Biology Professor Paddling 600 Miles on Human Adventure

Jerry Bricker’s idea of a “summer vacation” is probably not one that many can relate to.

Sure, it includes a lot of sunshine, water, and fresh air. But his vacation will also challenge him mentally and physically.

Just one day after bidding farewell to his students for the spring semester, the biology professor left on a trip he calls “Canoe Quest 2011.”

“Mentally I’m ready,” Bricker said just days before his adventure. “I’m excited about the trip as a human adventure. I’m wondering what types of characters I’ll meet and hope to have a long list of new friends by the end of the trip.”

On Sunday, May 15, Bricker’s family dropped him off in Nebraska City where he dipped his single-seat canoe into the Missouri River and set off for a month-long paddling trip to Florida.

For years, Canoe Quest 2011 has been included on Bricker’s life-long to-do list. While growing up in Michigan, Bricker’s dad served as an assistant scoutmaster for his local Boy Scout troop. During that time, he organized canoe and backpacking trips throughout Michigan, Canada, and New Mexico. Bricker had canoed more than 10 rivers by the time he was just 16-years-old.

But it was one particular experience that led to his love for canoeing solo and embarking on a challenge. In 1976, his Boy Scout troop traveled to Ontario, Canada, to paddle the finger lakes. There were an odd number of paddlers on the trip so Bricker convinced his dad to let him borrow his uncle’s single-seat kayak.

“That experience started a lifelong desire to obtain a single seat boat and paddle it on a long distance solo canoe or kayak trip,” Bricker said.

At age 14, Bricker drew out a few sketches of his dream boat and shelved the idea for another day.

In 2009, his dream started to turn into reality. He developed a thorough equipment list and trekked his route — 1,845 miles to Florida to see his sister. He also ordered his most important piece of equipment — a single-seat canoe.

Bricker passed the halfway point of his adventure on May 23. He’s encountered thunderstorms, critters, loneliness, and many nights of interrupted sleep. He also had to change his original travel plans from paddling the rivers to Florida to ending his journey in St. Louis. Recent flooding will make the trek along the Mississippi River too difficult, Bricker said.

“It looks like I’ll have to stop in St. Louis,” Bricker wrote in his daily blog. “If that’s the case then I’ll just enjoy the little time on the water I’ve had.”

Even though he enjoys paddling the rivers solo, Bricker has always shared his passion for wilderness with his students. He has joined fellow biology professor Dale Benham on two student trips to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northern Minnesota. He has also led several study abroad trips to Costa Rica, Honduras, and Belize.

His journey along the Missouri River also provides an opportunity to clear his mind and prepare for a sabbatical leave next fall that will take him to central Guyana where he will explore the possibility of using the Iwokrama River Lodge and Research Center for NWU student research.

“The timing is right,” Bricker said before his trip. “I need to re-charge my batteries.”

Bricker is expected to arrive in St. Louis in early June.

“I don’t know the simple answer to why I wanted to do this,” he said. “Other than it was on my list of things to do. I want to see the country and be in the wilderness simple because it’s there.”

Follow Jerry Bricker’s daily blog at

Canoe Quest 2011 Website


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NWU biology professor Jerry Bricker sets off on a 600-mile trek on the Missouri River enroute to St. Louis.
A view of downtown Kansas City from Bricker's canoe on Missouri River.
One of many sunsets Bricker has enjoyed while on his "Canoe Quest 2011."