Petoskey News Review 

June 11, 2009

Petoskey Resident to Paddle Circumference of Lake Huron


By Christina Rohn

He’s preparing to set off into the unknown and make some waves — literally. Stephen Brede, a 57-year-old Petoskey resident, recently quit his job and is about to embark on a nearly 3,800-mile canoeing journey, paddling the circumference of Lake Huron. “For many years I’ve had a dream of a big trip — a non-motorized trip — just some way to go across the country not on a road,” he said. “Just to slow down and see things rather than them go by as a blur.” According to Brede’s wife, Ruth, a 53-year-old intensive care nurse for Northern Michigan Regional Hospital, her husband has always been an explorer. “His mother tells stories about when he was a child, that he would always take trips around the neighborhood and into the woods and go exploring,” she said. “He hopped freights as a young man.” Brede confirmed this, and added that when he was in his 20s and early 30s he took two cross-country trips by hopping trains. “I just like open spaces I guess,” he said. “I like to travel… I think it keeps people young and open minded.” Brede, who became interested in paddling around 15 years ago, said the inspiration for his Great Lake trip came from former Michigan resident, the late Verlen Kruger, who began canoeing in his 40s and now holds nearly every long-distance world-record, paddling more than 100,000 miles in his lifetime. “Someone asked (Kruger) when he was in his 80s what else he’d like to do, and he said circumnavigate the Great Lakes,” Brede said. “I thought that was a great idea.” Brede plans to shove off from the Mackinac Bridge on Sunday, or early next week, depending on the weather. From there, he will paddle what he expects to be an average of 10 to 20 miles a day down the coast of eastern, lower Michigan, crossing over to Ontario near Port Huron, and going up the Canadian coast. “People ask me how long it’s going to take, and I tell them, I’ll tell you when I’m done,” he said. “It’s a mystery at this point, but that’s the attraction of it, and what makes me anxious and fearful.” Ruth said she’s proud of her husband for taking on this challenge, and says she is happy to be his supporter. “I’m excited by being a part of it, even if I’m not there every second … to be a part of somebody realizing a dream they’ve had for a long time — it’s wonderful,” she said. “I think human beings are capable of such extraordinary things, and to support them in any way you can actually creates energy.”

Brede, who was a writer and photographer for Harbor House, said part of the reason he’s doing this expedition is to get himself back into peak physical condition. “I want to sort of reclaim my body, I’ve been sitting for my job for the last 15 to 20 years — I had your kind of standard office job,” he said. “Since I’ve quit, it’s amazing, I just feel better already.” While on his journey, Brede said he plans to blog about his observations and post photos of his trip on, which he expects to be up and running within the next two weeks. Ultimately, Brede said would like to write a book about his adventures in canoeing. “I just want to get out there and see where it takes me,” he said.


Petoskey News-Review

July 31, 2009

Canoeist Completes Michigan Leg of Attempt to Circumnavigate Lake Huron


PORT HURON – A little more than five weeks into paddling his canoe around Lake Huron, writer and photographer Stephen Brede has completed the Michigan leg of his voyage.

He started June 21, in Mackinaw City, at the base of the Mackinac Bridge, and arrived at the Fort Gratiot Lighthouse in Port Huron Wednesday, July 29. Generally sticking to the coastline, he paddled about 380 miles to reach Port Huron.

“I’ve always wanted to take a long, non-motorized journey,” the 58-year-old Petoskey resident said. “It’s been a wonderful experience so far, and I’m really looking forward to the Canadian coast.

Brede was inspired to take his trip by legendary Michigan paddler and canoe builder Verlen Kruger. Kruger, who died in 2004, paddled a Guinness-record 100,000 miles. Among those miles were a trip from the Arctic Circle to the tip of South America, and a 28,000 mile voyage that included going down the United States’ East Coast, up the Mississippi River, down the coast of North America, and up the Grand Canyon.

“Kruger was asked late in his life if there were any other paddles he wanted to accomplish, and he said he would have liked to have circumnavigated all the Great Lakes,” Brede said. “I’d never heard of anyone going all the way around Lake Huron in a canoe, so I figured I’d give it a try.”

