SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Tyler Northrup is a technology business partner for Sanford Health and the Good Samaritan Society, but in his off time, he’s a guy who can build kayaks.
Specifically, these kayaks.
“It’s a cedar-strip-built kayak,” Northrup said. “Took me about 500 hours to make it — I put a lot of hours into that and in the last several years my son’s been out there in the workshop with me.”
Northrup’s son is 15 years old, and the two recently set off in the kayaks (Northrup has built two) on a “FaSo retreat” — a father-son retreat — down the Missouri River from Pickstown to Running Water.
On a 40-mile trip, the two did about 6 miles on the first day before camping on an island in the river, then paddled down about 30 miles on the second day to another island.
“Awesome trip — great time to connect,” Northrup said. “We found our spot we were gonna stay [on night two]. There wasn’t a very big beach area — when I woke up at 5:30 and went out the next morning, one of [the kayaks] had floated away.”
Being on an island, this presented a bit of an issue.
With one kayak gone, Northrup got into the other one, paddling down the river a bit to search for the other. He was unsuccessful but did find some fishermen that assisted them on getting off the island and back to shore.
The fishermen weren’t the only help Northrup would receive. “That’s where the assistance started, and it just grew immensely,” he said.
Once back to safety, Northrup created a Facebook post, asking the public to keep their eyes peeled for his renegade watercraft.
“Within hours it had thousands of shares to it and I had people starting to reach out to me from all over,” Northrup recalled. “Austin, a fella from Niobrara who has a kayak guide service down there and rents kayaks spent 4 hours on Sunday with his own boat searching the river trying to find it.”
That wasn’t all though. I had an individual reach out to me — Greg — who’s a professional photographer and has some quality drone equipment,” Northrup said. He and the man went out and flew the drone all over the area looking for the kayak, but to no avail.
Northrup said several people went out on boats looking as well, but none were able to find the elusive kayak.
Come Monday morning, Northrup says his hope in finding the kayak was diminishing. He later told me that he had confidence that the craft would turn up. The river below them was cut off by the Gavins Point Dam, and if it were to float out into Lewis and Clark Lake, he was sure boaters would spot it.
The issue, however, is that between their final campsite and the lake is a stretch of nearly 20 miles of river which is, in Northrup’s words, marshy. Here, the river breaks into several strands surrounded by vegetation. There were many places the kayak could simply get jammed up and sit.
“That’s when I got a call from Nick Kniffen,” Northrup said.
Nicholas Kniffen is a farmer in Tyndall. He’s also a pilot who’s been flying the area in his plane for around 40 years. “He said ‘I’ve got a plane at the Springfield airport — I’d like to go up and try to find it,'” recalled Northrup, who said he was shocked at how many people were reaching out to help.
“I saw a post on Facebook that Tyler had lost his kayak,” said Kniffen, recounting how he got involved. “I told him that if he hasn’t found it, I could take the airplane up and go look for it.”
Kniffen said that while he didn’t know Northrup, he and his wife liked the kayak and saw a need. So, he called and offered his help.
Northrup was getting ready to head to work when he heard from Kniffen and told him he’d meet him in Springfield for the search. Being about 2 hours away though, Kniffen opted to get a head start.
“I took off from Springfield and basically flew the river,” Kniffen said. “It’s hard to do it by yourself because you have to pay attention and fly the airplane and look for the kayak at the same time.”
Kniffen didn’t find the craft in his initial flyovers.
Once Northrup reached Springfield, Kniffen returned to the airport, picked him up, and set off once more.
“We went up that last time and circled around to where I was at and camped, and then followed the likely course we thought [the kayak] would be on,” Northrup described. “About 7 miles downriver Nick said ‘I’m gonna slow down,’ — and when he did that, he also tilted a little, and I looked out my window and there it was.”
The kayak had wedged up against a sandbar in the section of the river, surrounded by weeds.
“Tyler was elated, and so was I,” said Kniffen, recalling the exact moment Northrup spotted the kayak. “We found it, and that’s what the goal was.”
Once they identified the location of the kayak, Northrup was able to paddle out and tow it to shore.
Kniffen had reached out to Northrup, a complete stranger, and offered his help in finding a lost item. He says that in the process, he and Northrup got to talking. “He has some of the similar interests that I have. We got to share a little bit about his life and my life as we were going up and down the river.”
Along the way, the two men uncovered a coincidence — like Northrup, Kniffen’s wife also worked for the Good Samaritan Society; he in Sioux Falls, and she in Tyndall.
“He hopped into an airplane with a complete stranger, and I kidded with my wife when I got home — he didn’t even ask me if I knew how to fly,” Kniffen laughed.
What Kniffen wanted to emphasize through this all was that he was just one part of the process. “It wasn’t just me,” he said modestly. “There was a lot of people on Sunday that put in a lot of effort trying to find this — the effort was there, and those people need to be commended as well.”
Northrup is more than willing to provide that commendation. “I just can’t say thanks enough,” he said. “All the people who shared the message to help get it found — that was awesome, and that’s what led toward other people seeing it — those people that invested hours and hours of time and energy and fuel — a huge thank you to you guys.”
In his Facebook post, Northrup offered a reward for locating his kayak. He says he’s tried to offer that to some of the people involved, but that none have been willing to accept.
“I’ve got a few steak suppers I’ll pay visits to,” he said.
This is a trip down the river Northrup has made before, and while it didn’t go to plan, that doesn’t mean it was a bad experience.
“I wanted this to be such a good father-son time, and it was and then it went completely to the opposite side,” said Northrup. “But we’re driving home and [my son] turns to me in the car and says, ‘Dad, I want us to do something like this every year,’ so I think it hit right on.”
Overall, Northrup said he wanted to pass on some ‘Midwest values’ to his son. “When Sunday morning came along, I started questioning how well I was doing with that,” he said. “In the end, however, I’m certain Cole learned more than I could have hoped for just by witnessing the contributions of Nick, Austin, Greg and so many others.”