January 18, 2018
Paddlequest 1500: John Connelly’s 75-Day Canoe & Kayak Epic Adventure
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Partners With Maine-Based Whitewater Athlete
The Allagash Wilderness Waterway. It’s remote, but also well managed with established sites that make camping very comfortable. My favorite spot is just on the river, where the water pools up above some rapids. I paddle in, accompanied only by the white noise of the river and of the bird songs. Temps are warm, even as evening approaches, and only the slightest breeze rustles the white pines. I pull my canoe on the shoreline, unload my gear and settle in where I can watch the water. I’m tired after a long, hard day of paddling, but I feel invigorated. I watch the brook trout sip mayflies from the surface of the river, and out of nowhere comes an Osprey. Taking a trout totally unawares, she makes a splash in the river and flies off just as quickly as she arrived. The sun sets, the colors of the rainbow playing over the surface of the Allagash. A rare and precious moment, I feel fully connected to nature. –John Connelly
Hyperlite Mountain Gear recently partnered with former US Canoe & Kayak team member and Maine resident John Connelly to support his 1500-mile solo river/sea odyssey. Connelly has numerous first descents under his belt, along with decades of experience on whitewater. His 75-day trip will take him through two countries and four states and over 22 streams and 58 lakes. The journey will be the first to link four major waterways: The Northern Forest Canoe Trail, Saint John River, Bay of Fundy and Maine Island Trail. We are providing Connelly with a 5400 Porter Pack from our soon-to-be-released Expedition Series, along with an Echo II Shelter System and Stuff Sacks.
White water expert John Connelly always wanted to run the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, and to paddle the Maine Island Trail, and to do a really big adventure the year he turned 60. So, why not just connect those two big water trails by continuing down the Saint John River and the Bay of Fundy?
“That would only be an extra 400 miles!” Connelly says with a laugh. “But that would make it a truly epic adventure!”
Connelly is no stranger to many of these water trails. He’s paddled several sections of the Maine Coast, the entire Allegash Waterway and numerous sections of the 22 streams and 58 lakes he will cross. However, he will cover unfamiliar territory, specifically in New York, Vermont, Quebec and New Brunswick.
“One of my biggest challenges will be paddling some of the whitewater stretches I’m not familiar with,” he explains. He’ll be using an “incredible” canoe, he adds, but one that is more appropriate for flat water and open lakes, which make up 90 percent of his trip. “I really need to be extra careful because I can’t afford to break anything—the boat or me.”
Another big challenge is Reversing Falls on the Saint John River, a series of rapids on that runs through a narrow gorge before emptying into the Bay of Fundy.
“I’ll be paddling my expedition kayak by that point, but it can be absolutely huge class IV white water with big boils and whirlpools, and it dumps you into a bay with the world’s highest tides,” he says. The tidal range in Maine is about 12 feet; it’s about 30 feet in the Bay of Fundy. And it changes every six hours. He needs to end up in the bay with a falling tide. The final challenge he says is Maine’s Bold Coast, which he hits just as he reenters the country from Canada.
“It has vertical granite cliffs straight down to the water, and the water is deep, and it can be very violent at times,” he explains. “There’s no place to seek refuge. No islands. It’s very exposed.”
And then there are the bugs, the months of logistical planning, often frigid temps, heavy loads (though light, his canoe still weighs 30lbs), and inconvenient border crossings. He has four of those, crossing from Vermont to Quebec and back again, and then from Maine to New Brunswick and then back again. “I need to check in with customs in all cases,” he says. He’s identified the custom offices on Google Earth, located spots to park his boat along the shoreline, and the paths from the river to customs. “So I’ll pull my boat to the river bank, hike to the road, up to the customs building, introduce myself, give them my passport, and tell them where my boat is so they can go look at my stuff if they want to.”
So why is Connelly embarking on this epic?
“I’m hoping to share my experience with lots of people and inspire them to want to get outside and utilize the incredible resources available in the Northeast,” says John Connelly. “I’m not expecting that anyone is going to want to travel the full 1500 miles, but I’m hoping that people will want to do small sections, either day or overnight trips and experience these incredible places. And I’m hoping that by doing that, they will reap the physical, mental and spiritual rewards that can only be had by being in the outdoors. I also hope they feel connected to these places and inspired to conserve and act as stewards of them for future generations.”