The Wetfoot Blog

Monday, March 28, 2011

At the Mic with Dan Hoffmann

Manito-wishers are making waves in the paddling world. In Dan Hoffmann's case, I literally mean all over the world. Dan and his partner, Mike Schnitzka, are on a mission to set a speed record by paddling the length of Europe's Rhine River.

I had a chance to catch up with Dan the other day and this is what he had to say:

Tell me about Conquer the Rhine.

My partner, Mike Schnitzka, and I are making an attempt on the world speed record for canoeing the Rhine River in Europe. The current record is 7 days 10 hours for the full 720 miles. We start April 16th in Chur, Switzerland and follow the river through Lichtenstein, Austria, Germany, and France, ending at the Hook of Holland in the Netherlands, where the Rhine empties into the North Sea. We are hoping to complete the river in 6 days. We have a support crew consisting of three guys following us the entire way in an RV. They will cook our food, resupply our provisions, and help us out with any other difficulties we may encounter.

How did you guys come up with this challenge?

Mike has been racing for 20 plus years. He holds records on both the Mississippi and Wisconsin rivers. In 1989 he read about a team from the British Royal Air Force breaking the Rhine record and set it as a goal for himself. I met Mike through a friend over a year ago and signed on a little while later.

How do you train for such a long paddle?

When I first talked with Mike about the Rhine I had no canoe racing experience, so this past summer for me was about getting as much boat time as I could. I worked in the Manito-wish kitchen, which gave me a lot of free time and a flexible schedule to get out paddling. Mike and I did two big training runs down the Wisconsin River and competed in several races around Wisconsin. We also had the opportunity to break the speed record for canoeing across Lake Michigan. We made it from Two Rivers, WI to Ludington, MI in a time of 11 hours and 22 minutes. This winter I have been training hard in the gym, focusing on upper body endurance and core strength.

What do you think is going to be the hardest part about Conquering the Rhine?

The hardest thing for me will be sitting for 6 days straight. I have no idea what I will feel like at the end of it, but I expect that my legs will really be hurting. Trying to anticipate this, I’ve been doing a lot of yoga and stretching in order to gain more flexibility in my lower body.

Tell me about your gear. Mike told me you’re packing out some pretty serious tech.

We are paddling a 19 foot Kevlar canoe made by Wenonah called the Itasca. We use two sets of paddles: Wenonah carbon fiber racing paddles and Kialoa hybrid outrigger paddle that have a bit more flex. We have a spray deck made by Harken that gives us protection from the elements.
We will have a SPOT GPS unit in our canoe that will show our position and track our progress on the Rhine on a Google Map located on our website. On the bow and stern we have navigational lights in order to be legal and for safety while paddling at night. We also have a LED headlight on the bow. We are able to communicate with our support crew by use of a European frequency marine band radio that is behind my seat in the stern. I can control all of this by use of switches that are attached to my foot brace. Our lights and communications are powered by 12 volt batteries that we rotate twice a day.

In the front picture on your website it looks like the two of you are wearing headphones. If so, what are you listening to?

We have an iPod hook up in the canoe with headphone jacks by both seats, so that Mike and I can listen to music at the same time. The only problem is that musical tastes differ greatly between a 23 year old and a 47 year old!

Where can we find more information about “Conquer the Rhine”?

Check out our website at and our Facebook page “Conquer the Rhine,” where we have some pictures and videos of our training and preparations. Our support crew will be making updates to these during the race, so be sure to check in on us and follow our progress starting April 16th.

Got anything planned for after you Conquer the Rhine?

Sure do, Camp Manito-wish!! I’ll be leading two Voyaguer Outpost trips and a Boy’s Summer Camp session, and then working in the kitchen for the rest of the summer - can’t wait!

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