Father son duo embark on long term adventures
Kevin and Kenneth Miner look like the kind of guys who would bicycle from Mexico to Canada.
Both are thin and muscular with strong handshakes. Kenneth wears a genuine smile and looks to the ground sheepishly when asked a question, like all 15 year olds do. Kevin shares the same kind of soft-spoken personality and body language — It’s obvious the two are father and son before they ever open their mouths to say so. They both have the kind of lean build seen so often among cyclists and marathon runners, although the latter typically exhibits a more extreme version of the body type.
The father son duo from St. Croix Falls are cyclists — and kayakers, and hikers, and just about anything else you can think of. And while they’re active all year around, the two have embarked on a long-term journey each summer since Kenneth was 12.
Kevin was taking long-term trips all over the country years before Kenneth was born, so adventure is in their blood. Kevin bicycled from Texas to Canada in 1983, and hiked the Appalachian Trail in 1988.
“I sort of had a background in adventures like that, and I guess some of that rubbed off on Ken,” Kevin said. “But he has definitely accomplished more than I have ever accomplished, and at a much earlier age.
In 2018 Kenneth and Kevin hiked the 310-mile Superior Hiking Trail that runs parallel to Lake Superior from the Canadian border to Duluth. The next summer they bicycled from Palomas, Mexico to Fort Francis, Ontario in 35 days.
“We were very focused on completing that trip in the timeframe we had,” Kevin said. “We had five or six one hundred mile days. Kenneth really wanted to make it back for the county fair.”
After a summer off thanks to COVID, the two again made a cross-country pilgrimage this year when they kayaked from Interstate State Park in Taylors Falls, Minn. to New Orleans.
To have accomplished trips of this scope by the age of 15 is a testament to Kenneth’s physical and mental endurance, as well as his courage. There’s many a grown man who would balk at the thought of kayaking the lower portions of the Mississippi River, where bumping elbows with gators and massive, seaworthy cargo ships is a regular occurrence.
“A few times we cut it kind of close, closer than we wanted,” Kevin said about their interactions with the ships in Louisiana. “But for the most part we were vigilant and planned ahead, and it turned out OK.”
The murky water in the Mississippi also took some getting use to.
“The water, you could never really see the bottom. That was pretty scary, but you get used to it,” Kenneth said. “And then down in New Orleans the alligators were camping right by us and swimming in the river.”
Kenneth’s intimate relationship with the natural world is a point of pride for his father, as is Kenneth’s ability to overcome challenges. Early on in their journey down the Superior Hiking Trail, Ken spilled boiling potato soup down one of his shins and wound up with second degree burns covering much of his lower leg.
“I gave him a 50/50 chance that he would want to continue,” Kevin said. “And he said, ‘Dad, let’s just wrap it up and keep going.’ Dealing with that kind of adversity at his age is really, really impressive — I’m very proud of what my son has and will accomplish.”
For all Kenneth has accomplished, the true joy in this story lies in the teaching of empathy. These trips have introduced Ken to people and scenarios he never would’ve normally come in contact with.
“One thing I want to instill in my kids is it’s important to do different things and meet a lot of different people who are completely different from them, in order to gain empathy,” Kevin said. “I think the lack of empathy is at the root of a lot of our problems. The more places you can travel, the more people you can meet and the more varied experiences you can have is eye opening, and is an incredible education.”
Kevin has never held one solid career. He’s worked just about every odd job imaginable, from bus driver to bush pilot. For the last six years he’s worked as a heavy equipment operator in Antarctica four months a year, and spend the other eight months at home with his kids. His career choices haven’t always filled the coffers, but they have made it possible for Kevin to help his son experience parts of the world most people never see. He’s spoiled Kenneth rotten, but with time instead of money — and how many of us would be better served to walk that path instead of chasing the corner office.
As the Twain quote goes, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness — and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one corner of the Earth all one’s lifetime.”