They paddled the length of the Mississippi River faster than it had ever been paddled before

The four members of the paddling team that broke the record for fastest canoe trip down the Mississippi River
From left to right: Eagle Scout Wally Werderich, Paul Cox, Judson Steinback and Eagle Scout Scott Miller. Photo courtesy of the Mississippi Speed Record team.

Sixteen days, 20 hours, and 16 minutes.

That’s officially the new record for “fastest time to row the length of the Mississippi River by a team,” and the group that made it happen includes a deep connection to Scouting.

Though there were only four paddlers — two of which are Eagle Scouts — the support team was much larger. Altogether, 13 members — more than half of the total team — had some kind of connection to Scouting.

“It was amazing how much Scouting knowledge we used in helping the team succeed,” says paddler Wally Werderich, an Eagle Scout and assistant Scoutmaster for Troop 40 in Yorkville, Ill. “I used skills I had learned not only as a youth in Scouts, but also I used skills I learned as an adult Scouter as well.”

Last spring, the team launched their canoe at Minnesota’s Lake Itasca, the primary source of the Mississippi River, and ended their journey at the Gulf of Mexico less than 17 days later, breaking the previous record of 17 days, 19 hours and 46 minutes.

The record was officially certified by Guinness World Records late last year.

“Because we had so many people with a Scouting background, everyone worked hard, worked together and looked out for each other,” says Eagle Scout paddler and team captain Scott Miller, who once served as a Canoeing merit badge counselor at the Northern Star Council’s Many Point Scout Camp. “Without that commitment to teamwork by everyone on the support team and in the canoe, I don’t think we would have set the record.”

Outdoorsmanship, leadership and teamwork

Miller attempted the same trip back in 2021 with a different team, but their canoe capsized in a major storm. By spring of 2023, Miller was back at it with his new team.

This time, they had better luck with some of the external forces they couldn’t control, such as weather, currents and traffic on the busier sections of the river.

The four paddlers were supported by two boats and a ground support team, which included a backup paddler, just in case. The four primary paddlers were given fresh food every 12 hours.

As for sleep, they could do it right there in the canoe.

“From outdoorsmanship to leadership to teamwork to courage and humility, we relied on so many of the tenets taught in the Scouting program,” Wally says.

There’s a long and complicated history when it comes to earning the Mississippi River speed record, according to research by former co-record holder Clark Eid and author/former support crew member Frank Bures.

In 1925, it took journalist Albert Tousley and three paddling partners 105 days to paddle the same route as Miller and Werderich’s team. Fast forward to the 2000s, and things got trickier.

List of crew members with a Scouting connection

Below is a list of crew members from the most recent record-breaking team who have ties to Scouting:

  • Team captain/paddler Scott Miller: Eagle Scout and former canoeing counselor at the Many Point Scout Camp
  • Paddler Wally Werderich: Eagle Scout and assistant Scoutmaster, Troop 40, Yorkville
  • Backup paddler George F. Werderich: Eagle Scout, former assistant senior patrol leader and current adult leader with Troop 40
  • Crew member/lead engineer Scott Duffus: Eagle Scout, former camp counselor at Camp Cuyuna
  • Crew member/rover Brad Sjostrom: Eagle Scout
  • Crew member/Lake Winnibigoshish safety boat captain Sean Wachsmuth: Eagle Scout and Many Point Camp counselor
  • Crew member/meteorologist Joey Kragness: Eagle Scout
  • Crew member/lead advisor Mindy Kragness: Basically grew up at Many Point, as her dad was a ranger and her mother was an administrative assistant; also her son is an Eagle Scout
  • Crew member/base camp Chad Cragness: Many Point Camp counselor; son is an Eagle Scout
  • Crew member/lead advisor Todd Foster: Many Point Camp counselor
  • Crew member Mike Kukluk: Many Point Camp Counsleor
  • Crew member/base camp Anita Werderich: assistant Scoutmaster and committee member, Troop 26 Yorkville; has two Eagle Scout sons and an Eagle Scout grandson
  • Crew member/base Camp George A. Werderich: Two Eagle Scout sons and an Eagle Scout grandson

About Aaron Derr 468 Articles
Aaron Derr is the senior editor of Scout Life and Scouting magazines, and also a former Cubmaster and Scouts BSA volunteer.