Brede is paddling a Sea Wind canoe, built by Kruger in 2000. The unique 17-foot canoe features “decks” fore and aft and a pedal-operated rudder.

“Most people think it’s a kayak when they see it,” Brede said. “But it has a much larger cockpit than a kayak, and it’s paddled with a canoe paddle.”

Brede is going about 15 miles a day. He has spent four nights in motels, and a couple of nights with friends with homes on the coast, but for most of the trip he has been camping. He’s carrying food and a cook kit. He’s also carrying a camera and laptop computer, and a solar charger to keep his batteries going. He intends to write a book about the trip when he’s done. In the meantime, he and his wife, Ruth, are blogging about the trip at

“People ask me how long this will take,” Brede said. “I tell them, ‘I’ll let you know when I finish.'”


Northern Express Weekly

September 28, 2009

Paddle Your Own Canoe


By Anne Stanton

Dreams can take awhile to make their

way to reality, but Stephen Brede, at

age 58, decided it was time.

The Petoskey writer had always wanted

to make a big canoe trip. So last winter, he

planned a summer trip to circumnavigate Lake

Huron, and on June 21, he pushed off.

Ruth, his wife, noted that his launch date

coincided with their first wedding anniversary.

That’s not to say, she wasn’t fully behind the

effort and would have joined him, except that she

didn’t feel she was a strong enough paddler.

In fact, she had her own worries about

Brede, who had spent so much time planning the

route, supplies, and equipment that he had little

time to paddle or work out. She cautioned him

to take it easy the first few weeks, particularly

after hearing about a kayaker starting out this

spring on a 3,800-mile Great Lakes expedition.

The kayaker gave up after three weeks, plagued

by tendon problems in his arms.

Stephen Brede said he had been long

inspired by the late Verlen Kruger, a downstate

Michigan plumber and father of nine who

fell in love with long-distance paddling at the

age of 41. He held the world record for miles

paddled—more than 100,000 miles, or the

equivalent of four times around the planet.

Pause and imagine that for a minute.

Kruger died five years ago at the age of 82,

not from a paddling accident, but from cancer.

When Kruger wasn’t paddling, he built and

sold his own line of expedition canoes, and

Brede felt lucky to find a used one for only

$3,500 on Craigslist.

On Saturday, after 78 days on the water, Brede

came back to his starting point in Mackinac City,

where seven friends joined him for the five-mile

paddle across the Straits from St. Ignace. Even

more friends cheered him at the finish.

Here’s an interview with Stephen on his

cell phone while he was still two days from

his destination:

NE: So what’s your typical day?

SB: I wake up, sit and read for an hour,

make breakfast—fruit, granola and tea. Then

I wipe the dishes and pack up camp. I get on

the water between 10 and noon. Sometimes I

have to fix something on the boat, fix a knot. I

can be obsessive about things being shipshape.

Some mornings I took pictures. Then I paddle

about six hours, stop for lunch usually.

NE: Do you have to eat a lot?

SB: The first week I was getting headaches.

When I saw my wife, after the first 10 days,

she took one look at me and said I wasn’t

eating or drinking enough.

Hold on a minute, I have to fix the sail.

This is a really nice day—the wind is pushing

me along and I’m making great time. I only get

to use the sail when I’m going downwind.

[Lots of noise]

NE: Do your arms feel weary from

paddling, paddling, paddling?

SB: No. With a canoe, you can significantly

change up your paddling motion, much more

so than a kayak. So, when one side gets tired,

you simply switch to the other. And, with one

blade, there’s less wind resistance when you

pull the paddle out of the water. So I haven’t

had any problems. The only thing I hurt was

my back from lifting and pulling the boat out

of the water. There were a couple of days I

could barely walk. My right leg was getting

numbed—it had never gotten that bad. Just

about that time, I took off 2 weeks for a family

reunion in Seattle, and I had a chance to heal.

NE: How far is this trip?

SB: It will come to over 800 miles. I’ve

been doing some pretty big crossings from

island to island, so I’m getting more confident.

Right now, I’m two to three miles from the

mainland. That’s pretty cool. I get up and go

into outer space all day; no one knows where I

am. I’m totally insignificant, and then I come

back to earth. My daughter keeps asking, ‘Do

you get bored?’ I never have.

