Kerri Kolstad grew up on the lakes and rivers around Bemidji, and originally wanted to be a park ranger, but she wound up in the corporate world instead.
The White Bear Lake resident made a pretty good living, too, for 20 years, working for Hewlett Packard and then Dell, selling systems to health service groups such as Mayo Clinic and Health Partners.
But the call of the wild was always in the back of her mind, and Kolstad had an epiphany after getting to know the man she would marry, Dave Kolstad, a mechanical engineer and outdoorsman at heart like her. They met at a state park while he was pursuing his goal of hiking every one in Minnesota.
“We both had corporate jobs, and found ourselves living in hotels and airports, and never got outside,” said Kolstad. “I decided I was done with corporate America. I had to do something I was more passionate about.”
Thus was born their joint venture Wahoo Adventures, 10 years ago in October. Wahoo’s motto is “Get outside and play,” which is what her mother used to tell the kids when she wanted them out of the house.
Wahoo offers biking, kayaking, and snowshoeing, and handles birthdays, anniversaries, honeymoons, and corporate outings. Companies get their people on lakes and trails to paddle, chat, and just get out of the office. The Kolstads serve as guides, porters, entertainment committee and support staff, coordinating all the details and logistics.
Kerri handles most of the guiding and instruction. Dave continues his corporate job while serving as Wahoo’s chef, along with lugging gear around. A third partner is their pooch Addy, who avoids the water but loves to accompany them in the kayaks.
It’s an ideal gig for a pair of adventurers who together have summited Mount Kilimanjaro (2006), scuba-dived the Great Barrier Reef (2003), hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu (2013), and hiked and biked in Patagonia/Chile (2018).
Their biggest excursion is the sixth annual Lumberjacks and Loons, which started Sunday (Aug. 5). Trekkers from six states are signed up: Texas, Colorado, Arizona, South Carolina, Washington and Minnesota. They’ll bicycle along the Great River Road/Mississippi River Trail to Bemidji, Walker, Chippewa National Forest, and Schoolcraft State Park, and cap it off at Forest History Center in Grand Rapids, reenacting the day in the life of a lumberjack in a lumber camp.
In Kolstad’s childhood, every school year ended with a class trip to Itasca State Park. “At the time, you didn’t realize how cool it was to be at the headwaters of a big river that goes all the way to New Orleans,” she reflects. “Now a lot of my routes center around Itasca.”
In planning the business, she conducted several focus group studies. One thing she found was that older people have fewer grandchildren now than when she grew up, and wanted one-on-one time with the kids outdoors. “My own grandmother had so many grandchildren that she couldn’t do that,” she said.
They got started working with community education departments, augmenting what the cities offered by supplying their mentoring skills and equipment. Then the business grew largely from word of mouth.
Kolstad, 57, extols the virtues of “eco-therapy” to her adventurers.
“People are always watching a screen, their TV, their cell phone, their iPad, and not involved in what is going on around them,” she explained. “Out here on the water, you see the squirrels, you see the fish, you notice the sounds, and the wind changing, and you can’t believe how relaxing it is.”
They started Wahoo Adventures during a downturn in the economy due to the troubled housing market in 2008, which actually gave their venture a boost. People who would normally spend big on vacations were opting for “stay-cations” instead. “The great state of Minnesota has a lot to offer,” she said.
One example of Wahoo’s services is the Park–n-Play Day of Outdoor Experiences in conjunction with Oakdale’s Parks and Rec and community education departments, held in May. Kolstad taught classes summer bike maintenance and trail riding, and getting close to nature in a kayak.
Asked about what kind of individual calls upon them, she stated, “A lot of people don't have a kayak or don't have a bike that works or need lessons or just want someone to hand-hold them. They might not have the gear or can't throw it on their car or trailer. It's nice to know that if a thunderstorm happens or the weather is bad, someone is looking out for you.”