Colorado family of 14 kayaking throughout the U.S.

Kid after kid emerges from the van, wrestling and cackling through a downpour and pouncing on every puddle they can find. It’s like a circus act.

Within minutes, half the circus is dry-suited and helmeted, lugging bright kayaks to the edge of the Colorado River, where the mayhem continues in a game called “King of the Wave.”

Dan Kellogg bursts into the play hole as Grady, Kady, Brody, Kenny and Dally giddily joust their father off the foaming wave. Mom Susie — due to give birth any day to her 12th child— watches from the shore, chuckling as she corrals six more Kelloggs — ages 22 months to 10.

Laughter reigns when the Kelloggs play. Yet they are serious about their play. So much so that they are about to embark on a paddling session unlike any other. Packing a 35-foot RV, the 14-strong Kelloggs will soon hit the road, traveling the country in search of river waves as they vie to be the country’s top clan of river rats. They are selling their home of 11 years — where seven Kellogg kids have lived since birth — and moving full time in a rig where early sleepers get the bunks, leaving everyone else scrambling for a table or floor space.

“Is that crazy? Are we crazy? We have to be a little bit, right?” says Susie, with a grin that endures even as the very rowdy Rowdy, 5, wallows hip-deep in a curbside stream of rainwater, soaking his jeans and sneakers. “You’re going to get cold, Rowdy. Is that really what you want to do?”

Really, it is.

Every Kellogg, from 18-year-old Kerry to 22-month-old Elly, has grown to love the water. And they are all 100 percent behind the idea of life on the road. Even though it means no more marathon Medal of Honor sessions or paintball wars in the backyard of their end-of-the-road Glenwood home. An RV in a hundred Walmart parking lots will become their new home, the river their backyard, their next day as wide open as the starry sky above.

“Everything we have done comes from wanting to be free,” says Susie, who started home-schooling the kids a few years ago when a rigid schedule began pinching family playtime.

They’ve been kayaking only a few years, but Grady, 16, and Brody, 15, closed the season ranked third and fourth in the junior freestyle kayaking World Cup point series, and Kenny, 12, won the cadet class in the national freestyle championship in Idaho.

“It’s crazy being down at the hole with the kids under 10 outnumbering the regular kayakers,” says Tommy Hilleke, a professional kayaker who taught Grady and Brody in his junior kayaking league in Glenwood Springs a couple of summers ago. “They all are definitely putting a lot of time in. … But I know those guys will make it work.”

Testing the waters

Last summer, the family spent two months testing the waters of the RV life, touring 22 states and competing in nearly every junior kayaking competition in the country.

“I think we were sold when we got back to Glenwood and every single one of us was a little bummed to be coming home,” says Dan, a software engineer who works remotely before dawn so he can paddle with his family in the afternoons.

So they’re selling everything they own — except the kayaks and snowboards, of course — and hitting the road in the boldest step of their grand experiment that will explore the boundaries of the family’s quest for freedom and fun.

“We aren’t pushing them to do this,” Dan says. “We are just doing what we can to help them.”

This is about life lessons and boiling it all down to the things that matter most. And even 3-year-old Emmy, Rowdy and 7-year-old Maddy know now that the good times rarely require stuff. Already, every Kellogg kid has packed up all their toys and belongings to sell or give away.

“It’s amazing when you realize how many things you don’t really need,” says Dan, whose face lights up when he talks about learning and exploring together with his family. “We are simplifying our life. It’s liberating.”

The lessons that come with the Kelloggs’ RV-anchored test of value moves well beyond jettisoning stuff and kayaking moves.

“You have to practice great charity when you are living in an RV. It’s given us the ability to not think about yourself,” Susie says.

“We are learning to share but also to depend on each other and help each other,” Dan says.

“We are just free”

The challenges are plentiful, but not the ones that immediately come to mind. The family problems don’t swirl around group dynamics or conflicts. The kids never seem to stop frolicking with one another.

“The Kellogg family makes anyone who watches them want to have kids, or more kids,” said Eric Jackson, the founder of Jackson Kayaks, who created the Fun 1 kids kayak and has traveled the country in an RV with his family of five.

There are, of course, hassles of living 14-large in an RV. Like bathroom breaks, which are never fun for the girls. And trying to stock a mini-fridge with enough food and water to last even a couple of days. And technical-packing skills usually reserved for extended river trips.

The artist of the family, 18-year-old Kerry, was at first reticent about the whole life-on-the-road thing.

“At first, I guess I really didn’t want any change, but then I realized that change is exactly what I want,” she says. “I love the fact that we don’t have any roots. We don’t have any specific place we need to be. We are just free.”

Jason Blevins: 303-954-1374, or

Published in The Denver Post on Oct 27, 2012

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