Dutchman paddling on Mississippi River stops in Coon Rapids

Dutch adventurer Henk van der Klok stopped in Coon Rapids last week during his quest to paddle the length of the Mississippi River from its source in Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico.

Henk van der Klok, Dutch adventurer, is paddling the Mississippi River from Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico. He stopped in Coon Rapids last week. Submitted photo
Henk van der Klok, Dutch adventurer, is paddling the Mississippi River from Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico. He stopped in Coon Rapids last week. Submitted photo

He began his journey at Lake Itasca July 24 and hopes to finish in late October.

But van der Klok, 27, is doing more than paddling down the river in a kayak.

He is making a three-part documentary about the journey, he said in an email interview.

“I’m paddling the Mississippi from source to sea and am making a documentary series about the challenge and the pollution in the river,” van der Klok said.

According to van der Klok, this year has seen the biggest dead zone ever recorded in the Gulf of Mexico.

“I have some water from Lake Itasca with me that I will take to the Gulf,” van der Klok said in his email. “I hope to give people more awareness of what a dead zone is and what they can do to help decrease it.”

In Davenport, Iowa, he plans to visit Chad Pregracke, who is known for his lifelong dedication to clean up the river, he wrote.

In the past 15 years Pregracke has helped pull 67,000 tires, 218 washing machines, 19 tractors and almost 1,000 refrigerators from the river, van der Klok said.

He is kayaking the Mississippi in a Current Designs Whistler. The factory where this kayak is made is right along the river in Winona.

“My main motivation for this journey is to experience the adventure and experience the kindness along the river,” van der Klok wrote in his email.

“Everywhere I go in the world I’m surprised how helpful people are.

“I believe it’s in our nature to be kind and giving and it seems people want to be a part of your journey and want to help you anyway they can.”

But kayaking the Mississippi is only one of many expeditions around the world that van der Klok has taken in the last couple of years.

In his email, van der Klok described that until the age of 25, he led an ordinary life in the Netherlands as a social studies student.

But he always wanted to be an adventurer or explorer and eventually got sick of the rat race, he wrote.

“I was always impulsive,” van der Klok. “I wanted to experience a little bit of everything and test my limits against anything and everyone.”

He started by hitchhiking across Europe and made his way to the south of France.

“From there I walked the way of St. James, a 500-mile pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela,” van der Klok wrote. “I loved the traveling and not knowing where I was going to be a week from now so I decided to keep going.”

According to van der Klok, in the last two years he has lived with nomads in the Sahara, built a hut on a small island in Indonesia and lived there until he was robbed.

“I hitchhiked across Australia, worked there for a while and continued on to travel across Mongolia and take the Trans Siberia Express back to Europe,” van der Klok wrote.

“I really wanted to do more walking, because these long journeys on foot have a way of teaching you to slow down and see the slow changes in your environment.”

But when he decided to walk from England to Rome in Italy, he injured his foot near the end of his journey and was told he had to rest it for six months.

“I didn’t want to stop experiencing adventures so I decided to kayak the entire length of the Mississippi because I keep my legs up all day,” van der Klok said.

He arrived in Coon Rapids the afternoon of Aug. 19, spend a day with a friend in Coon Rapids, then launched back into the river on Brooklyn Park side the morning of Aug. 21.

The first episode of his documentary can be found online at http://thedutchadventurist.com/portfolio-post/mississippi-source-to-sea-episode-1/

“I edit everything on the way and post them on my website so my viewers can follow me during the journey,” van der Klok wrote in his email.

Van der Klok has also filmed his other adventures.

“This was great because I could follow my impulsiveness and experience whatever I wanted and at the same time build toward a filmmaking future,” he wrote.

The Mississippi expedition is not van der Klok’s first trip to the United States.

In fact, when he was 16 years old he lived in Puyallup, a small town in the state of Washington, and attended junior high school there.

He has also been a camp counselor in North Carolina and traveled the United States many times with his father, who is a Dutch businessman.

Van der Klok’s father joined him for the first eight days of his Mississippi adventure, but had to return home to the Netherlands suffering from second-degree sunburn, according to van der Klok.

It is through his father, who has developed many green technologies and innovations, that he developed his passion for the environment, van der Klok wrote.

“I chose the Mississippi because it’s a famous river around the world,” he wrote.

“People from 10 different states live along the river. Each state has its own accent and way of life.

“I’m excited to see more of these people and to travel through states that I haven’t been to.”

Van der Klok is mulling options for his next adventure after the Mississippi trip.

When he was in the Sahara, he met Richard Griffin, an American photographer and traveler from Texas, who was starting a circumnavigation of the globe in a sailboat.

“We are talking about him picking me up in the Gulf and joining him for a couple of weeks,” van der Klok wrote.

He is also considering hiking the Appalachian Trail through 14 states from Maine to Georgia, while a third option is to travel to Lapland in the Arctic Circle to work as a dog sled guide.

Peter Bodley is at [email protected]