Spending weeks or months paddling free as a bird through the wilderness is every canoeist’s dream. Alas, the enormity of the task often leaves people stalled at the dream stage instead of making the trip a reality. Fear not, it’s easier than you think. Use these tips to paddle away on your bucket-list expedition.
1 Got vision?
First, you need a vision for your trip. The almost limitless interconnected waterways of North America provide opportunities for a lifetime of journeys. What areas are you curious about—the far North or the deep South? What kind of wildlife do you want to see?
How about following a heritage fur trade route or canoeing in the wake of a historical figure? Or, go off the beaten path and explore the unexplored. Where would you like to spend weeks with a paddle in hand? The only limitation is your imagination.
Keep it simple, stupid
The key to planning any large trip is simplicity. I like to think of an expedition like a weekend trip but with more food. The gear is the same for a three-month epic as it is for a Boundary Waters overnighter. Once you have a boat, tent, and food, you can paddle forever.
Postal rates have gone up exponentially, making it prohibitively expensive to ship food ahead to remote communities. Now I shop in local grocery stores along the way and plan my route accordingly.
I can’t carry a season’s worth of food, but can easily manage to carry enough for weeks at a time. Even with sky-high prices at remote outpost stores, it’s vastly cheaper and more convenient than buying, prepping and shipping.
Balancing work, bills, family and other adult responsibilities is a juggling act, but everyone who is committed has the ability to do at least one big, epic journey.
Bank your time off, take a sabbatical or an unpaid leave—heck, even quit your job and get a new one when you return. Twenty years from now you’ll still be talking about your epic journey, not those few months of playing desk jockey.
I save money when I’m in the woods for a month or two. There’s nothing to spend money on out there. To keep costs low, avoid bush planes and remote drops. Spectacular point-to-point wilderness journeys can be linked between towns serviced by regular air.
Buy a canoe at one end and sell it at the other, or use a folding canoe or kayak and check it as luggage. Or, drive to the end of the road, zip off for a month and return to the same spot without repeating a single stretch of water. Even today, $3,000 is plenty to cover two people on a summer-long epic, including flights. That’s cheaper than a month’s rent in San Francisco.
It’s certainly one way to help with the costs of an extended trip, but there’s no such thing as a free lunch. If you opt to chase sponsorship—often granted in the form of complimentary gear—you have to reward a company’s investment. Quantifiable promotion in the form of writing, photography, film and social media can be a job in and of itself.
Once you’ve decided on your mission, stick to your goal. Ignore doubts—your own and those of others. Once you’re sitting in your boat at the put-in to an epic journey, your worries will fade away. The daunting task quickly boils down to the joy of paddling and moving through a wilderness dream that you’ve made a reality.
Frank Wolf is a filmmaker, adventurer, and environmentalist. He takes off on a multi-month expedition each summer, and he’s known for swimming naked and being part of the first duo to canoe across Canada in a single season.
Daydream believer. Feature Photo: Frank Wolf