I looked off to my right and I saw this seagull land about ten yards away. I was in a little slack water in Astoria’s bay and the seagull was out in the strong tide water just floating very fast by me. It seemed as though the seagull was looking right at me and saying, “Hey dummy! Move over here, it’s a lot easier!”
So I did and for about five minutes the seagull and I floated side by side. I was nearing the Pacific Ocean after two summers canoeing across America and as always, here was help when I needed it.
The Dream: To paddle a canoe across America from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. I had already walked from Mexico to Canada on the Pacific Crest Trail and bicycled around the perimeter of the USA, so this was the third in a series of journeys to see America under my own power. I accomplished this in the summers of 2006 and 2007. A grant from Balance Bar helped tremendously with the purchase of my gear.
The Route: Washington, D.C. was my starting point, so the Potomac River was the first. The Ohio, Mississippi, Missouri, Clearwater, Snake and Columbia Rivers completed the route.
On the Potomac I figured the C & O Towpath would be handy if I needed to bike portage. Rocks and rapids made paddling upstream on the Potomac tricky and I broke my paddle battling one of the rapids. I ended up bike portaging as much as paddling up this river.
The Ohio was so wide that the current wasn’t a factor. Paddling upstream on the Mississippi was achieved by staying near the banks and using eddies to my advantage. The Missouri was another story.
The current in the Missouri varies, depending on the outflow from the dam releases. The wide lakes through the Dakotas and into Montana eliminated much current, but high winds made crossing these lakes difficult at times. At other times the current on the Missouri was so strong that I had to take out, put in upstream and paddle downstream, leapfrogging.
Even though the prevailing winds are from the west, I figured the current on the west side of the Continental Divide would overcome the wind and I would make great time. Wrong! Paddling the Clearwater to the Snake, I entered the Snake where the many dams widened the river, lessening the current I was hoping for.
Strong west winds on the Columbia wide lakes made the Tri-Cities and Columbia Gorge section exciting, with waves topping five to eight feet at times. No place for a canoe in those conditions. I paddled when I could, but even this old guy knows when enough is enough. Once I reached Portland, I took advantage of the tides to pull me towards the Ocean…and on home to my home and family in Wisconsin.
The Gear: A Kruger Seawind canoe, Dahon folding bicycle and Paddleboy canoe trailer were the big three. The bike and canoe trailer fit neatly in my canoe for portaging around dams, up rapids, or over land. I used a lightweight ZRE paddle, taking a second as backup. Tent, clothes, sleeping bag and other items were either light or ultralight choices.
What else do you need? Perseverance and flexibility. You have to adjust to ever-changing conditions and not let the changes throw you out of kilter. The mental challenges are far greater than the physical challenges.
Advice: This trip would have been easier from west to east. The physical advantages of the west winds and wide lakes will overcome the current and it will be far easier logistically.
Make small adjustments because nothing is going to work out like you think it will. The Missouri changes so quickly that much of what was written about this river was outdated in just a few years’ time.
Best of the Trip: The people I met along the way made this trip. Any time I needed help, someone was there to lend a hand. Seeing life from a canoe also brings you closer to people; they instantly trust someone crazy enough to live this dream.
Worst of the Trip: Even the bad was good.
The complete story of this trip can be found at http://www.lhoff.com. For anyone contemplating such a trip, feel free to get in touch with me. I learned a lot and can probably help.
The article was originally published on Canoe & Kayak
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