NE: Have you missed the news?

SB: Literally I have. It’s been a good break

for me. I used to read a couple of papers a

day. I was very caught up. I really think it’s

important. One issue I wanted to address on

this trip was health care. I wanted to know

what Canadians think. I talked to probably 15

people, asking them if they were unhappy with

their health care system. They said no, it had

problems, but they were grateful to have it.

When I asked them if they’d trade their health

system for ours, they gave a resounding ‘No!’

There was no question in their mind.

NE: So back to the trip, does it feel funny

to be on the water day in and day out?

SB: At first it did. When I was a kid, I

had a bad experience on the lake where I

got caught on with my sister and cousin in a

rowboat and suddenly the weather turned. The

motor conked out and I was scared and the

waves were big. I ended up lassoing the dock

with a rope, which I thought was pretty cool.

Can you hold on a minute? It’s the sail again.

[Lots of noise]

Okay I’m back. Water always scared me,

big water like that. But now it’s weird. I’m up

on a 17-foot by 30-inch vessel, miles from land,

and it would be a stretch for anyone to find me.

And I’ve taken some pretty big waves. Today

there were five-foot swells. You just kind of go

through them. You have to approach them at an

angle. The boat goes up and over. There have

been days where you can’t go fast and it’s been

no fun. Sometimes it feels like I’m driving in

metro Detroit traffic—you really have to watch

every one because they’re all coming at you

and they’re all drunk.

I never felt scared, but sometimes I felt

sort of concerned. Like today, the waves were

fairly big and I was going a mile or more

across the bay. They were big, the worst was

when I was going into the wind and wasn’t

moving anywhere and paddling for all I was

worth. When nature turns on the power, there’s

not much you can do about it. I guess you can

always turn around and let the wind push you

in a different direction.

There was one time, early on, I was battling

against them, boom, boom, smacking the waves,

and part of it was me going against them. So I

decided to let the wave come up, and then I

rolled over them. I realized I just needed to calm

down a bit. One wave at a time.

NE: You must be a lot stronger.

SB: I am. A big part of this was to

reclaim my body. As a writer (for Harbor

House Publishers), I’d been driving a lot for

my job, hundreds of miles a week going to

assignments and then sitting at a desk in front

of the computer. I knew I could stand to lose

10 pounds. I don’t know how much I have lost,

but I feel much better.

I like knowing you can use your own power

to push this boat along, and that I’m using solar

power and wind power. You might not be able

to power the entire country this way, but if

everyone did a little more with alternative power

in their own daily life, it would go a long way

to reducing our consumption of non-renewable

resources. Walk to the store. Instead of driving

the car to the gym, walk to the gym. It seems

kind of ironic that you’d drive to the gym.

NE: What’s it like to paddle in the rain?

SB: The boat has a cockpit seven feet long

with a canvas cover, and I can wrap it around

me. The first time it rained, it was unbelievably

beautiful. The drops of rain would hit the water

and bounce up. It sounded like a rain stick. If

there’s thunder or lightening I pull over.

NE: What’s next?

SB: I’m not sure where the rest of my life

is going to be. One of Verlen’s goals was to

circumnavigate all the Great Lakes. I like the

Great Lakes a lot. You can swim and wade in

them without fear of being bitten or stung, and

you can drink the water.

NE: Did you miss Ruth?

SB: Yes, I missed her a lot, but we talked

every night, and we were meeting every 10

days on the Michigan side—less often on the

Canadian side. It’s been an adventure for both of

us. She did the web page (www.greatlakescanoe.

com). I thought I’d be blogging, but camping

has been the hard part and takes a lot of time.

I’ve got to find a place, unload the boat, cook

and clean, put the tent up, take it down. I gave

her a disk of photos every time we met and she

said I’d taken 4,000 photos.

NE: How many miles a day do you go?

SB: My longest day was 28 miles, but that

was a crazy day. I started at 9 a.m. and ended

at 11 p.m. I stayed with people and didn’t have

to deal with making breakfast and taking a

camp down, and I was going to meet Ruth in

the harbor in Tobermory.

