There were wildflowers, wild water and wild adventure.
Local Salmon Arm land surveyor Joe Johnson, with wife Bobbi Johnson, recently spent a week as part of the David Thompson Canoe Brigade 2011.
The brigade, made up of people from all over Canada and the U.S., took six weeks to travel explorer David Thompson’s historic 1,770-kilomtere route down the Columbia River from Invermere to Oregon.
The Johnsons, along with a friend, joined the brigade for one week.
Joe paddled while Bobbi worked as part of the ground support crew, helping to make meals, pack up tents and cheer on paddlers. Some paddlers spent the entire six weeks with the brigade, while others, like the Johnsons, spent a shorter amount of time taking part in only a portion of the trip.
From July 3 to 12, Joe and Bobbi rose at 4 a.m., with Joe paddling four to five hours a day, to cover 300 km. The Johnsons joined the brigade in Pasco, WA, paddling south to finish up at Vancouver, WA. The rest of the brigade finally reached Astoria, Oregon on July 15, the same day that Thompson finished his trip at the same spot 200 years ago.
Joe, who heard about the trip two years ago at a land surveyors annual general meeting, was surprised by the brisk paddling pace in the 24- to 30-foot voyager-style canoes.
“We paddled 50 strokes a minute. You have to, to keep the canoes stable and maintain steering. Every 50 strokes, you switch sides. It wasn’t a walk in the park,” he chuckled.
“I was surprised by how unstable the canoes are. They’ll tip over if you make one little mistake.”
In total, 18 canoes started the journey, with 10 reaching the finish. Johnson was in one of two canoes carrying land surveyors from around North America.
“The people were fantastic and the weather was excellent.”
The highlights of the trip for Joe included a brief paddling break spent by soaring cliffs sprouting purple and yellow wildflowers. The couple also enjoyed the lively entertainment provided by fellow paddlers who sang, danced and played the bagpipes.
The canoe brigade made daily stops in communities along the route. Celebrations included a black powder blast to signal a canoe race to shore, where festivities took place to the sound of bagpipes.
Paddlers had to deal with barge traffic, the infamous gorge, wind and high swells on the Columbia River. The excellent ground crew, said Joe, kept the paddlers well-fed with delicious meals, including a hot turkey dinner.
“It was the trip of a lifetime,” said Bobbi, who likes water but chose not to paddle one of the big canoes.
“My idea of canoeing is sitting in the front with a book, under an umbrella, watching someone else paddle,” she chuckled.
The trip raised awareness about David Thompson, said Joe, and Thompson’s contribution to North America through mapping.
“He did an amazing job while he was travelling, doing exploratory mapping.”
To learn more about the brigade, go to 2011brigade.org