Canoeing adventurer makes rest stop in Fort Plain
FORT PLAIN Bill Nedderman is a hard man to get in touch with.
He has a TracFone with battery issues. His email usage is sporadic at best. But he’s not antisocial — he’s just paddling the Great Loop.
“I like to stay on the move,” he said Tuesday evening as he munched Oreo cookies by his small campsite at Erie Canal Lock 15.
For the non-paddling population, the Great Loop is a yearlong circumnavigation of the eastern half of the United States by water. Nedderman started in October 2011 from his brother’s house in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He averaged 20 miles a day down a handful of rivers, including the Mississippi, to the Gulf of Mexico, then up the Intracoastal Waterway to the Hudson River and on to the Erie Canal.
He stopped Tuesday afternoon at Lock 15 for a trip to the local Save-A-Lot and a night’s rest. By late September, he’ll be through the Great Lakes, pulling his canoe out of the water in Chicago.
Looking at the little campsite by the locks, Nedderman doesn’t seem like a man who has planned for a 6,000-mile trip. Stowed under a huge tree was one backpack, an army-surplus duffel bag and only two paddles, one of which figured prominently in the construction of the tent, nothing more than a lightweight tarp and a few yards of mosquito netting.
“I guess I don’t have a lot of luxuries,” he said. “I like to live simply.”
His boat is a 20-year-old, 16-foot, cedar strip canoe he built himself. It’s the sort of boat that frequents small lakes and streams in the Midwest, but Nedderman has taken it to the ocean and back.
The Great Loop has been paddled before. Nathaniel Stone wrote the popular book “On the Water: Discovering America in a Row Boat” in 2003, detailing his Great Loop experience. But while many paddlers embark to enjoy an isolated adventure, or raise awareness for a cause before returning to “normal life,” Nedderman has made his life paddling.
After a few weeks of hiking and paddling the summer he was 21, Nedderman decided to tailor his life to continuous adventure.
“You can’t just hike the Pacific Crest trail and go back to working in cubicle X of office Y in complex Z.” he said. “You won’t be able to stop thinking, ‘Man, life was good out on the trail.’ ”
He got a job installing business-grade phone systems, didn’t get married and saved everything he could for a little more than a decade, then dropped everything. Now 52, he has averaged nine months a year in a boat or on the trail for the last 21 years, with isolated pit-stops at his 12- by 16-foot, off-the-grid cabin in Lovilia, Iowa.
He’s paddled the length of the Mississippi and the Red River, along with many shorter wilderness trips. He’s hiked the Pacific Crest, Appalachian and Continental Divide trails, known as the Triple Crown of hiking, three consecutive times — which equals more than 21,000 miles of mountains.
“I find it mesmerizing,” he said. “The more I hike and the more I paddle, the more I want to see, the more energy I have to do more. I look around, and I’ve gone miles.”
The Great Loop is his longest trip to date, but so far, with the exception of marshes in Florida and tide changes by the Statue of Liberty, he said it’s been easy.
“Usually I prefer wilderness treks,” he said, “but camping by the locks here is nice. The grass is mowed. Usually I’m sleeping out in poison ivy with the ticks.”
Also, because most of the local towns were built around the Erie Canal, everything a paddler needs is never more than a few miles inland.
Nedderman has been enjoying the luxuries of grocery stores. Over the last few weeks on the canal, he’s eaten bananas and the occasional package of Oreos with the usual cold cereal and pasta.
As for the rest of the trip, “I’m in no great hurry,” he said.
“If the winds are strong out of the West, or it rains, I’ll stop sooner. If the weather’s good, I’ll go farther.”