Canoeist Keith Lynch’s New (4,000-mile) American Dream

157 Days Later. Lynch's progress across much of middle America
157 Days Later. Lynch’s progress across much of middle America. At the time of press, Lynch was working his way up the Red River near Albion, Texas, approximately 150 miles northeast of Dallas. Follow his progress at
Spirit of Adventure Nominee

On June 3, 2014, Keith Lynch decided to walk away from the rat race. He left behind a 20-year, Dallas-based career in finance and committed to the adventures of a much simpler life. Launching his canoe on the Beaverhead River in Twin Bridges, Montana, Lynch began a 4,000-mile journey home to Dallas. His route was in part inspired by Lewis and Clark, and has linked smaller waterways with the Missouri, Mississippi and Red rivers. With his previous canoeing experience limited to a three-hour outing and a three-day trip, Lynch, 43, learned on the fly, surviving high water conditions and a capsize near the junction of the Jefferson and Missouri rivers. When we caught up with Lynch on the Red River, just west of Texarkana in the Lone Star State, he anticipated arriving in Dallas via the Trinity River in one month’s time. Here are some of his reflections from his Canoe Voyage expedition so far.

campsite red river
Camping along the Red River. Photo courtesy Keith Lynch.

I worked for the same company for 20 years. I was tired of my office job and wanted a challenge. I’ve always gravitated toward adventurous folks and I’m fascinated by the Lewis and Clark story. The seed was planted last summer as a canoe trip on the Missouri to see North and South Dakota. Then I started to dream of something bigger.

Initially I thought, ‘I can’t do this, this is crazy.’ But I decided it was worth it. I went to my employer and asked for a sabbatical. When they said they couldn’t do it, I decided to resign.

This whole thing started on that three-hour canoe trip last summer. Then I decided to take a real trip before the big one, so a buddy and I did three days on the St. Mary’s River. It was a canoe-drag, with the water one inch deep for six of the eight miles we covered.

The Jefferson River was a holy terror. It was flat-out ripping. Basically I had no experience coming in and Montana just had a winter with two times the normal snowpack. It was a miracle that I got through the first three days without flipping.

Fort Peck Lake stands out. I knew I would be facing a huge reservoir and I knew it would be windy, but until you experience it, you can’t really understand the enormity of the water and the power of its winds and waves. At one point I was windbound for three days. I was more prepared when I got to Lake Sakakawea in North Dakota. The beauty of those two lakes are highlights.

The Red River has been very remote and isolated since I got above the locks and dams and Shreveport. The river is too shallow for powerboats. I know civilization is still close, but because I haven’t seen any people in eight or nine days it feels like I’m a million miles away. I heard coyotes this morning.

alone on red river
“A million miles away … ” Lynch alone on the Red River.

The people have been absolutely astonishing. I anticipated meeting some neat people and I anticipated people to be generous. But the lengths they’ve gone to help out is very humbling.

There’s still small-town America out there where everyone knows their neighbors. It feels like there are almost two Americas—the rat race of big city life and the smaller, rural places where the pace is slower and people are friendlier.

I’m five months in and I still love being in a canoe and in the outdoors. It’s really cemented the decision. Sometimes it’s difficult to find the motivation to get up and paddle 10 hours. But I look at the trip as a series of mini-trips and keep plugging away. I know I will certainly keep canoeing for the rest of my life.

Learn more about Lynch on his YouTube channel. Here’s his last post from three weeks ago, answering a few more common questions:

The article was originally published on Canoe & Kayak

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