Then I hit the road for six-months.
It flew by. The work put into travel logistics and planning seemed to take forever. Most of this burden was unfairly put on the incredibly understanding friends & family that were hosting me. For the cooperation with last-minute travel changes, midnight text messages, and those warm meals and cold beers along the way, I’m grateful. Thanks, everyone!
The blog archive from this trip has been redesigned below.
I’ll focus on the single most used word people choose when describing my 15,482-mile pavement burn: once-in-a-lifetime. It’s so unlikely to happen again; you better enjoy it now – a dismal thought process as you see the geographical circle of the states begin to come full tilt.
Within that context, the final scratch of my winning lotto ticket while riding on Haley’s Comet with a case of chickenpox is over and it is never happening again.
As a grammatical choice of adjectives, that’s lazy.
Fishing trips weren’t always about the donated gear – always photographed with the manufacturer’s label facing out, the custom artisan-tied flies tossed on trips with well-respected guides, and the eventual too-good-to-cook-my-fish release of legal catches.
But they are now. Work in this industry has been good to me. And I’m ok with that.
Ted, not so much. Ted’s skeptical.
Jon Leavitt loves snakehead; the general Mid-Atlantic population does not.
Some attitudes among Potomac anglers are changing, but since the early 2000’s, the population of the Potomac estuary has been up in arms in a battle against these far east invaders – a non-native species legally imported from Asia for seafood trade, aquarium exhibits, and as pawns to overthrow the US government due to lingering animosity from past World War II tensions.
It’s a joke. They’re fish. They’re not government spies, ground soldiers in an oriental scheme to destroy Major League Bass Fishing, or violent communists.
A dozen oysters, a few Anchor Steam beers, and a cold front later, I launched into Mission Bay – a slightly less windy and considerably colder Mission Bay than a couple of hours ago.
I didn’t get a splash hit – now one of the signature features of baseball in San Francisco. Batting practice was over by the time I paddled two-miles around the Central Basin Marina. Greg and Brian had kayaks better suited for the conditions and the local knowledge and guts to go for it during batting practice. They landed all the splash hits – now bartering away batting practice souvenirs in exchange for beers with the late-arriving yachters.
Nothing moves fast in Yellville, except the big brown trout. The north-central Arkansas city named for Archie Yell, the winner of the last duel in the city’s streets – or so they say, is home to 1,312 people and an economy that is driven by White River tourism and the Ranger Boat factory right next door in Flippin.
Lobster Boy, the real-life inspiration for American Horror Story, never fancied spending his free time in metropolitan Tampa, Florida. That’s because he preferred the secluded mangroves of Gibsonton. As does kayak fishing guide Derick Burgos of Phatfish Kayak Charters.
Besides twelve times through the movie Scarface and the occasional Pitbull music video, I have no experience with South Florida. But it hit me right around three-quarters of the way through my breakfast beer; this is exactly how I imagined it. Big parties before catching big fish.
I wasn’t supposed to stop in Savannah. A long drive from south Florida and some canceled plans along the Space Coast led me to Skidaway Island State Park to crash for the night before heading further north to the mountains. After a couple of hours of sleep and some trail exploring with the cat, the plan was to be on my way to cooler temperatures and bigger views in the morning.
“Do we need to scout this one?” I asked as we quickly approached the meaty part of a comfortable class II on a section of Roanoke’s James River. “Where I come from, we scout these things.”
We didn’t scout it. From the bow I flew in blind, limited in my ability to steer, hoping for the best. I was told not to worry but I was worrying.
I was told to pick up a six-pack of Bold Rock IPA Cider on my way in.
He mixed me a Viginia-inspired cocktail that would have made even Tommy Jefferson smile down us: ice and a shot of Virginia’s A. Smith Bowman Small Batch Bourbon, filled to the top with Nelson County’s Bold Rock IPA Cider.
Algonquin laughs at people who rush it, people like me.
What I lacked in time, I made up for with an open schedule, an over-abundance of trail mix, and a powered down cell phone – distraction-free to escape non-road-trip-friendly international data charges. For me, it wasn’t about covering all the ground between the Georgian Bay and the Ottawa River, paddling the 2,400 lakes, or mastering all 7,653 square kilometers (metric, eh?) of Algonquin’s canoe routes. My detour through Canada was all about confirming Algonquin’s reality and doing the best that I could
I have a friend from Baltimore and a friend from Cleveland. One pushes for the Ravens, Natty Boh on Federal Hill, and Old Bay crab seasoning while the other pulls for LeBron, Great Lakes Brewing Co., and the Best Damn Band in the Land. When it comes to sports, beer, and everything else under the sun in once-industrial, poor air quality, rust belt cities, the two can only agree on one thing: Pittsburgh is the worst.
Luckily, they weren’t there with me at PNC Park to let their stubborn hometown pride drown out my unbiased good time in the Steel City.
Any meaningful conversation of premium kayak, canoe, and paddleboard paddles should include the town of Osceola, WI – home to roughly 2,500 people living about 850-miles northwest from my last stop on the Allegheny. Since 1982, the little paddle company in Osceola has been bending, laminating, and adding composite to premium wood branches.
After four tanks of gas, two thirty-ounce iced coffees, and a couple of energy shots, I pulled off of 95, lost my GPS signal, and ended up just west of the St. Croix River – covered in mosquitoes and sweating excess caffeine in the 70% relative humidity.
I pulled through the stone arch gate on the north end, dropped the thirty-dollar entry fee, and stuffed my Wyoming fishing license into the glove box with the other sixteen states. A gas station burrito breakfast after a night of car camping next to the slightly-snow-covered peaks of Mt. Holmes off of Grizzly Lake sent me on my way south to meet Chris – somewhere between Mammoth Hot Springs and Old Faithful or Paint It Black and Wild Horses.
He was knee deep in the Gibbon River – 4 weight rod, dry fly, and Gibbon Brown Trout in hand when I slammed the car into park and came running up from my makeshift parking spot.
I wasn’t sure if I should do it.
In the revolving door of perpetual political one-sidedness – an internet feed full of my-way-or-the-highway cyber stances on deleted confidential email threads and misunderstood second amendment threats – my finger hovered hesitantly over the send button outside of Ollie’s Pub.
You can’t miss the message. I drove north on the five from a hazy fourth of July weekend in LA to Lodi, California. The fence signs, bumper stickers, and billboards from twenty miles out all preached one message: Stop the Tunnels.
I was covered in it.
Mud stuck to my ankles like socks, hardened adobe huts fell from my shorts, and sweat pushed the salty brown war paint from my face. Back at the launch after a full day chasing redfish through the marsh – looking, feeling, and smelling mucky – I realized this wasn’t what I was expecting eight hours earlier when Jared asked, “You don’t have anything else to do today, right?”
Technically, it was a question. Realistically, it was a warning. Buckle up, we’re not leaving until we cover some serious ground and find some bigger redfish.
We're back after a really long portage. What used to be a roadtrip-centric canoe blog is now a bit more settled in the Texas Hill Country. We still believe canoeing is dated, not dead. And we still chase high CFS and sticky situations.
But we're not on a roadtrip battling for cell service from the backseat of the Jeep anymore. We're enjoying life off the road. The showers, hot meals, and stable jobs are nice too.
If the paddling road trip is what you're looking for, it's moved here.