It’s been about 10 to 15 miles a day. I don’t

judge them in terms of miles, but more on the

people I meet and the photos I take. I’m not

exactly going very fast—about three miles an

hour. Today, with the sail, I’m going four to

five miles an hour. The sail is fun.

NE: How do you recharge your phone?

SB: I have a pretty cool solar panel. It rolls

up, 12 x 40 inches, and it’s imprinted with

photovoltaic cells. You can lay it on the deck

with a bungee cord. I have a whole bunch of

electronic stuff. The camera battery and a

marine band radio.

NE: Highlight of the trip?

SB: I never knew how liberating it was to

be alone and set my own schedule. At first, I

was kind of concerned

I wasn’t going enough

miles a day. Then it

clicked on me, it was

whatever pace I was

going. It didn’t matter.

The other highlight is

meeting all the people on

boats and onshore.

They’re just

unbelievably generous

– and interested. One guy

north of Oscoda came down

to my camp with this trout,

wrapped in aluminum foil

and grape leaves. It was

just amazing.

The most interesting

time I had was on

Cockburn Island, across

from Drummond Island

in Ontario. There are no

police, and one caretaker

for this 100-year-old village that has no ferry

service. The day I was there, I was the 13th

person on the island. I walked around, and

heard these four guys talking on their porch. I

asked them if there was a store. And then they

all said at the same time, “No, there’s no store.

You want a beer?” I got the feeling that this

had happened a few times before.

They almost immediately invited me to

dinner. One of the four guys was a caretaker.

They told me, “Darrin will give you a tour of

the island and we’ll give you dinner at six.” So

he gives me a two-hour ride around the island,

beating around the dirt roads, showing me the

old school and cemetery.

NE: Speaking of hospitality, was it hard to

find a place to camp?

SB: Not really. The beauty of this boat is

that I can land anyplace. I don’t have to go

to a marina. There are some wild and remote

areas on the lake, so it’s no problem there. But

sometimes at the end of the day I’m in an area

that’s bumper-to-bumper cottages. My strategy

there is to pull over, and wait for someone to

walk by on the beach, and I ask if they’d mind

if I camped there, and inevitably it works out.

NE: Do you wear a life jacket?

SB: Yup, all the time. It’s crazy not to.

NE: Now the money question. How much

did this cost?

SB: I can’t give you a good answer.

Food wasn’t too expensive. Fruits, nuts, power

bars, some dehydrated food for vegetarians.

Ninety percent of the time, I was sleeping for

free. If you don’t include the canoe, it didn’t

cost that much. Maybe the price of a home

entertainment system.

NE: So what’s next?

SB: Well, I quit my job—a great idea in this

economy (laughs). But Ruth and I are working

on a book documenting the trip, with lots of

photos, and maybe a calendar too.


Petoskey News-Review
September 23, 2009

Petoskey Man Completes Paddle Around Lake Huron


By Marci Singer

When Stephen Brede returned
from his more than 800-mile solo
canoe trip around Lake Huron on
Saturday morning, he was a year
older, 10 pounds lighter and glad
to be home.

Brede, who turned 58 less than
a week after he pushed off at
the south end of the Mackinac
Bridge on June 21, which incidentally
was also his first wedding
anniversary, said part of the
incentive for the adventure was
to reclaim his body.

“In many ways I did. Losing 10
pounds was a surprise to me actually,”
he said. “Although I was
kind of hoping I’d be younger
when I got back but it didn’t happen.”

Wanting to take a non-motorized
trip where he would see
changes in landscape, Brede
chose to paddle around Lake
Huron partly because he hadn’t
been able to find anyone who had
done it solo.

“The other part of it was that
I really wanted to do a section
of Canada,” he said. “I initially
thought I’d go for a really long
walk. The lake trip was inspired
by the guy who designed and
created the boat. I also had the
advantage that I didn’t have to

portage anywhere.”

What surprised Brede most
was that he could really slow
down that much.

“People who know me know
that I am not brisk but I found
myself at times amazed at how I
could just watch the most mundane
things,” he said. “I’ll always
remember this monarch butterfly
that came and did a few circles
around me and flew away on
the breeze. I would also marvel at
the flight pattern of seagulls.”

