousley paddled down the river with three different paddling partners. He detailed his journey in his 1928 book “Where Goes the River”. 

1937 Attempt (End: Greenville, Mississippi)

Glenn Gunderson (23) and Emerson Gonnsen (21), sophomores at Wheaton College, began their run on May 22, 1937.  Their canoe capsized 1,900 miles later in a giant whirlpool near Greenville, MS on August 1, 1937 and Goonsen drowned.  (This section is still shown on present day river charts near Mile Marker 576.)  Their 17-foot, 75-pound canoe, named the “Mississippi:  Source to Sea”, was later recovered and sold near Greenville, MS for $20 to provide Gunderson money for clothes and transportation home.

Glenn Gunderson (Left) and Emerson Gonnsen (Right) at Lake Itasca. (Henry Gunderson and Carol Kuhn)

1937 1st Guinness Record: 49 days on the water (56 days total)

On July 4, after Gunderson and Gonnsen launched, the Memphis team of Joe Laughlin Tagg, Jr. (17), Gerald M. Capers, Jr. (28) and Charles David Saunders (17) set out from Itasca, reaching New Orleans on August 28, 1937,  in 56 days (The Guiness book says 49 days, but the team was off the water in St. Paul, Memphis, and Greensville for several days, so the total time elapsed was 56 days). Tagg and Saunders were both high school seniors at the time.  Their trip was detailed in the second half of Gerald M. Capers’ 1977 book “The Mississippi River: Before and After Mark Twain.” The record was later included in the Guiness Book of World Records in the 1970s.

1978 2nd Guinness Record: 42 days, four hours, 59 minutes

The 1978 RAF team (Clark Eid)

The British Royal Air Force (RAF) team of Brian Smith (34), Peter Dodd (22), Mac Macboyle (23), Terry Riley (21), John (Steve) Stevenson (38) and Steve Pinkham (26) set the Guinness World Record using tandem kayaks, reaching Mile Marker Zero after 42 Days, 4 Hours and 59 Minutes.  The record setting event was part of the Royal Air Force Diamond Jubilee and was documented in a booklet titled “Mississippi Paddle ’78.”  The paddlers needed to qualify for the team through racing trials in England.

1980 3rd Guinness Record: 35 days, 11 hours, and 27 minutes

Steven M. Eckelkamp (23) and K. J. Millhone (21) of Minnesota set the Guinness World Record.  Their two-man support crew drove a car pulling a trailer for equipment.  Their run was the last time an open canoe, without a rudder, was used to set the record.

Eckelkamp and Millhone

1984 4th Guinness Record, Firsts: 23 days, 10 hours, and 20 minutes

Verlen Kruger (61) and Valerie Fons (33) set the Guinness World Record during the Eddie Bauer Mississippi Challenge, also sponsored by Mad River Canoe.  This was the first attempt that used a deliberate strategy to sleep one paddler in the canoe while the other paddler kept the canoe moving on the river.

1989 5th Guinness Record: 23 days, 9 hours, and 51 minutes

Bill Perdzock (25) and Mike Schnitzka (25) set the Guinness World Record.  Mike wrote about their record run in chapter four of his 2017 book “Escaping the Velvet Rut-An Adventurer’s Guide to Chasing Your Dreams.” On reaching Baton Rouge, all extra weight from the canoe was removed for a tremendous sprint to Mile Marker 0, reaching their goal only 30 minutes faster than the existing record time of Kruger and Fons.

Fons and Kruger

2001 Attempt: 24 Days, 17 hours, and 51 minutes

In 2001, the Great Mississippi River Race for Rett Syndrome was organized by Clark Eid and his wife Mary Potter in honor of their daughter Amanda to raise awareness and research funds for Rett Syndrome. Canoeing legend Verlen Kruger and Bob Bradford won the race, using a fabric-decked Kruger Cruiser with rudder in 24 Days, 17 hours, and 51 minutes. Record flooding and storms challenged all five starting teams.  Miscommunication between the Coast Guard and local law enforcement caused a significant delay when Teams “Kruger” and “Double Helix” were forced off the river due to severe flooding.

