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A Q&A With Maker of the Film “The Journey: A Trip Down the Milwaukee”

In search of a new challenge, Grafton resident Mark Brent took to the Milwaukee River with a camera, winding his way from West Bend to the Milwaukee Harbor. Now an hour-long film, “The Journey,” shares Brent’s experience kayaking the river and is underscored by his love for the urban outdoors. Inspired by his passion, VISIT Milwaukee reached out to Brent to discuss his background, kayaking, and the many twists and turns that led him safely to the Milwaukee Harbor.

VISIT Milwaukee: Please give us a quick bio including how you got so interested in fishing and the outdoors.

Mark Brent: I grew up fishing with my father. It was one activity we shared together, and I’ve always been inspired by his extreme dedication to fishing. He would fish from sunup to sundown, never leaving the water. He brought his great work ethic to fishing. I caught that bug - pun intended.

I have always enjoyed extreme activities, jumping out of planes, hiking back country for weeks on end, racing downhill mountain bikes, and as I got older and some of these activities became too much for my body to handle, fishing and kayaking became really attractive to me again. By day I am an internet marketer currently working for the Buy Box Experts Agency. I sit in front of a computer all day, getting out on the water gives me balance and serenity. 

VM: Where did you get the idea for such an epic kayaking trip?

Brent: I was coming out of a difficult period in my life. I would wander down to the Milwaukee River – only a five-minute walk from my house – to find peace and exercise. I began to explore it up and downstream from the bridges and access points. I had expected to find a muddy river, but I found instead a river full of life and beauty. I knew that taking on an “epic” challenge had pulled me out of my funk in the past. It was clear that I needed another challenge. This is when I got the idea to go from West Bend to the Milwaukee Harbor by kayak. 

VM: Why did you choose the Milwaukee River?

Brent: My reason for choosing the Milwaukee for my journey came down to the idea that we often think we need to drive far to find that sought after experience in nature, but we are lucky and blessed to have such an opportunity in our backyard. Because the river had given so much to me, I wanted to celebrate this by sharing the river with others. Hopefully inspire them to value the river more and get out there and learn about it for themselves. I hoped that a good story might help others see rivers near them in the same way [I do]. 

VM: What was your favorite portion of the trip?

Brent: There are so many parts of the river to love. It’s really many rivers in one. However, my favorite parts of the Milwaukee are the transitions and the moments of discovery that happened along the way. There are times I felt I could be way up north or even in Montana. I was really blown away at the lack of development along the whole journey. The green areas, even deep in the city, are amazing. But my favorite spot is my home stretch. I know it so well. I know where the fish are, I know by eyesight what is going on with the water levels, clarity, and flow. I know where the rocks are underneath and can walk in it safely in the dark without light. It’s really a relationship with nature that gets deeper with every interaction. 

VM: What advice would you give to visitors who have never kayaked on the Milwaukee River before?

Brent: Go slow. Get to know it. Have a plan that allows you to be safe. Understand it can hurt you, but if you progress slowly, you’ll benefit from having a better experience while not going overboard and putting yourself or others at risk. I didn’t do this trip right from go, I had a lot of time on the river before I felt I could take it on. 

VM: What was the most surprising part of the trip?

Brent: Well, running into that amazing moment — won’t spoil it for those that haven’t watched — as I hit concrete and iron in the city. Thanks, Milwaukee Riverkeepers, for all you do. It was such a spiritual moment for me. I was near the end, my goal in sight. I was feeling really good and then bam! It was so overwhelming and cathartic. The other surprising part was how much I got from sharing the experience with others. Either planned meetups or random encounters. 

VM: Where else should visitors kayak in the Greater Milwaukee area?

Brent: I have spent so much time learning the Milwaukee River, I am not sure I can help in this area of advice. I am more open to those that want to share their journeys with me. Maybe I can join them, and we can collaborate on their story. I would say this though, instead of clicking locations off a list, I suggest people spend more quality time in their explorations. There is so much that can be missed when you’re speeding a long from place to place. 

VM: Anything else I’m missing?

Brent: I would like to pass on my larger goal with my Beyond The Bridges project. In addition to creating and telling inspiring stories, my hope is to build enough momentum that I can give back. I’d love my movies to be part of fundraisers. I’m not looking for any comp from these efforts, just to give the movie to those that want to host a night or online showing and raise money for their cause. Please reach out if you’d like to do this with this movie. Eventually, I have plans to use my efforts to raise money to help those coming out of bad situations with housing. Getting someone’s [paid] rent while they put their life together can make all the difference. Thank you for taking interest in my efforts with this movie