David Pike, the Huck Finn of Pickleball, on Traveling 6,000 Miles in a Dinghy

by laurapbc on Aug 26, 2016

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At 67-years-old, Dave Pike heard The Great Loop calling to him. The route winds along several waterways in the eastern U.S., meandering through Dave's starting point on Lake Michigan to the Illinois River, Gulf Coast, Chesapeake Bay and beyond, until it reaches home again. His goal was to have the adventure of a lifetime while stopping in every state he crossed to play pickleball—because who could go a year without pickleball!?

Most travelers navigate the waters on yachts, trawlers or sailboats. Dave is traversing them in a 17' dinghy.

But never fear—Dave is far from a beginner boater, and he even has his own Wilson along for the ride. We wanted to get all the details on this amazing trip, so we followed up with the navigator to learn about his reasons, inspirations and hopes for the future.

Dave with Wilson (created by his Arizona pickleball family) and a copy of Huck Finn Dave with Wilson (created by his Arizona pickleball family) and a copy of Huck Finn

Our Trip Down the River

You don't hear a story like Dave's every day, and many people are curious as to why someone would tackle such a long trip on their own. To better understand Dave's decision, it's helpful to get a sense of what led up to The Loop.

As many good things do, it started with a friend.

When he was younger, Dave enjoyed canoeing and lived in a community that included a man named Verlen Kruger. Their relationship would stoke a lasting wanderlust and determination that Dave holds in his heart to this day.

'Because of Verlen, I did a lot of backcountry canoeing. He started canoeing in his early forties and holds many Guinness records, paddling over 100,000 miles before his death in 2004.

Deer River (Image credit: Johndan Johnson-Eilola)

'Verlen used to give slideshows of his many trips. He was very soft spoken, and I admired someone that could do what he did (at some personal cost). I read all of his books and [was amazed by his] ability to start something so late in life and become one of the most respected paddlers to ever live.

'It was during one of his shows that I started asking for advice on canoes, and he invited me to his home to see where he built them. He lived very simply. He always offered me advice and encouragement. Before I started this trip, I stopped by his memorial to pay my respects and thanks.'

It would be some time before Dave embarked on his current adventure after his time with Verlen. During that interim period he would have another meaningful boating trip that would strengthen his abilities and hone his desire to make a longer journey.

Going On a Spirit Quest

'In 2000, still working and living in Michigan, [my wife] Ann and I (and four others from MI) chartered a 65 foot trawler and spent a week in the Juneau/Sitka area. It was the ultimate cruise for us and very personalized as there were only 6 passengers and 3 crew members. During that trip we said to ourselves, 'We can do this!'

'Ann loves the ocean and I love the mountains. So when we retired in 2003 and sold our MI home, we purchased a trawler, named it SpiritQuest and moved to WA. We took power squadron classes and learned how to manage a big boat. Then 2007 came and we did it. We spent a summer in Alaska with just the two us that we will never, ever forget.'

Krogen Trawler An example of a 42' Krogen Trawler like Dave owned

In 2002 Dave got news that would throw a wrench in his happy lifestyle. During a routine checkup with his doctor, he was told he had colon cancer. His colon was resectioned at a local hospital, and due to an early retirement program that his employer offered, he was able to refocus his life at 55.

'After cancer, you realize that you are mortal and if you want to do something, you better do it. Don't wait. So, with Ann's blessing and support, I started to plan this big trip about two years ago. Last summer, I purchased the boat and that made it more than just a romantic idea. I was really going to try this.

'On a real personal note, I hope that my children and grandchildren will have a diary of sorts with a window into who I am/was when I am no longer around. That's my secret; it's about them, not me.'

Looper or Loopy?

'Fine!' You might think. 'Go on your big adventure and live your dreams. But of all the boats in the world, why a dinghy?'

This, along with the revelation of his companion's name, has been answered in Dave's blog:

'Journey is now officially the name of my boat and partner in crime. She represents the essence of this collaboration. After all, this will really be the 'journey' of a lifetime for me. There will be plenty of mistakes, surprises, and 'would of, could of, should of' comments along the way.

Journey Meet Journey, outfitted with custom canvas!

'Having a big boat is not without stressors... I thought for this trip I would simplify things as much as possible. The smaller the better. The fewer things to go wrong! I wanted a boat that would allow me to spend the night on it (only when and if needed). I wanted something very economical to run at a reasonable speed...

'To me, the best fit was a Walker Bay RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat). Ask me in a year if this was the right decision. I’m sure I will have a much better understanding of my choice and whether or not it was a good one.'

Picking Up Pickleball

With Dave's travel plans solidified, when does pickleball come into the picture? The answer: as much as possible.

Dave and Ann sold their trawler after the Alaska trip and bought a motor coach to search for a winter home. While they loved the locale here in WA, the winters had started to get to them. With a far-reaching family, Ann's son was in Colorado and her daughter in CA. While 'shopping around' they looked at California, Utah and finally Arizona where they decided to stay at Palm Creek in Casa Grande.

'That was my first exposure to pickleball. Then we started playing in Port Ludlow and teaching others to play. It exploded there and they had 4 new dedicated courts by the time we left. We did decide AZ was the best fit for us, and we settled at Festival Ranch (home of the past nationals), and more importantly, home of Dee Davidson.

Dave Pike Pickleball Day Proclamation Dave Pike Pickleball Day Proclamation!

'At the same time, we also moved back to MI to be close to my two children, one of whom has now moved to Florida. My favorite thing about the sport is the social side and lack of formality (compared to a very structured tennis program). I love to play skill levels both below and above me: Helping others learn basic strategies and then learning from those with far greater skill sets.

'(Note to realtors: Ann and I purchased two homes in as many years and one of the basic requirements was an active pickleball program nearby!)'

Dave has already enjoyed several stops for pickleball during his travels, one of the more recent being Cape Girardeau, MO where he was whisked away to a number of sports facilities while the mayor proclaimed it to be Dave Pike Pickleball Day!

It seems like there's plenty more fun in store for him, so be sure to follow Dave's travels on his blog: Six Thousand Miles Alone in a Dingy.

Home Is Where the Wind Blows

To close out our brief summary of Dave's adventure, we wanted to ask one more question a little closer to home: What about Ann? She sounds like just as much of a wanderer as Dave, so why didn't she join him on the trip? Was she planning any of her own solo journeys while he was away?

'Ann is a wonderful independent woman who does not need a man to be fulfilled. Last year, she went on a week-long archaeological dig in Crow Canyon, CO. This year, she's going on a week-long expedition on the river going through the Grand Canyon. We stay in touch multiple times a day.

Journey near the Mississippi Journey moored near the Mississippi

'Her first reaction [to the Loop] was, frankly—Great idea, let's go! Then I told her that I wanted to do it in a very small boat. She said, 'Have a good time!'

'We refer to my trip as a scouting trip for a future excursion together. (Just kidding!)'

As it happens, today is Ann and Dave's 26th anniversary and they're getting together at the Grand Rivers Lighthouse Landing to celebrate for several days. Ann's birthday is coming up on the 29th as well.

What an exciting expedition and kind person. Thank you, Dave, for finding the time amid your travels to satisfy our curiosity! We wish you all the best and look forward to hearing about your journey on Journey.

For our readers looking to learn more about Dave and follow along as he updates us on his progress, please check out his blog Six Thousand Miles Alone in a Dingy and leave a comment wishing him well.