They met one summer night at a Tampa, Fla., area bar and set out just a few days later for a camping, snorkeling and sailing adventure in Key West.
Danielle Kreusch, 24, is a free spirit from Utah who once solo-hiked a long stretch of the Appalachian Trail.
Kyle Hawkins, 29, is a technician and thrill-seeker who trades ordinary conventions for extraordinary experiences. His type of fun is backflipping from a rock into the big waterfall at Amnicon Falls State Park in northern Wisconsin.
Together, they are self-avowed “Blue Domers” — worshipers of the natural world — who are now meandering the Mississippi River in a small, homemade boat without income, a trust fund or big-time sponsor. Their quest is to row and sail from St. Croix Falls, Wis., where Hawkins grew up, to their home (an anchored sailboat) on the Gulf Coast of Florida. They departed Aug. 15 from Interstate State Park on the Wisconsin side.
Camping all the way and hiking into random towns to replenish supplies, they’ll get to St. Petersburg when they get there. Maybe by Christmas, they say, or Valentine’s Day.
“I just wanted to slow down the pace of life,’’ Kreusch said in an interview one day before their recent launch.
“It’s the kind of trip where you will find yourself talking to the clouds, talking to the sun,’’ said Hawkins, a craftsman and laborer in the Florida marine industry. “It causes you to connect to what I think is the most important thing in life — the outdoors.’’
The couple’s so-called “Skipper and Flipper’’ tour (their blog is here) is enchanting for three reasons:
• They built a gorgeous Norse-inspired rowing and sailing vessel called Solvi, or “sun strength.’’ Total cost: about $6,000.
• They exhausted themselves to do it.
• They shifted, diametrically, to live carefree on the river.
“I told them, ‘Go now, when you are young,’ ’’ said Kyle’s father, Rick Katzmark, a Realtor. “They worked themselves to the bone to get this far, and that’s remarkable in itself.’’
A time-lapse video on the couple’s Internet blog brings to life 1,200 hours of design, woodwork and finishing that went into Solvi as it came together in a makeshift workshop at her father’s residence. Hawkins said he was foolish to quit his job at Intrepid Powerboats as late as he did, giving himself only 14 weeks before the voyage to cut 2,000 strips of western red cedar, fiberglass them individually on both sides and assemble them.
“We chose a date and stuck with it,’’ Hawkins said. “I kept telling myself that it would happen if we just kept working.’’
The couple (he’s Skipper, she’s Flipper) used a kit but customized as they went, re-engineering their boat, called a faering, with a highly reliable mast and four flawless oars. In a nod to Kreusch’s minimalist desires, the boat has no motor or bilge pump. She envisioned a row-only craft, but Hawkins wanted the pleasure and technical challenge of a sail.
“For Danielle, if something is not hard and physically demanding, it’s not fun,’’ Hawkins said.
Their endeavor began with a dream board of sayings and desires. “No Schedule and No Rush’’ was at the center. The two previously sailed under a stringent deadline from Chesapeake Bay to Florida on a trip that left them both rattled by relentless mileage demands.
This time they packed beer and chips.
In the book, “The Living Great Lakes,“ a penniless Woodstock-era traveler stops in the countryside to ask a farmer for work. “Do you believe?’’ the farmer asked. He took the traveler to a high ridge overlooking the area’s lush, forested valley to instruct him in the Blue Domer religion. The farmer struck a pose of meditation and looked up at the clear blue sky and everything underneath it. Simple as that, the farmer conveyed.
“We read that passage in the car one day,’’ Hawkins said. “It spoke to me. If I’m spiritual, it’s being outdoors.’’
“It’s about connecting with the earth and the universe,’’ Kreusch said. “I see it as my path.’’
The couple’s here-and-now, live-in-the-moment mantra shades a lot of their conversation and the bare-bones Solvi will hold them to it. The vessel, which sails at half of wind speed, is 19 feet, 8 inches long and weighs 206 pounds empty. It holds 5 gallons of drinking water and an eight-day supply of food. They have rigging to sleep aboard the narrow boat, covered from the elements. But they’ll predominantly camp on shore and refresh at marinas.
To communicate with barge operators and other big boats, the couple will operate a hand-held VHF radio. The only other electronics aboard Solvi will be a small GPS unit and a tablet, all powered by the sun. A chart book from the Army Corps of Engineers also will guide the pair as they follow the Mississippi into Louisiana, hanging a left onto the Intracoastal Waterway, returning them to St. Petersburg.
“There’s going to be parts of this trip that really suck,’’ Kreusch said. “But it’s something I’ve wanted to do.’’’
“I love losing the complications,’’ Hawkins said. “It’s weather, food and water.’’