Another surprise on the trip:
Phragmites. The invasive species
was one topic Brede talked about
with people he met along the way.
The Canadian Health Care System was another.

“I had heard about phragmites
but didn’t expect to find it so
prevalent and invasive. From
Saginaw Bay down, it was all
over the place in Michigan. In
some places it was 15 feet high. I
was shocked at what a problem
this stuff is but I hardly saw any
in Canada — that was really a

Brede said since he’s been back
he’s been a little dazed but his

plan is to write a book about his
adventure because he looked at it
as a job, stopping to take photos
and to hear people’s stories.

“My hope is to publish a book
and/or a calendar about this trip.
We’ll see. I’m definitely going to
write a book,” he said.

While he didn’t retire to take
the trip, Brede said a lot of different
skills he’s acquired through
various jobs came together in
this trip.

“Those skills are what gave
me the nerve to do this trip,” he
said. “This trip was an intellectual
venture as much as it was a
physical one.”

Brede said he would encourage
others to take a trip like this before
they get too old.

“So many people want to do a
trip like this but don’t,” he said.
“I miss the physical activity and
I like having a destination when I
exercise so this was perfect.”

While Brede spent a majority
of the trip by himself, he said it
was definitely a joint venture.

“My wife, Ruth, came to see me
in Michigan and she maintained
the Web page,” he said. “When
we were together, we’d go to visit
places together, too. She had as
much fun as I did. I didn’t really
feel like I had left her and we
were apart for that long but it’s
certainly good to be back.”


Petoskey News-Review

July 22, 2010

A man, a canoe, and a lake — a perfect combination for a “Great” adventure.


By Babette Stenuis Stolz

Stephen Brede of Petoskey keeps on eye on the weather from the shore of the Upper Peninsula before continuing his Lake Michigan solo canoe adventure.

A man, a canoe, and a lake — a perfect combination for a “Great” adventure.

Stephen K. Brede of Petoskey has embarked on the second leg of what may be a five-leg journey around the Great Lakes.

Steve’s canoe was home for him last summer as he spent three months paddling 800 miles around Lake Huron, a trip that began and ended beneath the Mighty Mac in the Straits of Mackinac.

The lure of the Great Lakes has captured the adventurous spirit of this canoeist once again this summer. With the completion of paddling around one Great Lake duly noted in his journal, Steve launched his trusty Kruger canoe four weeks ago at the Petoskey waterfront, thus beginning his summer 2010 solo adventure circumnavigating his second Great Lake, Lake Michigan.

What makes a man want to leave his family and friends for the summer, paddle alone for days on end in all types of weather, face every challenge big and small alone, and find rest alone under the stars?


Traverse City Record-Eagle

September 1, 2010

Canoeist Making His Way Around Lake Michigan


By Lisa Perkins

Stephen Brede has been relying on gentle winds and favorable currents this summer to make his way back home to Petoskey. The canoeist, who began the circumnavigation of Lake Michigan in June, hopes to finish his 700 plus mile adventure by mid September.

Paddling counterclockwise around the great lake, Brede embarked on his journey leaving Little Traverse Bay in a familiar canoe seat. Last summer, the 58-year-old writer and photographer traced the 3,800 mile shoreline of Lake Huron.

“I have paddled for years on northern Michigan rivers, on a river, you’re challenged by the twists and turns, rapids, and tree branches,” said Brede, who took up long distance canoeing after moving to northern Michigan nearly 20 years ago.

“On a lake, you struggle with the wind and surf, and have to watch out for all kinds of power boats, from jet skis to freighters and ferries,” he said.

Inspired by canoeist Verlen Kruger, who began paddling at the age of 41 and traveled more than 100,000 miles before his death at age 82, Brede took on the one challenge that Kruger lamented never completing — circumnavigating the Great Lakes.

Though Brede had a cooler and drier trip around Lake Huron, he says the “gazillions” of mosquitoes were eager to greet him at campgrounds on both shores.

“The weather has been challenging. It’s been a hot, windy and rainy summer,” said Brede, who is glad to be heading north along the coast of Michigan after crossing the Straits of Mackinac, paddling along the shores of Michigan’s upper peninsula and Wisconsin and taking a 10 day break with friends in Chicago.

