MCGREGOR — Not for nothing has swimming upstream become a metaphor for difficulty.
The same holds true for paddling, as six young men on a nine-month, 5,200-mile mostly upstream canoe voyage can attest.
“There’s no coasting when you’re going upstream. If you stop paddling, you go backward,” said Luke Kimmes of Des Moines, shortly after he and his five companions landed their three heavily laden canoes here at noon Wednesday, the 84th day of their voyage.
The Rediscover North America canoe expedition left the Gulf of Mexico on Jan. 2 on a route that will take them on the Mississippi River, the Red River, Lake Winnipeg, Lake Athabasca, Great Slave Lake and the Hood River — all the way to the Arctic Ocean.
Kimmes, one of two Iowans on the trip, said it fulfills his ambition to do “a really challenging endurance thing.”
Jarrad Moore of Van Meter said the exploration aspect of the trip hooked him.
“It’s not Lewis and Clark, but it’s a cool way to visit seldom-seen parts of North America,” he said.
“Yes. it’s a lot harder going upstream, but it makes going downstream seem so much more enjoyable,” said Winchell Delano, who as with three other members of the crew — John Keaveny, Daniel Flynn and Adam Trigg — is a native of St. Cloud, Minn.
Unlike other similar endeavors, they are not doing it for a cause or a charity.
“We’re just guys who want to challenge ourselves and enjoy being outdoors. We are not trying to plant the flag somewhere. Every piece of our route has been done,” Delano said.
“But we may the first ones to ever stitch them all together at one time.”
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“Our whole plan was to chase spring northward, to live in spring for several months,” Kimmes said.
Those plans, however, have been more or less dashed by a winter that won’t get out of their way.
Although river ice obstructed their passage on several occasions, they have made “really good time” once they reached Keokuk, logging more than 25 miles on five consecutive days, Kimmes said.
The chilly weather has been more than offset by abnormally low spring water levels, which translate into manageable current velocities, he said.
Delano said they stay close to shore as much as possible to lessen the impact of wind and current.
For 74 of the past 84 nights, they have camped along the river or on islands, eating warmed-up prepared meals and sleeping in tents.
The occasional reprieves, such as last night’s complimentary stay at the Little Switzerland Inn Bed and Breakfast in McGregor, enable them to enjoy a hot shower, a warm bed and good meals while doing laundry and recharging cellphone batteries.
“The hospitality at McGregor and other river towns has meant a lot to us,” Flynn said.
Once they get into Canada, however, it will be camping every night, Delano said.
The voyagers are posting photos and reports on their website, www.rediscoverna.com