Photo: Valerie Fons

Verlen Kruger paddled more than four times the distance around the earth! This humble adventurer held many canoeing records, including Guinness World records, many that will remain unchallenged for years to come.


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This new biography of Verlen Kruger shows both his triumph and his pain.

By Larry Rice

You don't have to be a marathon canoeist to relish this fascinating tribute to the late, great Verlen Kruger, one of the most extraordinary paddlers who ever lived. Phil Peterson Sr.'s All Things Are Possible: The Verlen Kruger Story presents a sweeping, finely detailed treatise on the life and loves of this sharecropper's son turned mythic canoeist, whose courage and compulsions drove him to achieve near superhuman feats.

What inspired a Michigan plumbing contractor and devout father of nine—a man who had never sat in a canoe until the age of 42—to pick up a paddle and spend the next nearly 40 years racing against time and the elements across vast continents and open seas? A rare combination of grit, discipline, and supreme self-confidence seems to be the answer, as Peterson probes the personality of the lovable, enigmatic Kruger.

From the strong work ethic he developed at age 14, when he took over his family’s acreage, to his career as a World War II fighter pilot instructor to his record-smashing continent-to-continent expeditions, All Things Are Possible explores the full arc of Kruger's beyond-remarkable life.

Peterson surmises, "It’s possible that Verlen had a special, extra-competitive gene that was triggered into action by phrases like 'It can't be done.' " After his historic 7,000-mile dash across Canada and Alaska in a single season (1971) with Clint Waddell, Kruger achieved the unfathomable with his 1980-1983 Ultimate Canoe Challenge, a 28,000-mile paddle around and through North America with Steve Landick, which included canoeing up the Grand Canyon. More epic journeys ensued, and All Things Are Possible compellingly details their full breadth and scope, including his unprecedented 1986-1989 mega-voyage with Valerie Fons from the Arctic Ocean to South America's treacherous Cape Horn

The author doesn't ignore Kruger's distressed or heartbreaking moments either, including three failed marriages (he subsequently remarried his first wife, Jenny); the drowning death of his best friend, Jerry Cesar; and his own near-death capsize in 50-degree seas off the Oregon coast. A larger-than-life hero to many, Kruger admitted to mistakes in his personal life as his obsessive goals kept him searching for "the next big canoe trip that lurked in his soul." Yet Peterson's portrait also reveals a humble, generous man always ready to help others, a skilled craftsman who designed and built his own boats, and a patient teacher eager to share his wisdom about the fine art of long-distance canoeing.

Before succumbing to cancer in 2004 at the age of 82, Kruger asked Peterson to write his definitive biography, and the result is a meticulously researched, beautifully presented labor of love. Superb maps illustrate every major expedition, and more than 250 photos lend the privileged feeling of opening a unique family album. For every paddler who has longed to see what's beyond the horizon, to push beyond his or her imagined limits, All Things Are Possible; The Verlen Kruger Story is a must-read, a story that had to be told.

This story first appeared in the October 2006 issue of Canoe & Kayak magazine and is reprinted with permission.

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About the Author

Schedule your own presentation by authorized biographer, Phil Peterson. Great reviews have come from Midwest Mountaineering, Nicollet College, Michigan State's Quiet Water Symposium, and others. An inspirational talk with one hour of slides and film.

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