New book sheds light on one man’s canoeing trip to the Gulf of Mexico–and his journey through life – Grand Forks Herald

The Great Forks – In June 2021, Hank Koehler takes off from a boat ramp on East Leaf Lake in eastern Otter Tail County on a kayaking trip that will take him more than 1,900 miles to the Gulf of Mexico.

More than four decades ago—1979, to be exact—Kohler, along with his brother, Keith, and two buddies, Dennis Weidman and Rich Weepke, departed from the same spot on the 1,400-mile trek to Hudson Bay.

The journey taken by the four Iowa farm boys is documented in Weidman’s book,

“These waters go north.”

Koehler, who was 68 when he set out for the Gulf of Mexico, says he wanted the latest voyage to mean something, and so he made it a fundraiser he called


To date, the effort has raised more than $40,000 for youth programs at the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium in Dubuque, Iowa.

One4Water was a way to give back to the outdoors and places that enriched his life, says Koehler, who lives in Ames, Iowa, but visits the family’s cottage in west central Minnesota at every opportunity.

“That was really the reason for this trip because I felt so guilty,” he said. “I’ve had such a wonderful life and been to so many wonderful places, but I’ve done nothing to actually keep it that way for posterity except pick up some trash and tell people to be nice to Mother Earth.”

Hank Koehler mugshot.jpg

Hank Koehler

Now, Koehler Publishing

Book about the trip

Titled “One4Water: Paddling North to Polar Bears, Then South to Crocodiles from the Same Starting Point 42 Years Later…And This Time It Matters.”

Koehler says writing a book wasn’t part of the plan when he launched the One4Water journey, but he’s developed a quite a following online through the daily reports he posts to the fundraising Facebook page he set up.

“I’ve done some writing, but certainly nothing is as comprehensive as trying to write an entire book,” Koehler said Monday in a phone interview. “But I had a lot of people who followed (the trip) on a Facebook page. We ended up having over 1,500 followers by the end of that trip. There are a lot of people I’ll never meet, but they wanted to know if I’d write a book.”

Eventually, Koller says, he warmed to the idea with some encouragement from his wife, Anne. He already had Facebook posts, journal entries, photos, and maps. The challenge, he says, was crafting the pieces into a book people wanted to read.

Kohler, who was the keynote speaker last March at the International Water Institute’s River Watch Forum at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks, certainly has an incredible gift and talent for telling a story.

“If you just say, ‘We paddled, paddled, paddled, slept on a sandbar, got up and paddled again’ — it’s not really fun,” he said.

Instead, Koller says, try intertwining everyday parts of the journey with backstories that might appeal to readers, along with some background information on “why it all is.”

“I added stories from my past and my own thoughts and opinions on topics like water, birds, trees, hope and fishing, along with wild places and wonders,” said Koller. “Actually, on the hope part, I talk a lot about the River Watch program there. Because when you have young students doing that kind of work, being involved in a tipping point, that’s hope. That’s where our future is.”

Another section in the book is called “C Times Two”.

“When we first started thinking about One4Water then all along, the whole world was dealing with COVID, and I myself was dealing with cancer,” Koehler said.

Much of the book wrote this past April and May on his phone while he was being held at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, where he is undergoing treatment.

“I’m going to set aside 5 to 6 hours each of those days to write the book, because what else am I going to do?” Koehler said. “I spent 25 days thinking and doing this because I definitely had some free time.”

Koehler says each segment ends with a suggested song that matches the mood. Among them are “In My Life” by the Beatles, “Father and Son” by Cat Stevens, “Mr. Blue Sky” and “Paradise” by John Prine.

“There should be 100 songs listed there for people to listen to if they want to, to get a greater sense of the emotions of the trip,” Koller said.

So far, he says, the book has been well received.

“It’s like we’re sitting around a campfire telling stories,” Koehler said. “You know, you tell stories about a journey up north somewhere—now, it’s my turn to tell a story. And so every day is a story. And every part is a story.”

“One4Water: Paddling North to Polar Bears, Then South to Alligators from the Same Starting Point 42 Years Later…And This Time It Matters” is published by Hog Press in Ames. The book is available on Amazon, The Williams Company Store & Deli in Ottertail, Minnesota, and a few retail outlets in Iowa. Suggested retail price is $28.95 for hardcover, $21.95 for paperback, and $9.99 for Kindle.

More information:

  • Title: “One4Water: Paddling North to Polar Bears, Then South to Crocodile from the Same Starting Point 42 Years Later…And This Time It Matters.”
  • publisher: Pig Press, Ames, Iowa; 120 pages.
  • price: $28.95 for hardcover, $21.95 for paperback, and $9.99 for Kindle. Available on Amazon, at The Williams Company Store & Deli in Ottertail, Minnesota, and a few retail outlets in Iowa.
  • More information:

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