Brede says that while traveling on Lake Huron was a dream experience, he has enjoyed getting to know the lake that is in his front yard.

“Some days on the water are just so peaceful; watching the butterflies, gulls, loons, terns, herons and eagles is wonderful,” he said, though some of the lake’s conditions concern him.

“Lake Michigan represents life itself. By continuing to allow communities to use it for dumping sewage and road run-off, and companies of all sorts to dispose of toxic waste, we’re slowly killing ourselves,” he said.

Traveling just south of Ludington on Tuesday, all of Brede’s progress is being monitored by a GPS tracking device that provides his location on the website Blog entries and photographs are also included.

Brede hopes to reach Northport and turn the corner toward home by the end of the week.

“It’s great to be back in Michigan,” he said. “The dunes and sandy beaches are lovely, and it’s so nice to have the prevailing winds going my way.”

As for what’s next, Brede says he doesn’t want to get ahead of himself, but Lake Erie isn’t out of the question for next summer.


Petoskey News-Review

September 28, 2010

Canoeist finishes circumnavigation of Lake Michigan


By Ryan Bentley

A Petoskey resident’s scenic yet challenging effort to experience Lake Michigan reached its conclusion Monday.

Stephen Brede paddled his solo Kruger canoe into Petoskey’s harbor at about 6 p.m. Monday, 95 days after he had set out from the same location to circumnavigate the lake.

As he’d done on a trip around Lake Huron last summer, Brede paddled around Lake Michigan in a counterclockwise direction. He traveled 861 miles during this year’s journey.

“It’s really a beautiful way to view the lake, because you’re not inundated with advertising,” he said. “There’s no billboards.”

A remote stretch of shoreline along the Garden Peninsula — on the lake’s northern shore west of Manistique — provided some surprisingly appealing scenery, Brede said. The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore — which he previously hadn’t viewed from the water — was another scenic highlight.

Along the way, Brede encountered numerous people who took an interest in his journey.

“It was like Lake Huron — no bad vibes, just lovely people,” he said.

Still, this year’s trip “was more challenging, definitely,” he added. “In terms of the weather, it was much more challenging.”

Strong winds and high waves often interfered with Brede’s travels. For example, he encountered swells of about 10 feet at one point while paddling near Ludington.

Rough weather kept Brede off the lake for about 25 of the journey’s 95 days. With another 10 used for a planned break in the Chicago area, the trip involved 60 days of paddling.

“If I have calm conditions, I can go pretty consistently 3 mph,” Brede said. “With the wind, it’s probably 2 mph or less.”

Brede camped near the shore on a majority of nights during his trip, but sometimes slept in motels and at the homes of friends and people he met along the way.

Although others paddled with him along a few stretches, Brede had plenty of time alone on the water. While some initially might see that as a dull experience, Brede found an appeal in watching the birds, waves and water.

“It’s almost like a moving meditation,” he said.

Brede also found some less encouraging sights.

“It was upsetting how polluted it was in areas, especially around Milwaukee and south of Milwaukee,” he said.

On his final day of paddling, Brede headed east from a state boat launch near Nine Mile Point, taking a little more than three hours to cover the 11 miles to Petoskey.

“It was probably the nicest day I had paddling,” he said.

Including the 10-day supply of food he tried to maintain, Brede traveled with about 150 pounds of gear in his canoe.  During the course of the journey, he shed about 15 pounds of body weight.

Brede, who took an interest in paddling about 16 years ago, has said inspiration for his Great Lake trip came from a former Michigan resident, the late Verlen Kruger, who began canoeing in his 40s and now holds nearly every long-distance world-record, paddling more than 100,000 miles in his lifetime.

While in his 80s, Kruger had been asked what else he’d like to do. Brede found his response — circumnavigating the Great Lakes — to be an appealing idea.

For years, Brede had hoped to take a non-motorized, long-distance trip. His dream was to follow some route other than roads, taking a relaxed pace at which he could absorb the scenery.

A writer and photographer, Brede hopes to write a book about his Great Lakes paddling experiences.

He’s given some thought to canoeing all five of the Great Lakes, but is taking a “one lake at a time” approach in his pursuits.

