America’s Rivers Expedition (2009)
In 2009 and 2010, I paddled 4,300 miles from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine. Despite the veneer of professionalism I epoxied to this mission, the reality was of an extremely low-budget, fast-as-you-can run that lasted 182 days. I kept an online journal that can be found at the above link. The goal of the expedition was to cross North America by human-power, but the larger ARE project was designed to explore the social ecology of America; from salmon politics in the Pacific Northwest to irrigation battles in Montana, I interviewed farmers, fisherman, politicians, and little old ladies as well as many others about what mattered politically and ecologically in their regions and in their communities. I gained a new connection and a strengthen appreciation of America and Americans, and was lucky enough to travel by my own power through some of the most beautiful places on Earth.
This place deserves its reputation; it seems an endless string of clear lakes bound by living rock and conifers. This string has been domed by skies either gray or angry and precipitating. By the time I reached the Pigeon River and the last of the lakes, the lack of sun had long since begun to hurt. In fifteen days I had maybe thirty-five hours of sun. The days were short, the nights long- sleeping for ten hours and reading a book every two days became the norm as I hid from the dark and cold. I have not seen another person in sixteen days. In a fury of portaging, I hauled my boat and kit nine miles down the Grand Portage as the voyageurs did, having crossed from the Arctic watershed to the Great Lakes and Atlantic. As I came down the old and long beaten trail to the shores of the largest lake on earth, it began to rain once again, tiring after its hour long respite. On shore at the end of the Portage is the reconstructed stockade of the Northwest Company, a fur-trading concern of the late eighteenth century. It is a National Monument and the kind superintendent allowed me to store ‘Casco’ in the warehouse there- my slim, space-age canoe leaning against the wall amid thirty plus foot birch bark Montreal canoes of ages past. It is an odd juxtaposition, but one I keep telling myself fits in some odd way.