Thursday, September 30, 2010

Le Fin

Yesterday I drove up to the local canoe & kayak shop near my parents house to drop off my canoe. From the beginning, I was to use the Magic 16' that Bell Canoe Works let me borrow and then return it or buy it. Being destitute, I returned it. Standing in the parking lot, I said goodbye to 'Casco', the 33-pound canoe that I had paddled across North America. I had spent more time with her than with any girlfriend I have had, more time than I spent with my family in many years. Saying goodbye and driving way, the expedition was at long last over.

These numbers are approximate (and hastily put together).

April 4, 2009 - May 26, 2009
1300 miles in 55 days
Portland, Oregon to Jackson, Wyoming
Columbia River, Snake River

September 23, 2009 - November 16, 2010
1700 miles in 54 days
Jackson, Wyoming to Grand Portage, Minnesota
Snake River, Jackson Lake, Yellowstone Lake, Yellowstone River, Missouri River, Souris River, Lake of the Woods, Rainy River, Rainy Lake, Boundary Waters border route, Lake Superior

May 14, 2010 - May 24, 2010
270 miles in 10 days
Lake Superior

August 23, 2010 - September 22, 2010
Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario to Upper Saranac Lake, New York
800 miles in 30 days

April 24- May 14, 2007
Upper Saranac Lake, New York to Androscoggin River, New Hampshire
300 miles in 20 days

September 23, 2010 - September 25, 2010
Androscoggin River, New Hampshire to Portland, ME
115 miles in three days

In the map, Red indicates distances paddled, blue indicates distances biked, and green indicates aborted routes or legs.

My parents have been enjoying the press- about 250 newspapers and various blogs and websites have picked up the story. For once, the life of professional whitewater trash makes headlines and my parents have relished it. Seattle Times, New York Times, Denver Post and others- all have printed it. It is surreal and little bit embarassing.

I graduated from college two years ago, and as I reflect on this span of time, certain things jump out at me. My diploma was handed to me exactly 120 weeks ago, and of that time I've spent 98 weeks in a sleeping bag on the ground. Some was work, some was the ARE. On time off, I would visit friends- driving into Denver or taking the train to New York or Washington, DC, and live their lives for a short time. I am a social person, painfully so, and my self-imposed exile of one expedition after another, while bringing fulfillment, also makes me pause and wonder if I am missing what they all have- a social group, the fun of living in a city in one's mid-twenties. It will be an on going question, and one with no answer.

What is next? I said after the 'Northern Forest by Canoe' expedition that "... these expeditions have a nasty side effect that I am only now coming to terms with: they're habit forming..." It seems, then, that I am hopelessly addicted. As I write this, I am preparing to leave for New Zealand to lead whitewater and hiking expeditions for the National Outdoor Leadership School, my employer. Come spring, more expeditions maybe in Utah, maybe in the Yukon. A life lived camping and teaching.

Throughout the America's Rivers Expedition, I had a playlist on my iPod- and more frequently, in my head- that was a helpful motivator and something to cling to in times of struggle. In a bitter and frozen Montana, hearing 'Big Country' by Bela Fleck brought peace to a stark landscape. Many nights I spent along the Columbia or the Snake in a cold, wind-shaken tent listening to 'Portland Town' by Schooner Fare and think how impossibly far I was from Maine, and yet, somehow, I would make it. As I rounded the point and came into Casco Bay, I saw the light (though not Portland Head, as I had hoped), and I sang out my ending.

I see the light across the bay,
I see the light not far away,
And I hear music all around,
I'm gettin' close to Portland Town,
So, Mother, won't you make my bed,
I see the light of Portland Head,
I see the light, I'm comin' 'round,
I'm comin' home to Portland Town.

Some years ago, out on my own,
I set a course for parts unknown,
Leavin' behind both friend and foe,
Needin' to find what I've come to know,
As I watched the islands fade away,
And bid farewell to Casco Bay,
Though it's been years and years since then,
My heart has brought me home again.

'Years and years since then/my heart has brought me home again.' Indeed. Someday, I will return to Maine when I am more ready to settle down, but until then, it is off on the next adventure.

* * *

I have many reasons to be thankful, and many people to thank. First of all, my parents, who have suffered long in support of my waywardness and were dead set against this expedition for much of the planning and execution, thank you for, in the end, supporting me in this endeavour and in life. Also to my brothers and sisters-in-law, for their enthusiasm and support- when one's head is in the clouds, it is good to be reminded of your worth.

To the Portland crew- Emily Hoffer, Abby Martin, and especially Kendall Williams for the help and support when I was at best a frightened and confused boy about to bite off more than he could chew.

To the National Outdoor Leadership School, my employer, for the flexibility to pursue this expedition and for the support to see it through. NOLS is the leading teacher of wilderness skills and leadership, and in addition to being lucky to work for them, I realize the things I have learned and perfected over my time there allowed me to safely and efficiently execute this expedition. The friends I have met and the mentors I have had there were supportive from the very beginning, to all of them, and to Duck and Rebecca in particular, thank you.

To my sponsors, Bell Canoe Works, Kokatat Watersports Wear, Delorme Maps, Cooke Custom Sewing, and the Manhattan Meadery, thank for the support that made this trip possible. The equipment they provided is of the highest quality and I chose them just as they chose me. Support these companies; they are the best for a reason.

And to all the people I've met along the way for the kind words, enthusiasm, and for when they gave small kindesses even when they could not comprehend what I was doing or why.

1 comment:

Alastair said...

congratulations - this is an epic, lovely, interesting journey. A heck of an achievement. Well done.