“If I continue in this, I’d probably do Lake Erie next,” Brede said, noting that Erie would present challenges such as often-stormy weather. “If I was to do it, it would probably be next summer.”


Petoskey News-Review

June 22, 2012

Man Embarks on 3rd Mission: Erie


By Morgan Sherburne

His trips can last as long as three months, during which he weathers bugs, wind and 3- and 4-foot waves.

But paddler Stephen Brede’s trips also include catching early morning sunrises, views of lighthouses from a perspective few people experience and paddling with a hardcore biker with a penchant for kayaking who joined him for a short leg of one journey.

Brede, a Petoskey resident, quietly decided three years ago that he would try to paddle the perimeters of all five Great Lakes, a goal mentioned by another famous Michigan paddler, canoe legend Verlen Kruger.

“I had been thinking for a long time about a nonmotorized trip,” Brede said.

Bicycling would not take him far enough from cars, and horses were out — he had only ridden one once. That left Brede with one option: paddling.

Brede had gotten back into the sport after moving to the area in 1988 and began paddling with a group from Ponshewaing.

On Friday, Brede started on his third lake, leaving the Detroit area to begin paddling around Lake Erie.

To date, Brede, 61, at the end of June, has paddled the perimeter of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan.

Huron was his first endeavor.

“My Lake Huron trip was serendipitous,” he said. “Nothing went wrong.”

Lake Michigan was a touch more trying. High winds marooned him on a beach near Arcadia for five days, and wind remained Brede’s largest adversary.

While paddling, Brede has dumped his canoe — just once, in 3-foot waves — saved a monarch butterfly from drowning and cooked for a shy man whose beach Brede camped.

“I think he only ate canned food,” Brede said. “He thought my dried food was some sort of delicacy.”

In his journeys, Brede doesn’t hurry and doesn’t set a schedule. He audio blogs and photographs his trips. He sleeps suspended in a hammock, and, sometimes, in his canoe. Brede is particularly excited this trip about a tent specifically designed to pitch over his canoe.

Another highlight of his trips: there’s no billboards.

When he’s not paddling — his trips take about three months, 60 days of which are spent paddling — Brede spends a month visiting friends in other cities as well as visits from his wife, Ruth Brede, a registered nurse in Petoskey.

Occasionally, Brede has to navigate the issue of private land. Usually, he says, people let him camp on their beach. Occasionally, they will invite him to stay with them or on their boat.

“People are unfailingly nice,” he said. “I think it’s in the basic nature of people to look out for each other, and people looked out for me.”

Brede plans to paddle lakes Superior and Ontario — sometime, at some point, in the future. But for now, he’s just taking his challenge lake by lake.

“I don’t plan where I’m going to be when,” Brede said. “My philosophy is, it will work out. It’s just like every day. You’re just doing it somewhere else.”

For more information, visit Brede’s Web site at Brede’s site includes a tracker, so you can follow exactly where he is on his journey.


Interlochen Public Radio

June 22, 2012

Petoskey Man Canoes The Great Lakes


By Rachel Lane

A Petoskey man will begin canoeing around Lake Erie starting this weekend. He has been canoeing the perimeters of the Great Lakes.

Stephen Brede was a family man with a desk job, when he decided to do something for his body. He chose to paddle the Great Lakes to spend some time outside with nature, with the support of his family.

“I wanted to take a non-motorized trip, and paddling seemed a good way to go. I read about this guy Verlen Kruger and he traveled thousands of miles in a boat and that appealed to me,” says Brede.

Verlen Kruger has paddled more than 100,000 miles and holds Guinness World Records. Brede paddled Lake Huron in 2009. He then took a year off after Huron when his father died and paddled Lake Michigan in 2010. Brede hesitates to suggest that he will paddle all of the Great Lakes, but if Erie goes well, he may try the next lake.

“Weather is a big factor. And Lake Erie is known to be very windy-like. And that’s sort of my biggest nemesis,” says Brede.

Brede is a photographer and takes pictures on his paddling adventures. He says he never gets bored but it does feel very different from day to day life.

Brede says he would “get in the boat to go into outer space all day and then come back to civilization.”

