A 'Great' adventure

Krystle Wagner • Jul 25, 2017 at 10:00 AM

For years, David Pike viewed America’s Great Loop as intriguing and adventurous.

Now 69, Pike looks at the Great Loop as something that provided him with great experiences and allowed him to meet new friends along the way to completing it.

Pike finished his 5,384-mile trip in a 14-foot, 9-inch dinghy on July 1.

The summertime Spring Lake resident said tackling the Great Loop in a smaller vessel appealed to him as being more of an adventure. So Pike, a retired chief financial officer from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, set out on his quest solo onboard the Journey. It was a Walker Bay Generation 450 equipped with a 60-horsepower Honda outboard.

Pike said he and his wife of 27 years, Ann Purvis, “complement” each other, but he wanted to do something where all of the success and failure would fall solely on him. Initially, Purvis wasn’t too pleased that her husband planned to take the trip without her, but she understood his reasons.

The adventure

In the summer of 2015, Pike became serious about his idea of traveling the Great Loop — a water route that includes four of the five Great Lakes, the Mississippi River, the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. He bought a boat and started getting it ready for the trip.

He then worked with a company to build a custom canvas bimini top with side “curtains,” which he said “gets a lot of looks.” The cover keeps the interior of the boat dry in wet weather. 

Before setting sail, Pike’s friends in the pickleball communities gave him items to take along on his travel. Pike’s Arizona pickleball friends gave him a sidekick — a Wilson volleyball, a play on the volleyball in the Tom Hanks movie “Cast Away.” The Grand Haven pickleball community provided Pike with a pickleball paddle to have people sign along the way.

On Aug. 7, 2016, Pike began the first leg of his trip. For the first mile from his Spring Lake location to the Grand Haven docks, Pike was accompanied by his daughter, Nancy, and grandson, Kaden.

The first leg of the trip took Pike from Grand Haven south to Chicago, then to the Mississippi River. He then followed the Tenneesee River to the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway to Mobile Bay, Alabama. 

He then followed the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway to Fort Myers, Florida. It took him a month and a half to reach that port.

Pike said it wasn’t until he reached Mobile Bay that he wondered for the first time, “What did I get myself into?”

Traveling a slow 5 mph through the bumpy water became a learning experience, he said.

Along his southbound travels, Pike played pickleball in almost every state he visited. Prior to his trip, Pike reached out to groups along the way to arrange playing with their group. He stayed in more than a dozen homes of fellow pickleballers. 

Pike said the pickleball community is a tight-knit group.

When Pike arrived in some marinas, he received comments about the dinghy. He said one person joked that they would like to see the yacht the dinghy belongs to.

Some marinas also let Pike stay for free since his boat was small and unique.

Pike’s journey wasn’t without a few setbacks.

As he traveled 7 miles off the Florida coast in 2-foot-deep water, eelgrass entangled his propellor. Pike said he limped along the way until he made it to a town and could have a mechanic look over the boat.

During the winter, Pike stored the boat and returned to Arizona, where he lives for half the year.

The second leg

The second leg of the adventure began April 30, after the U.S. Open Pickleball Championships in Florida. Pike traveled along the Florida Intracoastal before reaching the Delaware Bay and Chesapeake Bay. From there, he traveled the Erie Canal, then on the Great Lakes back to Grand Haven.

One of his biggest challenges was the weather. During the Chesapeake Bay stretch, Pike encountered rough water and took water over the bow. Pike said he misjudged a wave and had to use a bucket and sponge to quickly get the water out of his boat.

When Pike encountered risky conditions or stretches along his journey, he had a protocol set up with Purvis. Once an hour, Pike would call her and give his coordinates.

The highlight of the trip was the day Pike traveled along the Hudson Bay and saw the Statue of Liberty. He recalled that it was a sunny Sunday morning and the water was flat.

Pike shared the experience with friends and family with a Facebook Live video. He said it gives him “goosebumps” thinking about the “land of immigrants.”

On his way back, Pike said he ventured out on days when he shouldn’t, but he was so close to home he “could taste it.”

Pike nearly capsized as he endured a turbulent Lake Michigan. He said it was a risk he shouldn’t have taken, and if it had happened on the first leg of his trip, he likely wouldn’t have finished the Loop.

Purvis accompanied Pike for the remaining 27 miles of the trip.

Throughout the voyage, Purvis and Pike met up to celebrate Purvis’ birthday, their anniversary and simply to spend time together.

Purvis said the end of the journey was bittersweet for her — she was happy to have Pike home, but she also learned a lot through his experiences.

Reflecting on the experience

Overall, Pike said he had nice experiences on his adventure.

He never considered himself alone on the boat because he kept in contact with his wife, family and friends along the way. He also updated an online blog with each day’s events. In addition to keeping everyone up to date with his travels, Pike said his grandchildren will be able to read the blog and gain a sense of the man he is.

Pike said he didn’t always know where he was staying for the night, but he learned to let go and not worry about things he couldn’t control because it always worked out in the end.

Looking back, Pike said he’s glad he did it and documented it with the blog.

As other people look for their own adventures, Pike said hatching the idea isn’t as important as actually chasing the dream.

“If you’re going to do anything, don’t put it off because you don’t know about tomorrow,” he said.

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