Pacific to Atlantic 1972-1973

March 23, 1972 through May 28, 1973.  A 5,000 mile, 14 month canoe and backpack across the U.S. from Pacific to Atlantic which included research and the accurate retracing of the Lewis and Clark Expedition’s (1804-1806) westward route.

  • 470 miles up river on the Columbia and Snake Rivers to Lewiston, Idaho.
  • 430 mile backpack across Bitterroot and Rocky Mountains to Dillon, Montana.
  • 2,500 miles down the Missouri River to Saint Louis, Missouri.
  • 185 miles down the Mississippi River to Cairo, Illinois.
  • 850 miles up the Ohio River to New Martinsville, West Virginia including wintering over in Louisville, Kentucky.
  • 140 miles across the Allegheny mountains to Westernport, Maryland.
  • 350 miles down the North Fork of the Potomac and Potomac River past Washington, D.C., to Smiths Point on Chesapeake Bay.

March 23, 1972 – Columbia River, Astoria, Oregon

March 23, 1972. Ron Ramus, myself and my dog Shannon started on our way eastward from Fort Clatsop, the site where the Lewis and Clark expedition spent their winter on the west coast. It was just two hours short of 166 years from the Lewis and Clark Expedition’s departure. As we approached Astoria, Oregon, the tide began to come in and the going got considerably easier, although we still had to put our backs to the paddles.

April 5, 1972 – Columbia River, Portland, Oregon

At times today, as we approached Portland, the wind blew at gale force. I would venture to guess fifty to sixty miles per hour. The rain fell in a shower that we had not experienced to date on our voyage and with it came hail; some pellets were three eighths of an inch in diameter. They were very severe conditions and we were fortunate to escape a calamity. At one point a tree branch of considerable size and maybe three to four inches in diameter blew across the water in front of us. It wasn’t until later tonight that we learned on the radio that a tornado had touched down ahead of where we had stopped to sit out the peak of the weather.

May 10, 1972 – Snake River, WA

Our journey up the Snake River from the construction site of the uncompleted Lower Granite Dame to our present location has been the best stretch of our trip in my eyes. The current is tough but the wildness of it and the canyon together make it well worth the struggle. It is sad and frustrating to me to think that in two years this last bit of wild river will be submerged by the Lower Granite Dam. The four dams from the Columbia River up will create slack water all the way up to Lewiston, Idaho.

May 28, 1972 – Bitterroot Mountains, Idaho

The going today was good at first, at least the scenery was fine as we walked along an old jeep trail covered with grasses and closed in on either side by pines, firs, and ferns. A very cool and shady walk it was. But then it all went sour and we found ourselves six hours later under an extremely hot sun and grateful to find water that was just dripping from an outcrop of rocks.

June 3, 1972 – Lolo Trail, Bitterroot Mountains, Idaho

During the second day of trekking across snow that was six to ten feet deep we weren’t sure we had found the Lolo Trail although we came upon a ridge that we expected to hit which gave us some assurance.  A heavy fog had developed and the snow and sky merged all around us into a white nothingness limiting visibility to seventy-five yards or less.

Jun 4, 1972 – Lolo Trail, Bitterroot Mountains, Idaho

The morning broke bright and clear, a most welcome sight. Our lean-to is just short of the top of Rocky Ridge (elevation 6,540 feet) facing east, so we caught the first warm rays of good ol’ Sol.  During the night I awoke several times to view clouds rolling past us on either side of the ridge so I hadn’t expected such a fine morning.

Jun 4, 1972 – Lolo Trail, Bitterroot Mountains, Idaho

We had not proceeded more than one hundred and fifty yards down the slope when rain dissolved the fog that had encompassed us and we found ourselves gazing at all of the surrounding mountains.  With the sky now clear we can look east and see the ridge we will have to follow tomorrow and the following days, snow for as far as we can see.

June 5, 1972 – Lolo Trail, Bitterroot Mountains, Idaho

While making our way along today we lost the trail three times but came upon it again each time after awhile. Even though it is buried in snow, usually the trail can be distinguished by its straight continuity of no trees in its path when in the forest. The biggest problem of staying on the trail arises when the trees thin out until they are scattered far apart. Then there is no distinguishing the path through them.