Brede always has to be aware of the weather though and what the water is doing. He has spent a lot of time stuck on shore because of wind, weather, and waves.

He says, “every wave has its own personality it seems like. Especially when it is very wavy I sort of liken it to rush hour traffic in Detroit where every wave is a drunk driver out to get you.”

On calm days, he calls it a moving meditation. Brede enjoys his time exercising outside after years of driving and sitting behind a desk for his job. He calls himself a nature lover.

“We are all a part of nature, it’s just how we choose to participate in it I guess,” Brede says.

Stephen says the hardest part of the trip is not the physical strain or the weather, but missing his wife. She stays home in Petoskey.

Follow Brede’s journey at


Morning Edition, National Public Radio

September 3, 2012



“Good morning. I’m Steve Inskeep with congratulations to Stephen Brede. He climbed into a canoe on the Michigan shore of Lake Erie in June. Two months later he returned to the same spot from the opposite direction, having paddled around the entire lake. He says he camped onshore and sometimes residents took him in. The Petoskey News-Review says he now reports having paddled around three of the Great Lakes. And at age 61, he has two to go.”



February, 2013

One Man, His Canoe, and Five Huge Lakes


By Colleen O’Neil

Journalist Stephen Brede spends his work days traveling by car. When he went on vacation, he wanted to get off the asphalt. So he decided to tour the Great Lakes in a canoe. Somebody told him not to quit his day job. And then he did.

In the summer of 2009, Brede set out in a green 17-foot Kevlar canoe to tackle 3,800 miles of Lake Huron.

A train-hopper in his 20s, Brede has always been a travel junkie. “I just like open spaces,” he says. “I think [traveling] keeps people young and open minded.”

Inspiration for Brede’s paddle around the Lakes came from the late Verlen Kruger, who holds the Guinness World Record for canoeing (he paddled over 100,000 miles in his life). When Kruger was in his 80s, he said that he would have liked to paddle around the Great Lakes.

“I thought that was a great idea,” Brede says, “and my ego picked Lake Huron. I couldn’t find a record of anyone having paddled around it.”

Brede was on Huron for three months. At night he slept in a hammock or a one-man tent. During the day, he ate granola and dehydrated backpacker’s meals. And he paddled.

“Paddling engages my body harmoniously,” he wrote in his blog. “Twist from the waist away from the paddle side, plant the paddle straight into the water, twist toward the paddle side, pulling the boat to the paddle… then rewinding for the next stroke, and the next, and the next… The whole process a synchronous movement, emanating from the abdomen. The first few days I felt a few aches in my arms and shoulders, but after a week or son, my muscles firmed up, and my love handles started melting.”

His mind busy with everyday survival, Brede’s days passed quickly.

Those gulls are beautiful, he thought. Will the next marina have a restaurant? Yet another Mylar balloon? Eagle above. Damn Jet Skis. Not another nuke plant! I wish Ralph Nader were president. I need to floss. This lake is so big. I’m so small. I am so lucky to be able do this.

Ninety days after he set off, Brede and eight of his friends paddled to the south end of the Mackinac Bridge where his journey began.

After that, Brede was hooked on the simplicity of traveling with just his canoe and the supplies he could carry in the hull. In 2010 he circled Lake Michigan. He took the year 2011 off from paddling after the death of his father, but 2012 brought him back to the boat to paddle around Lake Erie.

He embarked from the mouth of the Detroit River into the warm brown waters of western Lake Erie on June 23 last year. A bald eagle soared overhead as he cut a new path through the water.

On Erie, Brede spent a night in Sandusky Bay listening to screams from Cedar Point’s roller coasters. He passed two nuclear plants and paddled through potentially deadly algal blooms. He hung out with a dozen chain-smoking fishermen in Ohio on the Fourth of July, made friends with newlyweds in Erie, Pennsylvania, and ate pizza with nautical reenactors in a campground near Buffalo. He took a week off to vacation with his wife in Ontario, and finished the trip in late August.

Three down, two to go. Not that Brede is counting.

“I’m only looking ahead one lake,” he says. “Each is big and uniquely challenging. If life doesn’t get in the way, I’ll attempt Lake Ontario in 2013.”