2001 Attempt: 26 days, 6 hours, and 40 minutes.

Clark Eid and Kurt Zimmermann of Team finished second in the Great Mississippi River Race for Rett Syndrome in 26 Days, 6 Hours, and 40 Minutes.. Their kayak (built by Eid) was christened the “Double Helix”, and at 25 ½ feet long, is the longest craft to successfully run the entire river. It was donated to the Tunica RiverPark & Museum.

Team Kruger and Team Double Helix, going through a lock together, GMR2001

2003 6th Guinness Record: 18 days, 4 hours, and 51 minutes

“The Mississippi River Challenge for Rett Syndrome and Leukodystrophy” took place, with all funds raised supporting research for these two rare diseases.  Clark Eid (42) and Bob Bradford (60), supported by a road crew led by Stan Hanson, set the Guinness World Record. The team used a full, fabric decked Kruger Cruiser outfitted with a rudder that could be controlled from either the bow or stern. Verlen Kruger was a race advisor.  More at www.BeyondTheFinish.org

2014 Attempt (End: Natchez, Mississippi)

In 2014, Tim Muhich, Colin Bright, Clint Adams and Boot Baweja made their first attempt. They got as far as Louisiana. In Natchez, Mississippi, they pulled off the water due to heavy rain, flash flooding and nearby lightening strikes. While they waited out the weather, their time expired, and they ended their attempt, as they all had other obligations to return to. (Info and photos here.)

2017 Attempt (End: Greenville, Mississippi)

Tim Muhich lead another four-man team of Clinton Adams, Colin Bright, and Dale Waldo. They set the fastest recorded pace so far on the upper river sections, outpacing the 2003 Guinness record by 24 hours by New Boston, IL. Poor weather near Burlington and Nauvoo eroded their time advantage to a point they could not recover beyond Cairo, IL. Around 30 miles upstream from Greenville, MS, Adams came down with heatstroke forcing them to stop.  (Info and photos here).

2018 Attempt (End: Guttenberg, Iowa)

K.J. Millhone, Kevin Eckelkamp and Nate Lastinger attempted the record as the first three-man team to try setting the record since 1937. Lastinger was raising awareness of heart disease and funds for the American Heart Association. Unfortunately, he needed to depart from the team following Lake Pepin, MN to return home to his sick son. The remaining two paddlers continued to Guttenberg, Iowa before officially stopping.  The run’s pace lagged the 2003 record pace by 5 hours at the Lake Winnibigoshish Dam and progressed to an 11-hour deficit by the end of Lake Pepin.  Kevin was the nephew of the late Steven M. Eckelkamp, the 1980 record co-holder with Millhone (More here.)

Team MMZ in Winona (Frank Bures)

2021 7th Guinness Record: 17 days, 19 hours, 46 minutes, and 49 seconds

K.J. Millhone, Casey Millhone, Rod Price and Bobby Johnson, who called themselves Team Mile Marker Zero, departed From Lake Itasca on April 22, 2021. Despite multiple problems with the support boats they reached Mile Marker Zero in the early hours of May 10. This was K.J. Millhone’s second record.  (More here, here, and here)

2021 Attempt (End: Near New Orleans)

On May 4, 2021, Scott Miller, Joel Ford, Perry Whitaker and Adam Macht (aka, Team Mississippi Speed Record) launched at Lake Itasca. Initally their pace was behind Team Mile Marker Zero, but gained significantly, before losing time in strong headwinds. Although they gained time back and where ahead of team Mile Marker Zero, the boat sank in heavy waves north of New Orleans, 135 miles from Mile Marker Zero. All crew were able to get on the support boat before the sinking.  (More here, here and here.)