Long-Distance Standup Paddling Across Washington (Via the Spokane River)

Allison Roskelley surfs through the Bowl & Pitcher rapids on Day 2 of the Spokane River descent. Photo: Courtesy Rich Landers

Being tied to her desk Monday through Friday (not to mention making time for her husband and their dogs) doesn’t slow Spokane, Washington local Allison Roskelley. If she’s not adventuring in Moab one weekend with a group of like-minded women, then she’s combining trail running, canyoneering and standup paddleboarding across Escalante in Utah the next. (Other times she’s ice climbing in the Canadian Rockies.)

“I don’t really stop,” she jokingly tells ASN.

Allison Roskelley’s stoke was high during her trip down the Spokane River. Photo: Courtesy of John Roskelley

In addition to her marketing job, Roskelley is a spin class instructor and an outdoor lifestyle model. In order to make it all work she says, “If I have a free hour at lunch I squeeze in a workout. I also have to plan ahead because of my work schedule.”

Of all her adventures, however, her biggest endeavor was paddling the entirety of the Spokane River, 111 miles, with Jed Conklin and Grace Robison in August 2017.

Spilling out of Lake Coeur d’Alene on the western edge of Idaho and flowing west to the Columbia River at Lake Roosevelt, the Spokane River cuts through urban towns, rural countryside, and Native American reservations. The first two days on the water brought Roskelley and her team through downtown Spokane (population 200,000) where she could hear the roar of traffic over the rush of the water.

Each day on the water brought different challenges. Sometimes the waves became too big to ride, other times it was too rocky or logs blocked the way, forcing them to walk their inflatable boards around to find calmer water. There were also man-made concrete and steel dams – structures that were impossible to cross. This meant she had to find exit points on the fly: steep talus, slippery cliff sides, and crumbling dirt slopes that cut away. Once on dry land, brush and thorns grabbed at their legs as they bush-whacked for hundreds of yards before re-entering the water.

Portaging around a dangerous section of river, Roskelley carries her board, food and gear. Photo: Courtesy of Rich Landers

On Day One, the team dodged wakeboard boaters, and Day Two brought her first experience SUPing through whitewater. At first, Roskelley stood in the center of her board but soon she found her surf stance – a warrior’s pose that allowed her to aggressively drive her paddle into the drink. This technique both stabilized her and gave her better control. “Once I found that stance, going through the rapids became my favorite part of the trip,” she says.

As day turned into night, the trio pulled their boards onto the flattest stretch of beach they could find. Here, with house lights in the distance, they unloaded coolers and packs off of their boards, prepared meals and camped stealthily. Because their boards were insulated, they propped them up flat and used them as sleeping pads. Warm summer nights meant there was no need for a tent so they didn’t even bother bringing one.

“That trip made me realize my need to use fear (and fear of the unknown) to drive my life,” Roskelley tells ASN. “Sleeping on my SUP with no protection in an urban area was something I was freaked out about. I got to conquer that fear.

“Proving to myself that I could paddle over 100 miles was a high itself. Backing out of it would be easy and I knew the Spokane River had some dangerous spots.”

She also credits her husband, pro alpine climber Jess Roskelley (who wants nothing to do with the water) for support and motivating her through her fears – he’s also her primary ice-climbing partner.

That trip also raised her “suffer bucket,” her term for risk-and-reward stakes.

Boards were propped up to create a flat sleeping surface for a night under the stars. Photo: Courtesy Allison Roskelley

Due to that trip, Roskelley now seeks harder, more complicated adventures, including SUPing harder whitewater. She’s since completed her longest ice climb, a 250-meter frozen vertical waterfall in British Columbia. She also did a three-day backcountry trip in Moab where she combined canyoneering, standup paddling, and bouldering.

Those trips all built off her Spokane River outing, where she “fell in love with the freedom of camping on my board and the adventure of exploring the unknown.”

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