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80-year-old paddler pauses in Q-C during Mississippi trek

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ROCK ISLAND -- In the midst of a three-month journey padding the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico, Dale Sanders questioned his trip while alone in a lightning storm in Minnesota. 

"I was wet and so cold," Mr. Sanders, 80, said."Why am I doing this?"

 

Then he remembered it was in honor of his grand niece, Anna, who has type one juvenile diabetes. So far, he has raised $13,000 of the $20,000 he hopes to collect for diabetes research during the paddling trip. 

However, that's not the only reason "Old Man River," as he's being called, is traversing the Mighty Mississippi. He's also breaking the world record for being the oldest man to paddle the 2,350-mile length of the river.

Taking a break to eat and be on solid ground, he docked at Schwiebert Park in Rock Island Thursday before continuing on his adventure. Mr. Sanders, who began his journey in May, hopes to finish in August.

He said that day at Blanchard Dam in Minnesota was his worst day so far, and challenging because he had to carry and retrieve his belongings five times during the storm. 

Mr. Sanders, is a man of short stature with a long gray hair and beard, which earned him another nickname as the "Grey Beard Adventurer." He once was a spearfishing champion and competitive swimmer and said his training and conditioning for the journey were similar to what he's doing. 

"I'm 80 and I wanna live longer, and it's really putting me in top condition," Mr. Sanders said.

Mr. Sanders is traveling with a production crew, Adventureitus, which will document his trip, and a friend, Richard Sojourner, who are in a separate boat from Mr. Sanders. 

Mr. Sojourner, 70, is Mr. Sanders' navigator and helps find places to set up camp and tracks the miles. They usually begin searching for a place to camp for the night about 5 p.m., and sometimes stop at uninhabited islands and shores. 

"I haven't gotten us lost yet," Mr. Sojourner said, adding that he and Mr. Sanders are in a friendly competition to finish the length of the river first. 

If Mr. Sojourner finishes first, he said he will be the oldest man, but for only a few moments before Mr. Sanders "steals his thunder."  

Like, Mr. Sanders, he said going through Blanchard Dam in Minnesota was an awful experience. 

"That was a horrible, horrible portage... oh God."  

Mr. Sojourner said they also encountered sleet, snow and a 4- to 6-feet high white-capped wave in Minnesota. 

Jo Mason, who often helps fellow paddlers on their journeys down the Mississippi, made food for the men. Known as a "River Angel" by river travelers, she said she made the same trip on a whim when she was 20 and knows what it's like. 

"I'm just kind of an ambassador for those who come on the river," said Mrs. Mason, who lives in the Quad-Cities area. 

She said the men and women who make the journey don't get much of a chance to visit the towns and people so she believes it's a way to show travelers the hospitality of the area.  

Mrs. Mason said the same thing was done for her when she was traveling and it's also a way to pay it forward. 

She said "the whole reason for the trip whatever it may be, I think at the end, it ends up being about the people you meet." 

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