June 29, 1972 – east of Lemhi Pass (Continental Divide), Montana

Soon we left the creek accompanied by my cousin, Dan Crain who had joined us for a two hundred mile portion of our four hundred and thirty mile hike;  eventually we found ourselves trekking through semi-arid country of sage. The sun broiled down and we stopped for one half hour to rest and quench our enormous thirst from a questionable source.  None of us had water in our canteens and our acute thirst eliminated any question as to whether we should drink the water.  [We would pay a price for this two days later.]

July 8, 1972 – Beaverhead River, Montana

The Beaverhead River is thirty-five to forty feet across and there is very little view ahead due to the constant twisting and turning of the river as it snakes along.  Stopped for the day at 5:00 pm. The site is an open prairie grazing land. Swarms of mosquitoes. We used the “Blue Room”, our tent. Dinner was noodles and cheese with a cup of tea.

July 17, 1972 – Gates of the Mountains, Missouri River, Montana

We paddled for nearly two hours stopping at 10:30 shortly after entering the Gates of the Mountains area, for sure the most beautiful scenery we have encountered so far. A beautiful canyon of high, steep, limestone walls with pine forest and which is only accessible by water.

July 23, 1972 – Great Falls, Montana

We built a cart out of materials that we found along the river’s edge: wood, an old saw blade, two large old Conestoga-like wagon wheels and a round metal brace that could serve as an axle to haul our canoe the 21 plus miles we have to take to get around the Great Falls of the Missouri River.

July 28, 1972 – White Cliffs, Upper Missouri River, Montana

We continued on for the day passing through exquisitely beautiful country of phenomenal rock formations created by resistant white sandstone and resistant dikes of igneous rock. Often the dikes created “walls” that appeared man-made complete with blocks. The white sandstone creates large cliffs and numerous pillars and obelisks of unique designs.

August 4, 1972 – Fort Peck Reservoir, Upper Missouri River, Montana

Today was a drab day of nothing more than constant paddling in open water under a hot sun.  Not a cloud in the sky.  An occasional very faint breeze cooled us somewhat.  The 125 mile long reservoir was about one mile wide all day and most of the time we were over two hundred yards from shore so saw little wildlife.

September 8, 1972 – Lake Oahe, Missouri River, South Dakota

The canoe pounded through the waves and water splashed over the bow and covered the floor in the stern of the canoe. A few waves were as high as three and half to four feet. After an hour paddle and struggling just to cover two and a quarter miles we stopped for the day to sit out the wind. [Our stay lasted three days. We spent the evenings around a camp fire, sheltered from the wind by a four to five foot high bluff at the shore with nothing but open prairie above where the wind howled like a banshee.]

October 13, 1972 – Missouri River, Kansas City, Kansas

We made a brief stop at a sandy spot along the shore. After walking on the sand bar a bit, the vibrations turned it into quicksand.  We had a heck of a time getting the canoe free after we had pulled it up a short ways onto the sand when we stopped.  The driftwood that we attempted to free the canoe with would slowly be consumed by the sand and sink.

October 23, 1972 – Saint Louis, Missouri

A brief flurry of snow occurred just before stopping under the Jefferson Memorial Arch in Saint Louis to take on some fresh water. We filled up our five gallon water container at the bar of the Becky Thatcher Riverboat Restaurant and some customers at the bar bought me a shot of brandy “to warm me up”. It did just that. I was feeling no pain.  One girl asked me how often we take baths, a touchy subject.  We ended up camping just across the river in some soft tall grass surrounded by trees.  Not a bad spot considering the locale.

March 23, 1973 – Louisville, Kentucky

We spent the winter renting the 3rd floor (the attic) in a sketchy part of town where rent was by the week. But we were just happy to sleep indoors out of the ice and snow. I worked odd jobs such as stocking shelves during the Christmas holidays at the Employee’s Store of the General Electric Plant, cutting wood for the editor of the Louisville Times, playing guitar for a spell at lunch time at the Friend In Hand cabaret on the waterfront for $4 and a hot meal each day, and working the midnight shift for an ice show making sure the ice didn’t melt. But on March 23rd we collected our gear on the sidewalk in front of our winter abode and were ready to set out to complete the last thousand miles of our journey.

