Troy Anzalone looks a bit out of place sitting at a conference table in an office off of North 16th Street in Blair.
The stories the 44-year-old Arlington man tell don't fit in with the four walls and lack of windows to the outside.
“I love talking to people,” Anzalone says. “Everyone's got a story.”
Not like his, though. The adventurer has scaled the Grand Canyon, been coast-to-coast with a motorcycle run, boated on the Mississippi River next to the St. Louis Arch and, most recently, traveled the Yukon River from its source to the Bering Sea.
“She's amazing is what she is,” Anzalone says of his wife, Erin. Now that their children, Sam and Gabbi, are getting older, he wants to make his next Swamp Runner Mud Motor boat adventure with her to the Gulf of Mexico. Troy knows it'll take a hard sell, but he'll be ready when she is.
Anzalone is a mechanic who works for Omaha Public Power District, but he knows motorcycle motors, too.
“I don't ride the bikes, I'm just the mechanic,” he said.
But mechanics don't always go along for coast-to-coast motorcycle runs like Anzalone did in 2018. He first became involved two years earlier when a friend and he put together a 1913 Indian for the 2016 Motorcycle Cannonball, which required a 100-year-old motorcycle.
Anzalone didn't make the full trip that year, but he did last year. He felt more on an island with a 100-year-old bike, though, than he did in July when tasked with a 2,000-mile river trip through Canada and Alaska.
Ever since Anzalone moved to Arlington, he's been on the river that runs by it.
“I'm just captivated by the Elkhorn River,” he said, noting how relaxing it can be. “I just go out there and nobody is there.”
Seven years ago, Anzalone bought a boat from Jon Hobbs, the man behind the Swamp Runner Mud Motor in Florida. He swore by the machine and his friends took notice, wanting their own. So, he called and tried to make a deal for five of them. With that, Dobbs made him his Nebraska motor dealer.
That was the connection that led to Anzalone's largest, headline-grabbing adventure. The Yukon trip Dobbs dubbed “The Swamp Runner Yukon River Expedition.”
“Everybody said I was going to be eaten by a bear,” Anzalone said before quoting their words. “'You're going to get killed for sure.”
Anzalone, Dobbs and Florida videographer Tim McGee started their trip July 25 in British Columbia, Canada, at the Llewellyn Glacier — the source of the Yukon River. They took long-tail motorboats, which carried 600 pounds each. The weight came from the men, and their fuel, food and gear.
Anzalone built the Swamp Runner motors and was given the job to keep them running over the course of the trip. He excelled, of course.
The villages and cultures the trio encountered were the most fascinating part to Anzalone. He had his phone off for five weeks, only interacting with those along the way.
One such village introduced the adventurers to a tight-knit, secluded community. The people were having a pot luck for an elder's passing, while Dobbs and company were seeking fuel. The woman they encountered invited them to the celebration of life.
“It seemed weird,” Anzalone said. “I'm not going to crash a funeral, right?”
But it was a necessity. The village had shut down entirely to mourn and celebrate the elder's life. The three men from the river needed to wait for their fuel.
Anzalone and his son, Sam, started their adventures together on the Elkhorn River.
As the 19-year-old was growing up, they'd take “redneck river trips” together from West Point to home. A trip from Stanton came, too.
But when Sam was 11, Troy and he had Erin take them to Colorado Springs so they could snow camp. When they found the road blocked by an avalanche, Anzalone told his wife that right there would be just fine. She dropped them off and was to return in three days.
“I've always made it back,” Troy said.
Anzalone didn't have too many concerns during his Yukon River trip, which lasted 24 days, 23 hours and 45 minutes.
The food, he said, was good.
“Every day, once a day, bacon,” he said.
At home, Anzalone wakes up every morning, eats breakfast, drinks vacuum-brewed coffee and goes to work.
“Five days a week,” he said.
In the Canada and Alaska wilderness, however, the routine was stretched out. He made one cup of coffee at a time with an AeroPress coffee maker, but needed firewood for Dobbs, McGee and he to prepare their meals. The pioneer-style cooking did the crew well.
“Never got sick, nothing like that,” Anzalone said. “The guy (Dobbs) was fantastic with his cooking.”
With no nutritional concerns and “fantastic” weather, travel down the Yukon went smoothly. Dobbs had planned the trip for four years, meticulously measuring distances between fuel stops and camp sites.
“It was so spot on, it almost made it uneventful,” Anzalone said.
Early on, the men did plenty of sightseeing, enjoying the views. Once they hit Alaska, those views disappeared, but the trip never got boring because Dobbs' planning made sure they hit their marks along the way.
When they finally reached Emmonak, Alaska, near the Bering Sea, Anzalone and company had logged what they believed to be the fastest descent of the Yukon River ever, from source to sea. It took nearly 25 days, but the Arlington crewman believes he could have done it faster had they not stopped to smell the roses.
“I probably could have been done in three weeks instead of four, but I would have missed a lot of cool stuff,” Anzalone said.
Troy is a more impulsive adventurer after all. He'd gone on this particular expedition without much inquiry.
“I was really deliberate about not doing any research,” he said.
Dobbs was aware of Anzalone's boat trip to the St. Louis Arch when he asked him to join the month on the Yukon.
“Once, I boated from my house in Arlington to St. Louis,” Troy said, starting the story. “It was kind of a dare.”
He was talking about boats and motors, noting he could make the river trip to the home of the Blues and the Cardinals on short notice if someone would be waiting there to give him a ride home.
“(The guy) goes, 'I'm off Tuesday and Wednesday,'” Anzalone recalled. “'Tell me where you want me to pick you up.'”
Just like that, Erin's husband, and Sam and Gabbi's father, was out on the Elkhorn, Platte, Missouri and Mississippi rivers on his way to St. Louis.
“He picked me up right under the Arch,” Troy said.
Anzalone's glad he did the Yukon River trip Dobbs' way. The time it took doesn't matter to him.
“It was the journey,” he said. “One hundred percent. I really could care less if it was a record.”
It was about the adventure and coming home with stories worth retelling — like the one where the Swamp Mudder trio ran into a German hitchhiker in a $25 canoe near the Canada-Alaska border.
“Who picks up a hitchhiker in the middle of nowhere?” Anzalone asked.
The man told them he'd moved from Germany to Canada and never left. In that time, he'd written articles about the Yukon for a French publication.
Later, McGee looked up the hitchhiker to see if the story was true.
“He's a real guy,” Troy confirmed.
Those stories aren't created seated at a conference table surrounded by four walls. But Anzalone likes talking to everyone, finding out their stories.
When he talks, the adventurous mechanic has plenty of his own to tell.