Day 7–9 — Rest Days and Trip Description
June 19–21, 2021. I’ve been hanging out in Moscow Idaho resting, fixing gear, and planning the next phase of the trip. I thought it would be a good time to answer questions I’ve received about the trip:
Why are you doing this?
I’ve long been interested in the travels of the explorer David Thompson (1770–1857). Thompson was the greatest chronicler of his day of the landscapes, peoples and nature of the Northwest U.S. and Western Canada. He was often accompanied by Charlotte Small, his Cree wife and many of their children. Their 58 year marriage is a great Canadian love story.
Over his career, Thompson traveled 56,000 miles, mapping 1.9 million square miles of North America along the way. For this historic feat, Thompson has been described as one of the world’s greatest practical land geographer. The map below shows the main routes he explored over a 64 years.
Among these accomplishments, he may best be known for locating the headwaters of the Columbia and as the first person to follow it from the top the Pacific Ocean.
My original plans were to follow Thompson’s route back up the Columbia River to the headwaters, over Athabasca Pass near Jasper BC, down the North Saskatchewan River to Lake Winnipeg, and then by the border waterways to Grand Portage on Lake Superior, or to York Factory, the Northwest Company trading post on Hudson’s Bay. But with the pandemic and the closed border, I had to change up my plans to stay on the U.S. side of the border. So I’m now following Thompson’s route down the Missouri River from Three Forks, MT. In North Dakota I’ll leave the river and travel overland to the waterway systems that lead to Lake Superior.
Thompson, Charlotte, there children, and their indigenous and voyager companions did all this by foot, some horseback, and birchbark canoe. I started thinking about how I could put a modern-day twist on that, and kept thinking about some way to use a bike to link the waterways. From there I landed on the idea of using a bike trailer to transport the canoe on land. Then on the water the gear had to be compact and light enough to transport in the canoe.
What’s your route?
My idea is to travel from our house a few blocks from the Pacific Ocean in Bellingham Washington, and head east along the route of the old Milwaukee Road rail line, some of which has been converted to rail trails. The route goes from Seattle to Minneapolis and beyond.
My plan is to follow the Thompsons and the Milwaukee Railroad line as I can to Three Forks Montana, near the headwaters of the Missouri. Where I can’t follow the rail line I’ll take nearby gravel roads, and where necessary, highways.
From Three Forks it’s approximately 18-day canoe trip from the headwaters of the Missouri to the Fort Peck Reservoir. From their I’ll follow the Northern Tier Adventure Cycle route across Eastern Montana and North Dakota to Minnesota.
What’s your gear setup?
My bike is a Surly Krampus that I built up for adventure riding. The canoe is a Wenonah Voyager Solo Canoe, which I’ll use on the upper most sections of the Columbia. It’s long and quick, but with enough volume to carry the bike and trailer. Later I’ll be joined by a friend and we’ll swap it out for a Wenonah Minnesota II tandem canoe.
But the key piece of gear is the trailer. The one I landed on is “The Y” trailer by a German company called Carry Freedom. I modified the deck with a foam cradle for the boat to set on.
I than worked with a local welder KP Pierce of KP Metalworks who fabricated a long extension arm and splice in a wider axle to accommodate the width of the canoe. KP learned to weld as a teenager and has worked with dozens of organizations across Western Washington and built a reputation for her speed, expertise and integrity. She’s also a board member for the Bellingham Roller Betties, and a founder and board member of the Subdued City Rollers, a junior roller derby league founded in 2018. If you need you’re bike trailer modified, she’s your gal!
Where do you sleep?
Wherever I can. So far it’s been a mixture of campgrounds, people’s yards, staying with friends, or just a relatively secluded place along the side of the road or trail. I also plan to get a hotel once a week or so to get cleaned up.
What do you eat?
Pretty much anything I can find in stores along the way, although I try to stay away from too much bread and pasta. Muesli for breakfast, Pro Bars and peanut butter sandwiches for lunch, and some kind of rice or grain package dinner.