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story.lead_photo.caption Hannes Zacharias kayaks along the Arkansas River on Thursday in central Arkansas. - Photo by Thomas Metthe

A kayaker paddling the length of the Arkansas River visited North Little Rock on Thursday after traveling nearly 1,500 miles on his way to the Gulf of Mexico.

Hannes Zacharias made the 10 a.m. stop at the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum months after beginning his journey May 23 at the mouth of the Arkansas River in Leadville, Colo. There, he gathered snow in small vials that he will pour into the Gulf when he reaches it Sept. 1. He must travel about 700 more miles to get there.

The 64-year-old, who grew up on the Arkansas River in Dodge City, Kan., said he is re-creating his last solo kayaking trip, when he delivered a message from the mayor of Dodge City to the mayor of New Orleans.

"Part of the reason I'm doing this trip is to tell people of my generation and age that you can still have adventures," Zacharias said. "I don't need to prove to anybody that I can do it. I did it. There's a lot of joy in that. I just want to explore."

Much has changed since the kayaker first paddled the river in 1976. Zacharias noted a higher number of locks and dams, as well as decreased water levels, but he said people now view the river in a more positive way.

"People are starting to approach the river for its recreational value, opposed to just its commercial value," he said.

The trip is 2,060 miles long, with 1,469 miles of the Arkansas River and 582 miles of the Mississippi River from the mouth of the Arkansas to the Gulf.

The journey hasn't been without its perils. In addition to paddling through stormy weather, Zacharias said he's had several near-death experiences.

While floating in Colorado, he came across an unmapped low-water dam where currents can suck kayakers under water and drown them. To avoid the structure, he floated toward the bank and encountered boulders, upon which his kayak got stuck at a 75-degree angle.

He lost his paddle, which he found downriver caught in a snag. After half an hour trying to retrieve it from the rapids, the risk of tipping over became too high, and he had to move on.

"That's one of the more challenging experiences," he said. "You've got to be wise about it. Some days you just have to give up the paddle and get a new one."

The kayaker, who paddles about 4 miles a day, travels with six days' worth of food and stops to restock and camp at various cities along the way.

"That's one of the things I like about this trip," he said. "Instead of trying to get water under my keel, I want to understand the communities. I'm stopping in as many as I can, learning about them and their history to the river. That's been a real joy for me."

Photo by Jaime Dunaway
Hannes Zacharias, 64, of Dodge City, Kan., docks Thursday at the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum in North Little Rock as he travels 2,000 miles along the Arkansas River.

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  • abb
    August 2, 2018 at 2:29 p.m.

    Good for him! I used to run triathalons and marathons, but alas, at 76, I can only do 5k and 10ks nowadays. I may try for the 13.1 half marathon next year, but my knees just can't take it. We still enjoy hiking pinnacle and petit jean, though. When we go to the lake, we kayak a lot. Great exercise and very therapeutic.

  • VolunteerArkie
    August 2, 2018 at 4:57 p.m.

    Yes! I love the message that we old folks can still have adventures. It's part of why I've taken up swimming again, after many years, to keep fit and be able to enjoy and explore the planet. We, too, love hiking in the hills and valleys all around Arkansas, and plan to kayak, too, soon. Maybe we'll see y'all out and about!

  • ArkyMark
    August 2, 2018 at 7:09 p.m.

    Nice article. If I remember my 8th grade geography correctly, however, the mouth of the Arkansas River is here in Desha County, east of Dumas. Its source is in Colorado. I hope I have this man's energy at his age.

  • HarleyOwner
    August 2, 2018 at 8:40 p.m.

    Wondering what he does about getting thru the lock and dams?

  • cgbp
    August 3, 2018 at 10:01 a.m.

    I wonder if the place in Colorado where he had trouble was in Buena Vista where an Arkansas kayaker was killed a few years ago. That is treacherous water around there albeit a beautiful part of the Arkansas River. Back in the 1960s we took our little children to see and step over the mouth of the Arkansas in Leadville, Colorado and then showed them the same river in Little Rock. What a great adventure this man is having!

  • JBarCycling
    August 3, 2018 at 3:22 p.m.

    Cgbp, I believe that boater drowned on the Pine Creek section. There are no dams in that are. There is one downstream just above Salida but it is very well marked and has a safe boat chute on river left.