Coursing Through America | 4,750-Mile Canoe Expedition Underway

Martin Trahan and Jillian Brown finish first leg of journey across the country by paddling up the Columbia and Snake rivers

Canadian photographer and adventurer Jillian Brown grew up idolizing legendary expeditionaries, namely, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. She dreamt about their historic 1804-06 expedition from St. Louis through unknown terrain to the Pacific Ocean and back, widely regarded as one of the greatest adventures of all time.

Jillian and Martin leaving Astoria, OR for the Columbia River.

Now, thanks to C&K’s 2017 Dream Adventure Contest, presented by NRS, Brown and expedition paddler Martin Trahan are following in the footsteps of legends with an extended canoe voyage they’ve dubbed, Coursing Through America. The planned expedition route, inspired by the continent-crossing creativity of Verlen Kruger, cuts 4,750 miles across the U.S. from the northwest Pacific Coast to the Atlantic waters at the tip of the Florida, in less than a year’s time. Due to the seven-plus months of paddling involved, work complications pared the original winning team of four down to the core crew of Brown and Trahan.


In less than ten hours we (@martin_trahan_canoeist and I) will begin the most incredible of journeys. I have come to idolize many adventurers since a teen, but Lewis and Clark have always been a focus. Inspiring me to stop, even when trying to accomplish formidable tasks, and soak it in, look at the flowers and the bugs. Appreciate all the land has, from awe inspiring sights like the Great Divide, to the subtle purple of a single prairie Lilly. The stories I've read, the documentaries I have watched, these men and their team have inspired me and now I set out to follow in their paddle strokes. To truly feel connected to a simple and challenging time, with struggle and strength and more beauty than imaginable. "As we passed on, it seemed those scenes of visionary enchantment would never have an end." #meriwetherlewis • • • Partners: #canoekayakmag @canoekayakmag & #nrs @nrsweb #coursingthroughamerica #ropesandwood #fjallraven #fjallravencanada #lowaboots #backcountry #backcountrybrewing #astoria #oregonexplored #explore #exploreusa #paddle #canoeing #canoecamping #canoetrip #canonusa #wayfarecollective #mydiscovery #paddling #mec #chapulrevolution @chapulrevolution #levelgroundtrading @levelgroundtrading

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On April 28, the Canadian duo (Trahan hailing from Quebec, and Brown from B.C.) launched their NovaCraft Prospector 18 from Astoria, Oregon into the tidewater where the mouth of the Columbia meets the Pacific. The immediate challenge of upriver paddling marked hard first miles toward a daunting goal of nearly 5,000 ahead.

What’s in your canoe?

The first days of a projected 210 (into November) were anything but easy, timing tides and gauging current and simply paddling hard, upstream against the mighty Columbia and then the Snake river, having to portage around eight dams in the process.

“Going upstream with a strong current, fighting the tide that was too often in the middle of the day, dealing with a good daily side wind, an absence of sites to camp, because the water level was 8 feet higher than usually,” Trahan wrote in an Instagram post. “I had really underestimated the power of this river. I do not remember working so hard for so long.”

Scenes from the river.

To say it’s been a slog would probably be an understatement, especially considering they launched in such high flows on the Columbia, but this hardy duo has been up to the challenge thus far. Their blister-covered hands have managed to paddle an average of 20-25 miles a day, covering nearly 500 miles to complete the first leg of their journey.

Native fishermen harvesting salmon along the banks of the Columbia.

Of course, coupled with their pain has come magnificent views of wildlife, breathtaking scenery and the physical reminders of those who traversed these rivers before them.

Remnants of the past.

“Each day we paddle past numerous abandoned boats from all different era, old docks half sunken, old ports collapsing, and decrepit wing dams that just crest the surface of the rippling water,” Brown wrote in an Instagram post.

Wildlife encounters / Fixing a broken paddle

Last week ended for the duo safely in Lewiston, Idaho, restocking with food and supplies and a little online connectivity (plus some local news coverage).

But while the first leg of the journey has been trying, the biggest obstacle is yet to come in the form of the Continental Divide. The just began the daunting task of “portaging” across the Rockies–dragging a canoe up and over 375 miles between Lewiston, Idaho and Helena, Montana.

Are we there yet? Only 375 more miles to go. 

While hauling gear over a major mountain range may sound like a pure torture-fest, they will also have to worry about the threat of grizzly bears, which will be awakening from winter hibernation.

Assuming all goes well, they will reach the upper Missouri River where they will finally be aided by some downstream current toward their destination of St. Louis, followed by a planned 750-mile transit along the Ohio, Tennessee and Tombigbee rivers to the Gulf of Mexico in Mobile Bay, Ala. From there they will carry on until reaching the Keys and completing their great American adventure.

Spring rains bring verdant grass to the basalt hills of the Columbia Valley. The confluence with the Snake River beckons…

Stay tuned for updates from the expedition, plus follow @jillianbrownphotography  and @martin_trahan_canoeist as they post from the trail, and check their progress in real-time with their expedition map tracker.


Read more on the Dream Adventure Contest, and the last year’s winning expedition, the Patagonia Triple Crown.