BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - It starts as a small dot on a vast ribbon of blue. From the banks of the Mississippi River, you could miss it, even if you knew what you were looking for. But give it fifteen or twenty minutes, and then he comes into view - a sinew man wearing a long, grey beard paddling a tiny canoe.
His name is Dale Sanders, and he's chasing a world record, and a whole lot more.
"I have been told that I'm crazy," he chuckles as he relaxes on the levee steps near downtown Baton Rouge. "I'm going to prove them wrong."
At 80 years old, Sanders is trying to become the oldest man to paddle the length of the Mississippi - source to sea - and he's hoping to do it in 80 days.
Sanders shoved off from the source of the Big Muddy, the crystal waters of Lake Itasca in Minnesota, on May 15.
"The Mississippi is so narrow up there, you can jump across it," he said. It quickly widens to the river we know here. "It's just a massive river," he smiles as he takes in the view from the foot of Florida Blvd. "I'm just a small peanut on a big planet."
Drifting with the currents, Sanders said he has time to think. A lot. He contemplates life and his place in it. He thinks about his wife Miriam back in Tennessee, as well as the person he is paddling for - his grand-niece Anna.
At age four, Anna was diagnosed with Type-1 juvenile diabetes. Her pancreas does not produce the insulin necessary to metabolize sugar in the blood. Since 2008, Anna has had to undergo multiple, daily finger pricks to test the sugar levels in her blood, and multiple insulin injections to keep them stable.
"I see the suffering and the pain that these kids go through." Sanders said. And that is what inspired him to begin his journey - to raise awareness and research money to fight juvenile diabetes.
So far, Sanders has paddled his one-man canoe, The Anna A, nearly 1,500 miles.
"It's been a hard three months, almost three months." A couple days into his journey, sleet and snow stung his face as he struggled against a wintry wind. "The ropes were frozen solid." he said.
Then came the rain. For nearly six weeks, through Iowa, Wisconsin and Missouri, Sanders said he did not go more than a day without driving rain. His clothes, tent, and sleeping bag stayed soaked. Now that he has arrived in Louisiana, he will have to battle the heat. High temperatures will be near or above 100 degrees for the next five days.
Sanders said it will not stop him. The world record and the Gulf are in sight. "I'm going to keep paddling until I get to salt water." For fame, and a special 11-year-old in Tennessee.
You can follow Sanders' journey and learn more about how to help fight juvenile diabetes, on his website The Grey Beard Adventurer.