In 2014, four friends and I kayaked 140 miles down the Columbia River. We put our boats in the water near the Bonneville Dam and paddled to the Pacific Ocean, and it was an incredible journey: we laughed, fought, sang, skinnydipped, and paddled until we could barely move our arms. It was hard and satisfying and beautiful, so this year we decided to go back and paddle the chunk of river that’s directly upstream.
Before we left for the river, we made this video:
During the last week of September 2015, we embarked on our second expedition along the mighty Columbia. I was joined by some familiar faces and some new friends, and we had an incredible journey.
We chose to paddle the 100 miles upstream from where we paddled last year, and now we’re starting to coalesce plans to paddle the entire 1200+ mile river. (That’ll be a project that takes several years, so stay tuned for updates.)
The terrain that we traveled through was very different than the landscape we saw last year — it was warm, sunny, and almost arid. Last year we paddled during the last week of October, and it was so cold that I wore Gore-Tex and XtraTufs; this year we paddled in September, and I spent all day in a sports bra and my papa’s 25-year-old widebrim Filson hat.
As we slowly drifted through the dry hills that lead into the Columbia River Gorge, we had the unique opportunity to weave ourselves into the landscape, one tiny stitch at a time. That’s the amazing thing about traveling slowly: you cannot help but notice the things you would otherwise miss.
We watched spawning salmon surge upriver, waved at Native Americans sweating in their fishing boats, and got more than a little bit sunburned. We portaged around dams — once with elbow grease, and the next time, when we’d gotten smarter, with a rented UHaul truck. We cooked gluten-free pancakes on uninhabited islands, listening to trains pulse along their tracks next to the river.
There were hard moments, too. I had such bad tendinitis that my wrists actually squeaked. Like, audibly. Once I woke up with an earwig in my mouth. We moved with excruciating slowness, which was somehow a perfect torture. We paddled. We breathed deep. We forced ourselves to slow down. We laughed. We remembered to listen. And slowly, we found ourselves becoming a part of that beautiful landscape.
All photos are courtesy of Bryan Aulick, who has been my partner in this adventure. We’re currently digesting the two Columbia River expeditions we’ve completed, and are formulating plans to continue our adventures. Stay tuned for updates! We’re also actively scheduling slideshows to share stories from this stretch of the river, so check back for dates. If you’re interested in hosting us for a slideshow, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
All adventures require the support of a village, and we’re grateful for ours. This journey wouldn’t be possible without our friends, family, readers, and these companies. Thank you, too, for following along.