When I entered the Tri Cities of Eastern Washington on the Columbia River the governor closed the state down. So instead of continuing upriver, I swerved my expedition up and onto the Snake River to make Idaho.
It took 9 days of solitary paddling to get across the border and into Lewiston, Idaho. I’ve taken some days here to heal my hands (both index fingers), which I’d bludgeoned my second night out on the Snake.
I’ve now begun a 200-mile portage due north. I’ll be hiking, portaging, and paddling my canoe to link the Snake and Clark Fork Rivers of northern Idaho.
My selected route will take me 200 miles from Lewiston up the “Rails to Trails” White Pine Scenic Byway (Hwy 3), along the St Joe River, across Coeur d’Alene Lake, and finally up Hwy 95 to Sandpoint.
From there I’ll skirt the top of Lake Pond Oreille to catch the mouth of the Clark Fork, my next major river heading east. I’ll be in an essential state of isolation, camping wild and off the road as much as possible.
I’ll be in touch when and where I can. I hope to make Sandpoint, Idaho in the coming days. Then the Clark Fork, a spectacularly rugged river where I will self-quarantine before reaching Missoula.
A bend in the river. And a logjam stretching the breadth of the St Regis River just behind spelled trouble. I was moving fast and paddled for the embankment to crash into it, to slow down. I hit it just before the huge cottonwood swallowed me up, tipped into the drink, and grabbed the roots and vines to pull myself to safety — as the canoe and all my gear disappeared under the obstruction. I was wet and cold and in shock.
I scrambled for the highway and as I was walking back off the off ramp to get help from a fly fisherman I’d seen nearby, a big Dodge Ram pickup came hauling the wrong way up the off ramp directly at me.
It’d been ten minutes and passerby Darin Boyd had seen the green canoe and paddles trucking upside down just downstream and was immediately looking for the canoeist to assist. Before hypothermia could set in I was in his truck with the heat full blast.
We scouted the river and thanks to Darin’s hunting skills and binoculars he spotted the canoe stuck on a rock in swift current across the river and down a steep embankment. We got to the town of St Regis, Montana, and by the time we found the sheriff deputy, he was already looking for me. Another passerby had reported the upturned canoe and Deputy Ryan Funke had already been up and down the river a few times. We returned to the scene and the volunteer firefighter brigade soon arrived.
I changed out of my wet clothes for a fireman suit and with a wench and two sets of rope we lowered fireman Chuck Anderson down to the canoe. We recovered half my gear and the canoe itself, as seen soon after up top this fire truck.
Montana folks look out for each other and this day I was lucky and fortunate enough to be on the receiving end of this kindness and expertise. A big shout out to Darin Boyd, Ryan Funke and the the Mineral County Sheriff’s Office, along with Kat Kittridge, Chuck Anderson, Zack Lott, and Mark Boyett of the St Regis, Montana Fire Department. And also to Kat’s brother John who heard the town siren and answered the call.
Shaken, but safe and sound, I’m safely on to Missoula, Montana, where I’m currently re-gearing up with help from friends both near and far. Stopping to catch my breath, settle my nerves, and continue forward on to the Divide and the next leg of the journey — down the Missouri and Mississippi rivers to The Big Easy, New Orleans.
Note: The all-volunteer St. Regis, Montana Fire Department assist travellers like me all the time. Mineral County stretches from Lookout Pass on the Idaho-Montana border to mile marker 76 along I-90 east of Alberton, Montana — a healthy swatch of jurisdiction. With limited federal funding, these fine folks do rely on donations. If you’d like to support what they do, you can send a donation to: St. Regis Fire Dept., PO Box 9, St. Regis, MT 59866.
I’m currently into Spokane, Washington and headed to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. You’ve gotta walk a lot of this section of the Spokane River (both in and out of the water) due to dams, falls, logjams and rapids. But man is it beautiful country!
A successful launch from the mouth of the Columbia River at Astoria, Oregon. A treacherous stretch of river awaits, along with the promise of adventure and stories and friends over the next two years. Cheers to Floyd Holcom, Tom Hilton, and Peter Marsh in Astoria for their hospitality, assistance with preparations, and camaraderie, along with all of the families I interviewed in Astoria for the very first story to be (stay tuned). Also thanks to my friends around the world for their support and belief in this project. The big idea — to paddle a canoe 7,500 miles across the United States — from the Pacific to the Continental Divide to the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes, to the Atlantic at New York city — in search of the American dream.
Photo courtesy Floyd Holcom; video courtesy Peter Marsh.
To launch out onto a voyage of nature and heartland and Main Street and liberty, to embrace and fully explore the storied town and country and river landscapes of this land down low from the bow of a canoe, it felt only natural to consider my vessel to be as more than a mode of transport and lifeline, but as an allegory for freedom.
Which led me to the history of canoe making in the United States, and with it, the legacy of master wood-and-canvas canoe maker L.H. Beach of Merrimack, N.H., who in the 1950s first introduced a thin fiberglass hull reinforced with wooden ribs to the world. “THE FIBERGLASS CANOE THAT LOOKS LIKE A CANOE” was his slogan. A perfect blend of the old and the new.
From L.H. Beach to his son Lem, to grandsons Randy and Vernon, the authentic Merrimack design was passed along and remained true. While Randy retained Merrimack for many years in name, his “black sheep” brother Vernon moved West and started up Navarro in his California garage, a canoe design based on Lem’s old molds.
Fast forward to the present, with WhiteGold and Kevlar and Tuf-Weave Flex as one’s (pricey) choice of material, with manufacturers like Northstar and Wenonah and even my very own Old Town running through my mind (according to Paddling.net there are “900 or more canoe models to choose from”), I decided to look back to where the revolutionary balance of old and new originally began.
Thanks to an exchange of emails with Bruce and Sue Peterson of the reincarnated Navarro Canoe Co., I soon settled upon the Loon, which can track in wind and wakes and waves, and also carry a generous “expedition” long-distance load.
In the end, I took a lead from Sue and found my very own Navarro Loon on Craigslist up in Lake Bluff, just above Chicago. The nautically-minded gent who was selling had taken care of his craft with love and with oil and with grace, and as it dates from 2002, it comes with a Certificate of Origin, from Talent, Oregon, signed by Vernon Pew.
The canoe will be more than a partner in expedition. She will be my home base for the next couple of years, a focal point for the journey, and a canoe I’ll need to embrace with my life. I see it as a great honor to carry (and paddle) along a bona fide Merrimack/Navarro work of modern art from West back to East, to partner up and traverse and share via this blog the watery byways of this great land in style and with a tip of the cap to history. In so doing, hopefully living up to L.H. Beach’s good name.