Wednesday, March 10, 2010

An Update and a Summary

Here is an update on the America's Rivers Expedition, current to March 10, 2010. Thus far, the expedition has lasted 106 days and covered 3000 miles during the periods April 4-May 29 and September 23-November 17.


It is March, and I am at rest- the expedition is on hold while the land and waters march toward thaw and I work to refill the expedition coffers. Spring approaches, and as the lakes begin to be kindled rotten by the sun I plan and prepare for the return to travel. In 2009 the 'Casco' was moved 3000 miles by paddle and portage on the Expedition and in 2010 it will move the last 1200 miles down to the sea at Portland, Maine.

Now, the 'Casco' sits with a duffel of gear in it, the rig safely in the dark of a timber warehouse on the shores of Lake Superior at Grand Portage National Monument. It is stored beneath a 36 foot Montreal canoe, the storied craft of the working paddlers of the past. How it came to be there, to rest as I am for the final push, is related below.

The ARE was from its conception split into three legs representing the western, central, and eastern regions of the North American continent. Each leg was then split into a number of reaches, each named for the principle body of water it covers, while the last reach was aptly titled 'Home'.

In April and May, 55 days of travel brought the Casco and her solo passenger 1300 miles from the Pacific Ocean near Portland, Oregon up the Columbia and Snake Rivers to Jackson Hole in Wyoming. Headwinds and heavy seas on the Columbia as well as its numerous dams and impoundments slowed progress, but gave time to explore the plight of the anadromous fish of that river and those that have depended on the fish for millenia. The Snake River followed, and for five weeks the Casco ascended one of the West's great working rivers; for its 1000 mile length alternately beloved and deeply abused. A bike named 'Taj' was added after an attempted ascent of Hell's Canyon to aid in the long upstream portages, and progress in late spring was brutal in most aspects. By the end of May, 'Casco' had entered the Rocky Mountains, portaged Alpine Canyon to Jackson Hole and was enjoying deserved rest. 'Casco' and the rest of the rig went into storage while I traveled north, to the Yukon Territory to work in hopes of making enough money to continue in the fall.

On September 23, 2009, after 200 days near-continuous days in the field (both on the ARE and off) I returned to Jackson and travel continued. With 'Casco' trailered behind 'Taj', we moved north through Grand Teton National Park to put in on Jackson Lake and then north again to Yellowstone National Park and Yellowstone Lake. After the descent off the Yellowstone Plateau, 'Casco' entered Montana and put in on the Yellowstone River at Gardiner. The 600 miles of undammed river that followed would be of the most challenging of the expedition as the temperature dropped into the teens and started the coldest October Montana has ever recorded. Ice a half-inch thick coated paddled and boat as travel progressed down the empty reaches of central and eastern Montana, testing gear, will, and the paddler's ability to consume vast quantities of food.

The North Dakota border came, and with it the confluence with the Missouri. Here, then, was a choice. The original plan was to descend the Missouri to the Mississippi and then ascend the Ohio River to Pittsburgh, the Allegheny River and the old portage into New York State. The way was open, but other plans took precedence. The Northern Tier route, always an afterthought of an option, came to the fore and instead of turning south as would have been prudent given the advanced season, the 'Casco' moved east, and north. After the portage to Minot, North Dakota and the put in on the Souris River, another decision had to be made. The new route took us northeast into Manitoba and to Lake Winnipeg, and from there up the Winnipeg River to Lake of the Woods. Given the late date- it was almost November- the Souris was left behind in favor of a portage directly to Lake of the Woods.

After the Lake and the ascent of the Rainy River to International Falls, Minnesota, a refit and resupply allowed an October 28, 2009 launch on Rainy Lake and the old voyageur highway across Minnesota to the Grand Portage and Lake Superior. What followed was both heaven and hell- a 16 day solo crossing of the Boundary Waters in November. During this time, not a single other person was seen- in their place, in the place of the happy multitudes of summer, were lonely wolves howling at night, frequent snow, scarce birds and the encroaching ice of winter. How lucky I was- to cross the most traveled paddling destination in the world and have it all to myself.

As Thanksgiving drew near, the Height of Land- all snow- was portaged, and the Casco' descended the Pigeon River to the Grand Portage- a nine mile carry to the fur trade post and the shores of Lake Superior. A final carry to a Native-owned casino and a begged ride to the bus station brought me fifty hours across Canada to New England, home in time for Thanksgiving and family.


I will be in the field with NOLS from mid-January through May, and June-August. That means that in the twenty months between the expedition's start and expected finish, I will have been on one expedition or another for 540 days out of 600- not so much an accomplishment as a recognition of how grateful I am for this lifestyle and for the people that helped me achieve it. In September of 2010, the 'Casco' will, in a world smoothed by luck and planning, come down to the sea at Portland, Maine and the ARE will be put to bed, 4200 miles across North America.

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