This poster displays the route John Kuntz will take along the Columbia River. (Photo courtesy John Kuntz)

This poster displays the route John Kuntz will take along the Columbia River. (Photo courtesy John Kuntz)

Local plans 1,250-mile kayak trip

Trek made to inspire children to explore outdoors

PORT GAMBLE — John Kuntz is getting ready to embark on the adventure of a lifetime.

On Aug. 1, Kuntz will take a 1,250-mile kayaking journey over the course of two and a half months on the Columbia River from the “source” to the “sea.” He will begin on Columbia Lake in British Columbia and follow the river all the way to the Pacific Ocean, landing at Clatsop Spit Astoria, Ore, the same place Lewis and Clark’s famous westward expedition ended.

And it’s all in the name of inspiring young people to get outdoors and learn the art of adventure.

Kuntz, 61, is undertaking the trip in honor of Erica Reith, the 19-year-old daughter of a family friend who died tragically years ago in an accident. Kuntz hopes to raise awareness and money for “Eri’s Adventure Project,” which encourages young people to get outside and works with school teachers to create an educational component to adventure. Erica’s mother, Diane Conmy, is a co-worker of Kuntz’s brother, Matt; through the two of them, Kuntz hopes to bring his adventure into classrooms everywhere.

“I’m just encouraging people to get out and experience life,” Kuntz said. “Younger kids today are self-absorbed into electronics, and I think they’re missing the boat here. I think what they will find and experience out there is better than anything on their phones.”

The journey will be a big step up in mileage for Kuntz, who is the owner of Outdoor Olympic Center in Port Gamble, which also has rental locations in Poulsbo and Silverdale. He has completed kayaking trips of 200 and 250 miles over the past two years. In 2016, he traveled from Golden, British Columbia to Revelstone, British Columbia. Last year, he completed a trek from Revelstone to Kettle Falls.

Calling a 21-inch-wide, 18-feet-long kayak home for 10 weeks will be quite the challenge. Kuntz said he’ll be loaded up with about 100 pounds of food, and camping and cooking gear. He will make stops at various towns along the way, including Wenatchee and the Tri-Cities.

“Logistically, it’s a challenge, for sure,” Kuntz said, “but not impossible.”

Kuntz will also have to adapt to changing water and weather conditions along the way. While conditions are generally mild during late summer, wildfires will be an ever-present threat.

Last year, a large number of them broke out in British Columbia, which caused ash to fall and smoky, hazy skies in western Washington. It was the largest fire season on record in the Canadian province in terms of burnt area and also featured the largest single fire ever.

Kuntz estimated that it will take him “about a month” to get out of Canada, which means he’ll be heading for the Pacific Ocean as September storms begin to roll in. And the trip is not entirely made up of calm waters. Kuntz will have to navigate some whitewater rapids as well.

“I’ll handle it when it comes,” Kuntz said. “That’s the plan.”

The element of danger is not a deterrent for Kuntz, who believes it is OK “to take risks safely to gain the reward of a lifetime.”

“I’ve been in the kayak business for 35 years,” Kuntz said. “I hear all the time from people about a lot of ‘what ifs’ and ‘should have beens.’ There’s no time like the present.”

To learn more about the trip and Eri’s Adventure Project, click here.

— Mark Krulish is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. He can be reached at mkrulish@soundpublishing.com.

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