Bryan Cole turned 60 this year and he's kayaking down the Ohio River from the West Virginia border to Wickliffe -- the first town after the Ohio merges with the Mississippi River.

But his age and his adventure aren't connected, Cole said.

"People are asking if this is on my bucket list," he said. "I say, 'No, if I had the money I would be scuba diving in Truk Lagoon.' That would be a bucket list item."

Truk Lagoon is 1,100 miles northeast of New Guinea.

More than 40 Japanese ships were sunk there in 1944 and divers like to explore the coral encrusted wrecks.

But for now, Cole is enjoying his journey down the Ohio.

He lived in Owensboro from 1977 to 1990, attending Kentucky Wesleyan College and working at the Owensboro Treatment Center.

Since then, Cole has been in charge of a group home in Frankfort, been a park ranger, taught at the police academy at Eastern Kentucky University and spent 24 years in the U.S. Army Reserves and National Guard.

In 2002-03, Cole, then a major, was in Afghanistan with a civil affairs task force assigned to rebuild that war-ravaged country.

Area residents collected more than 2 tons of school supplies, toys, sports equipment, clothing and toiletries - everything from backpacks to tooth brushes -- to send to Cole that year.

"It was unreal how much stuff they sent," he said.

Cole paddled into Owensboro about 5:30 p.m. on Friday, after a 34-mile trip from Hawesville.

He docked his blue kayak beneath the Kentucky Legend Pier behind the Owensboro Convention Center and spent the weekend at the Hampton Inn & Suites across the street.

"I have a tent with me and I usually camp out at a marina or boat ramp," Cole said.

Frequent thunderstorms have slowed his journey, he said.

But his biggest problem has been Asian carp, Cole said.

The fish, which can weigh up to 30 pounds, jump out of the water when disturbed and can leap as high as 10 feet out of the water, according to LiveScience.com.

"I had to swat one out of mid-air," Cole said. "They seem to be getting worse the farther west I go."

He trained for the trip by kayaking the Kentucky River in April.

Cole began his current journey on June 15 and expects to complete the trip in another week to 10 days.

"The first week was miserable," he said. "There were thunderstorms every day."

One of the best parts of the journey, Cole said, is walking around in small towns along the way.

"I discovered a Cajun restaurant in Hawesville," he said.

"This isn't a crusade and I'm not raising money for anything," Cole said. "It's just something I want to do. When I was a park ranger, I saw people kayaking and I wanted to do it."

He's already retired three times.

But the third time wasn't the charm.

"I'll give it another six months," Cole said, "and then I'll find another job."

Keith Lawrence, 270-691-7301, klawrence@messenger-inquirer.com

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