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Nebraska man squashes record for floating in a pumpkin, officials say

Duane Hansen celebrated his 60th birthday with a 38-mile trip down the Missouri River in an 846-pound gourd named ‘Berta’

Vegetable grower Duane Hansen hollowed out his 846-pound pumpkin and made a 38-mile journey down the Missouri River on Aug. 27. (Video: Reuters)

Duane Hansen had big plans for the 846-pound pumpkin he’d grown.

He’d been trying to grow a pumpkin that big for nearly a decade, but “Berta” wasn’t just for show. Hansen hollowed it out, plopped a cooler inside and hit the banks of the Missouri River.

The 60-year-old was on a quest to squash the Guinness World Record for “the longest journey by pumpkin boat.” Yes, it’s a thing — and Hansen’s not the first to use a giant gourd as a vessel.

Rick Swenson, who in 2016 completed a 25-mile trip inside a pumpkin when he paddled from Grand Forks, N.D., to Oslo, Minn., holds the title. But Hansen’s 38-mile float on Saturday would blow past that record. If verified by Guinness World Records, he could join those who have pushed the limits on what’s possible — whether growing eight-foot-long beards, spinning basketballs atop toothbrushes or stopping electric fans with their tongues.

Officials in Bellevue, Neb., announced Hansen’s record on Saturday, just hours after he’d completed the voyage to Nebraska City.

“Congratulations Duane for smashing the world record,” they wrote in a Facebook post. “We are proud that you started this record breaking 38 mile journey in Bellevue.”

Guinness World Records didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from The Washington Post. To validate a record, the organization requires evidence with its submissions, including photos, videos and witness statements. It appears Hansen has taken some steps to comply with the rules, after family members and officials documented his voyage.

Hansen spent about 11 hours floating in his pumpkin. People across the globe followed his progress, wishing Hansen Godspeed — or as one fan put it, “gourdspeed.”

They thought they unearthed the world’s largest potato. It turned out not to be a potato at all.

Hansen is known for growing large pumpkins and other produce. When he first approached Bellevue officials about sending his giant pumpkin down the river, they didn’t know he would be riding in it.

“Seems like a unique if not slightly crazy way to celebrate his 60th birthday,” Bellevue’s Facebook post states. Hansen’s birthday was Aug. 26.

Before launching, Hansen had to carve the “boat.” With a circumference of around 146 inches, Berta was large enough for Hansen to fit inside once the pumpkin was hollowed out.

Hansen woke up early two days later to begin his attempt. The gourd, strapped over a mattress, was hauled on a trailer. Clad in denim shorts, a life jacket and a camouflage hat, Hansen took off around 7:30 a.m. as family, friends and city officials watched from the Bellevue public boat docks. “SS Berta” was written on the back of the pumpkin.

Photos posted by the city show Hansen using a bright yellow paddle to steer a partly submerged pumpkin along the “Big Muddy” — the same river from which Lewis and Clark launched their expedition over 200 years ago.

A car-sized pumpkin would have won the ‘Super Bowl’ of pumpkin growing. There was just one tiny thing wrong.

His journey was not without challenges, Hansen told News Channel Nebraska. He had “to be on top of it the whole time,” Hansen told the outlet. Waves from passing boats threatened to tip his pumpkin more than once.

“You’ve got to stop everything and just hold on and ride with those waves. That was bad,” he said.

By 2:52 p.m., Hansen had hit the 25.5-mile mark, the city of Bellevue wrote in an update. At that point, he’d broken the record set in 2016, officials said. Nearly 4 hours and 13 miles later, he arrived at the marina in Nebraska City, where a crowd of family, friends and fans were awaiting with loud cheers and happy tears.

“I’m so proud of my dad. … He has always said that you can do anything you want and how can you not believe somebody who goes out and does exactly what he wants?” Hansen’s daughter, Morgan Buchholz, told News Channel Nebraska. “I’m just so proud.”

On social media, pumpkin puns and congratulations for the new “Cinderfella” started pouring in from as far as Australia. A Twitter post about Hansen’s journey has gained nearly 125,000 likes since Saturday.

When Hansen’s wife, Allyson, was asked what it’s like to have a world-record-holding husband, she told News Channel Nebraska, “I never know what’s going to be next.”

For Hansen, it’s go big or gourd home.