Man paddles Wisconsin River

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Ben Sasse begins his journey down the Wisconsin River near Lac Vieux Desert, a lake divided between Gogebic County in Upper Michigan and Vilas County in Wisconsin. Lac Vieux Desert is the source of the Wisconsin River. (Photos by Kayla Sasse)

Ben Sasse stands next to his kayak after getting out of the Wisconsin River near the Highway 18 Bridge in the town of Bridgeport.


Boaz man completes Wisconsin River paddling adventure

By Ted Pennekamp


A 26-year-old rural Boaz, Wis. man, Ben Sasse, attempted to set the record for paddling down the Wisconsin River beginning on July 21 from the source of the river at Lac Vieux Desert and hoping to end at Wyalusing State Park near Prairie du Chien. Ben was attempting to paddle the 436 miles of the river in six days, 0 hours and 0 minutes.

Ben completed his adventure on Saturday, July 29 at 7:37 p.m., said his wife Kayla. He started at 8 a.m. from below the Lac Vieux Desert Dam on Friday, July 21. His finishing time was eight days, 12 hours, 37 minutes. Because there is no official end to the Wisconsin River, Ben ended his challenging journey at the Highway 18 Bridge in the town of Bridgeport and added an hour to his time because it’s still about five miles to the Mississippi River and a paddler averages about 5 mph on the Wisconsin River, said Kayla. 

Kayla said Ben didn’t run into any storms along the way but the portages really slowed him down. The longest portage is around the dam in Nekoosa. It’s about a four-mile walk around the dam. 

Before setting out on his quest, Ben and Kayla had thought that the previous record was six days, 10 hours and unknown minutes.

“The previous record, we discovered, was four days and two hours set in 1995,” said Kayla. “In 2007, all of the portages were rerouted for increased safety, thus making them much longer than when other records were placed. As far as we know, there was no documented solo paddling record. All previous records were set in tandem boats. I did follow along to provide food and supplies as needed, but Ben moved all of his own equipment around the portages by himself.”

Ben used a plastic Wilderness Systems Tsunami 165 Kayak for his epic adventure. He passed through several communities along the way, including Eagle River, Rhinelander, Tomahawk, Merrill, Wausau, Stevens Point, Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin Dells and Portage. There are numerous other communities near the Wisconsin River including Wauzeka, Bridgeport and Prairie du Chien.

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