I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again… I love my job. Being one of the original Dirt Bag Paddlers gives me access to very interesting people and stories. Our Facebook feed constantly brims over with amazing adventures from around the world. A few weeks back, I inadvertently stumbled across PaddleQuest 1500, and John Connelly.
So I went to the website, where I read what John was getting into: “In April of 2016, I’ll launch on a 75-day river/ocean odyssey that will carry me over 2 countries, 4 states, 22 streams, 58 lakes, and 1500 miles. As leader of L.L.Bean’s Outdoor Discovery Schools for 10 years and a former member of the US Canoe & Kayak team with numerous whitewater first-descents to my credit, I believe I am uniquely qualified to meet this challenge.” Sounds right up DBP’s alley!
I caught up with John a few weeks before his scheduled start. He gave me the breakdown on a great American adventure, one that would make any voyageur proud.
DBP: Thanks for taking time from your busy preparations to speak with us. What is the goal of PaddleQuest 1500?
JC: Americans spend 93% of their lives indoors. Half of those waking hours spent parked – 8 hours a day – staring at a screen. Fewer people are reaping the rewards of engaging the outdoors, and time outdoors has a profound effect on the personal sense of stewardship of our natural resources that stands as our best hope for saving the planet. I want to inspire people, and youth, to get out there to utilize and appreciate our water trails.
DBP: What inspired you to put this adventure together?
JC: I have always wanted to canoe the Northern Forest Canoe Trail that knits together watersheds from Old Forge, NY in the Adirondacks to Fort Kent in Northern Maine. And I’ve always wanted to kayak the Maine Island Trail, going the length of the Maine coast from New Brunswick, Canada to New Hampshire. Both have been paddled, but nobody has ever linked the two by continuing down the Saint John River from Fort Kent, Maine through the Reversing Falls in Saint John, New Brunswick and continuing down the Bay of Fundy to the Maine/USA border to pick up the Maine Island Trail. I thought that would be a first, and pretty epic. And I am definitely in the mood to do something epic!
DBP: That is a dream adventure! Tell us a bit about the kit you’ve assembled for the journey.
JC: I am so stoked about my kit. I’m paddling a 17’6” Wenonah Voyager that weighs a whopping 32 pounds and an 18’ Stellar Kayaks S18R weighing 39 pounds. Both are very fast and with 54 miles of canoe portaging, light is good! NRS has totally set me up with my complete paddling gear for all of the conditions I’ll experience over the 75 or-so days. Their dry top/dry bibs combo is great, and I’ve been ocean training all winter using their new Navigator paddling suit, which is phenomenal for dryness, protection and mobility. I’m using NRS’s Zen rescue PFD. I have one for whitewater and raft guiding, and got one for this expedition. It’s perfect. Werner is hooking me up with 2-piece Powerhouse and Cyprus kayak sticks and a pair of Bandit canoe sticks for whitewater when I’m not using my Wenonah bent shaft. MSR and THERM-A-REST hooked me up with everything I need for camping and it’s all very lightweight. My shelter system, portage pack and stuff sacks are from Hyperlite Mountain Gear, right here in Maine, and are ridiculously light and high performance. And I’m using DeLorme/Garmin’s inReach satellite navigation and communications technology powered by Goal Zero solar panels so I can communicate with followers, friends and family, and get help if there is a dire emergency. That has my incredible wife at home feeling a bit more comfortable, if you know what I mean.
DBP: You are stoked to the max! That is really impressive, John. You are now officially one high class dirtbag!
You have a fundraiser coming up to support PaddleQuest 1500. How can folks get involved?
JC: Yes, I have a GoFundMe campaign that is in full-swing at www.gofundme.com/paddlequest1500. There are some really fun rewards for different contribution levels and the enthusiasm I’m seeing from people jumping aboard my support team is super fun!
DBP: What do you see being the biggest challenge to overcome along the way?
JC: The first thing is the start date. I’m targeting April 16th but the ice needs to have cleared in the Adirondack lakes and it can’t be flooding, or I’ll delay my launch. Conditions are more unpredictable than ever, so we’ll see! The next thing is that I can’t break anything. That means boats, equipment or me. What keeps me up at night is the fact that it’s a solo expedition with lots of whitewater and portages, open water crossings and the planet’s highest tides. Oh, and lions, tigers and bears. Well okay, no tigers. But we definitely have the other two!
DBP: Yes indeed. But such a beautiful place to spend a few months…
We wish you much luck on your journey! Epic, indeed. Any last words to the folks following along at home?
JC: Thank you! Absolutely! The website just launched at www.paddlequest1500.com. I’ll be posting regularly and you can track my progress in real-time thanks to inReach. Our water trails, particularly those made possible by the Northern Forest Canoe Trail and Maine Island Trail Association, are world-class recreational resources for not only through-paddlers, but for day and overnight use. Join the organizations that make them possible and get out there!