March 1973 – Ohio River, Kentucky

[From Louisville we had just under five-hundred miles to travel upriver on the Ohio River, and this with high water from the spring runoff. On occasion the weather was good but there were still many wet, cold, windy, and even snowy days to travel.  Dressing in damp clothes from the previous day wasn’t uncommon.]

March 31, 1973 – Pleasant Run Creek, Ohio River, Kentucky

I buried my dog Shannon last night on a hill overlooking the Ohio River.  He had begun coughing yesterday morning and by nightfall his cough turned bad. I carried him across fields in the dark to a remote farm road and then carried him until I could carry him no more. Finally a car that I flagged down took us to the nearest town’s police station and from there to a veterinarian’s office after hours. He died from pneumonia only minutes after we arrived. In the breaking light of morning I dug his grave while rain fell and painstakingly carved out Shannon’s name on a plank with my dull pocket knife, “Shannon of Thunder Oaks”.

April 3, 1973 – Lee’s Creek, Ohio River, Maysville, Kentucky

We pulled the canoe out on the western knoll at the mouth of Lee Creek’s inlet and set the Blue Room on the sand among trees fifteen feet from the canoe. Then, for awhile I sat and read by a fire and dried my boots while I wore them; they are forever wet due to water always being on the floor in the stern of the canoe.

April 4, 1973 – Ohio River, Maysville, Kentucky

Maysville. Kentucky, was our scheduled supply and mail stop. We received a ton of mail and packages from friends with condolences for Shannon which lifted our spirits.  Word had spread quickly.  It’s been dismal these last few days without him.

April 21, 1973 – New Martinsville, West Virginia

We reached New Martinsville finishing our 850 mile odyssey of upriver paddling since we left the Mississippi last October. From here it would be a 140 mile backpack through the Alleghenies to the Potomac River and our final 350 mile stretch to Chesapeake Bay.  The canoe will be sent ahead to await our arrival in Westernport, Maryland.

April 1973 – Alleghenies

After finding transportation for our canoe to Westernport, Maryland and the North Fork of the Potomac River, we were joined by my older brother, “Cort” (Emmett), for the hike through the Alleghany Mountains.  Because it was all private land that we traveled through, there were no trails and we followed back roads sleeping in lean-tos that we constructed every night.

May 15, 1973 – North Fork of Potomac River, Maryland

The North Fork of the Potomac River was scenic though polluted from smelly paper mills at first, but nevertheless scenic and upon its confluence with the crystal clear South Fork they formed  the Potomac River which appeared  in great contrast to the coffee colored Missouri, Mississippi and Ohio Rivers that we had spent so many miles on.  It was a well appreciated clear, swift, gravel bottomed mountain river.

May 17, 1973 – PICT0399 Potomac River, Maryland

We pulled aside at 11:00 a.m. soaked and cold and set about putting up a rough lean-to and building a fire. I had difficulty walking to collect wood and my fingers were a bit hard to manipulate in starting it; I was chilled to the bone. What a treasure a fire can be.

May 20, 1973 – PICT0403 Potomac River, Maryland

For the ensuing four miles we encountered small rapids to about Knoxville or just past (Maryland). At only one encounter did we take water over the gunwale but that was enough to douse us thoroughly from the waist down and put six inches of water on the floor. Passing through a chute with a one to one and a half foot drop we struck some good size standing waves while maneuvering and these did the job to us. The rest of the day we had no problem at all and only a few times did it ever require fast maneuvering. It was an enjoyable stretch those four miles despite my soggy socks, shoes, and pants (the water temperature at 58°F was slightly warmer than the air at 55°F).

May 22, 1973 – PICT0407 Potomac River, Washington, D.C.

Then at 9:53 a.m. we rounded a bend and in the distance the Washington Monument was visible.  We continued on past the capital along the Virginia shore stopping at about 11:00 a.m. to shoot a photo of us with the Washington Monument behind us in the distance. A picture is worth a thousand words. [We reached Chesapeake Bay six days later.]

                                      Ron Ramus in the Capitol, Washington, D.C.

                                     Bryce Cordes in the Capitol, Washington, D.C.

                                                        Shannon of Thunder Oaks

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