Andrea Knepper wants everyone to plan something really big, to find their dream.
Her dream was 1,508 miles long.
In 2019, she paddled the entire U.S. Pacific Coast. She told of her adventure at the Northeast Wisconsin Paddlers annual meeting Saturday, Nov. 12, at the Richard Mauthe Center on the UW-Green Bay campus.
The adventure started in Neah Bay, Washington, continued for three months and ended in San Diego Bay. She planned to finish in Mexico, but border disputes and her mother’s need for wheelchair access prevented that.
But the greater accomplishment of the social worker is a founder and director of Chicago Adventure Therapy (CAT), which uses paddling and other outdoor adventures to change the lives of underprivileged Chicago youth. It offers everything from family outings to an after-school program. More than one participant has told her CAT not just changed, but saved, their lives.
Ever since her own childhood in Oregon, “Drea,” as she is known, has been enamored with the Pacific Coast. She wanted to see all of it, and she did.
“The Pacific Coast, those are my home waters,” she said in explaining the route for her quest.
A plastic P&H Stingray carried her the distance. Why plastic? The thought of Fiberglas cracking on a coastal boulder.
She capsized five times — twice each landing and launching in the surf and once when she let her calorie count lag. All five times she rolled back up.
A broken toe didn’t stop her. Neither did having the surf wash away most of her navigation charts. Yes, she used old school charts rather than GPS on a phone.
People often ask her if she was ever scared on the trip. “Of course, I was scared. I was paddling solo on the Pacific Ocean for three months,” she said.
She encouraged paddlers not to dwell on the dangerous parts of their trips and instead draw attention to the fun, planning and doing risk assessments that make trips safe. “Everything we do in this sport is dangerous,” she said.
The rewards were intense. She encountered porpoises, sea lions, whales and all manner of birds along the way.
“Animals! Oh my God, it was incredible,” she said. “It really was a remarkable thing to be immersed in that world.”
Find more information about Andrea and Chicago Adventure Therapy, including how to donate, at ChicagoAdventureTherapy.org.