Sixty-year-old Bill Nedderman is the adventure sports legend you’ve never heard of. And he would be fine keeping it that way, going about his business of making long-distance, self-propelled journeys the central pillar of his life. The Iowan has racked up an incredible 150,000 miles of travel under his own power since 1980.
Nedderman was working in telecommunications when he took a vacation to make a weeklong bicycle trip across Iowa. “I fell in love with the idea of being away for months,” he says. “Bicycling brings with it a mechanical advantage that empowers you to dream big.”
Pedaling through the cornbelt, Nedderman had a revelation: “There is a lot to see out there—what’s around the next bend and over the next ridge. I couldn’t get enough of it.”
Nedderman admits his first trips were approached as personal challenges, “to see if I could do it,” he says. Then his outlook changed as he recognized what journeying under his own power did to his sense of awareness. “I guess now it’s more of a feeling of rhythm with the motions of paddling, pedaling or walking,” he notes. “It’s very meditative, like perpetual energy—as though I get back as much energy as I expend doing it. I like to think I could go forever.”
And so he has, building an impressive expedition resume in the process—though the understated Midwesterner tends to avoid jargon like “expedition.” The man is a journeyer, with a bike, boots, or paddle-powered boat his ultimate vehicles of freedom. Last fall, Nedderman completed the 2,653-mile Pacific Crest Trail, making him the first person to complete America’s longest hiking trails—the PCT, Continental Divide Trail and Appalachian Trail—an astounding four times. What’s more, Nedderman’s paddling odometer tops 44,000 miles; he’s made the 6,000-mile Great Loop around the eastern U.S., which can be conveniently accessed from his hometown, in a homemade wood-strip canoe.
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Nedderman during his low-profile 2012 paddling expedition around the eastern U.S.