‘Down the Mississippi’ book speech slated for Richland, WA

I’ll be doing a book speech about “Down the Mississippi” in Richland, Washington as I pass through the “Tri-Cities” of Richland, Kennewick and Pasco at the confluence of the YakimaSnake, and Columbia rivers in Southeastern Washington. The event will be hosted by the Richland Public Library on Monday, May 7th from 7-8pm. The library is located at 955 Northgate Dr, Richland, Washington 99352.

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It’ll be the first speech about the folks I encountered and documented on my voyage down the Mississippi in quite awhile and an absolute first at a library.  Should be fun!  If you’ll be in the vicinity it’d be great to meet up!

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Wheels!

Friend David Brown at Precision Rail of Oregon helped me put together some wheels to connect rivers on my journey across America (see the yellow lines on my route to see where I’ll need to haul the canoe and gear). The wheels are loosely based on Steve Posselt’s design, a long distance kayaker who just paddled down the coast of Australia — who told me he’s portaged for over 1000 miles in his career. Amazing!

Launch from Astoria, Oregon

thumbnail-4A 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.

The Picasso of canoes?

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.

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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.

With Merrimack eventually purchased by Sanborn Canoe Co. of Winona, Minnesota, and Navarro bought (via Craigslist) by a pioneering retiree couple in Rock Island, Illinois, the choice came down to price and availability.  And just the right model for this trip.

Loon on CarThanks 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.

27398526_10155724263167655_1462546566_oIn 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.