Albert Lea native pens ‘Mighty Miss,’ a memoir of canoe trek

Published 10:22 am Saturday, May 22, 2010

Gary Hoffman admits he never intended to write a book about his 2,500-mile canoe trek down the Mississippi River.

But the Albert Lea native did keep a faithful journal of the trip he and his son, Darrin, who was trained as an Army Ranger, made in 2002. They started out in Itasca State Park on Memorial Day, spent 45 days on the river, paddling between 40 and 65 miles a day, and ended the trip in New Orleans.

“After living to tell about several near-death experiences, I decided to write about it,” Hoffman, who now lives in the Twin Cities area, said. “We encountered everything from being dropped into a 40-foot whirlpool on the down side of a wing dam to games of chicken with 33,000-ton towboats. Our faith in each other and our father-son relationship was tested to the max.”

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He said by far, the best part of the trip was the people they met who live on the river.

Hoffman began writing in the fall of that year. It took him nine months to compete the rough draft, while working full time as the business manager at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church.

After that, he did seven revisions based on what friends, family, book clubs and others suggested.

“That was very humbling,” he said, adding he used to be an English and speech teacher.

He spent a fair amount of time studying the styles of different writers, especially Mark Twain.

“I didn’t want it to be a how-to book,” Hoffman said. It’s a series of short stories in chronological order.

He actually took an early retirement in 2007 so he could write full time and late last summer, the work was finally finished. It was published in the first week of November and since then, he’s been working to promote it, giving interviews and going to boat shows. The book is titled “Mighty Miss.” It’s 288 pages.

“By the standards of independent books, it’s quite successful,” the author said. “The number of people who wrote to me has been exciting.”

Hoffman will be in Albert Lea this summer for the dedication of the new Brookside Boathouse and Experiential Learning Center.

Hoffman began canoeing when he was in elementary school. After graduating from Albert Lea High School in 1962, he attended Mankato State College and began teaching. He has been guiding canoe trips as a Boy Scout executive, a Minnesota and Quentico Boundary Waters and Lake of the Woods guide, and a Minnesota Outward Bound instructor for more than 45 years.

He also developed a program for at-risk youths as well as support groups. Hoffman was ordained as a Catholic deacon in 1985. He started the deacon formation program in the Crookston diocese. He then worked in parish ministry and even after retiring, offered his ministry free of charge on a part-time basis to another parish, still preaching on a regular basis.

“Between that and selling the book, I keep pretty busy,” Hoffman said.

He plans to write more books and do a solo canoe trip down the river next summer.

Hoffman and his wife, Jacqui, have five children.

People can order the book through, by calling Hoffman at (952) 470-8440, or by going to