Saturday, March 8, 2014
PORTLAND - Alexander Martin climbed out of his canoe at the East End boat launch Friday afternoon and was quickly surrounded by family members bearing balloons and a bottle of beer.
"This is nice," he said. "I haven't talked to people in a while."
Martin, a Bates College graduate from Connecticut, had just completed a solo cross-country canoe trip that began in April 2009 in Portland, Ore. Between breaks to work or wait for lakes and rivers to thaw, Martin paddled and/or pulled his canoe for 162 days.
For portages across dry land, he rigged up a cart so he could pull his 16-foot Kevlar canoe with a bicycle, a contraption that got odd looks from tourists in Yellowstone National Park and Amish buggy drivers in rural New York. He carried a bike in the canoe during parts of the trip.
Martin followed Lewis and Clark's route, in reverse, and paddled along the Canadian border from North Dakota through the Great Lakes, where he ran into 10-foot waves in Lake Huron.
The last section of the trip took him through the Adirondacks into Vermont and New Hampshire and, finally, Maine.
Although it changed somewhat along the way, his planned 6,000-mile route included more than 5,000 miles of paddling and more than 600 miles of portaging.
In Maine, he had to walk, pulling his canoe, from Bethel to Harrison because the Crooked River water level was too low. He had ditched the bike because he didn't expect to need it.
His final leg brought him down the Presumpscot River from Sebago Lake to Casco Bay, a suburban stretch of river that's surprisingly natural because of a dirty history that kept people away, he said. "The least developed section from here to Ottawa was the last 15 miles," Martin said.
Other people have canoed across country before, but never by the northern route that he took, he said.
Martin, 24, took up canoeing while at Bates and is now an instructor for the National Outdoor Leadership School. He posted information and updates about his journey online --at http://www.americasriversexpedition.com/ - in hopes of building support for the preservation of America's rivers.
Martin said he didn't have any really dangerous experiences, although the 10--foot waves were impressive and he once had to swim, naked, through an icy river in northern Minnesota, in November. (The whole skinny dipping story is on his blog, but the bottom line is that his canoe was drifting away and he was in a hurry.)
Martin may have been safe, but his mother still spent a lot of time worrying.
"When he first brought up the trip a couple years ago, I was pretty much against it," said Melinda Martin, after hugging her slightly scruffy son at the boat launch Friday. "I'm glad he's finished."