PORT GAMBLE — These days, John Kuntz is back at home, back at his store, back to his everyday life.
But he still dreams of the Columbia River, in which he believes he still has more paddling to do.
Perhaps it’s simply a metaphor for how the adventure never ends in our lives — unless we allow it to, of course. But Kuntz will be taking a break from large-scale trips after completing his 1,250-mile journey along the Columbia River from the source to the sea as part of his “Eri’s Adventure” trip, undertaken in honor of Erica Reith, the 19-year-old daughter of a family friend. She was known as a person who loved to explore and try new things, but her life was tragically cut short in a car accident.
Kuntz began on Aug. 1 at Columbia Lake and finished nearly two and a half months later on Oct. 13 with a short paddle from Clatsop Spit to Fort Stevens State Park in Oregon where he celebrated with a few family members and friends.
“I’m so thankful to everyone that followed the trip and either read about it or followed it on Facebook,” Kuntz said. “I just want to encourage people to do things like this, go beyond their comfort level, experience something new and then share it.”
That is the next step in his journey. During his trip, he corresponded via video conference with elementary school students in Western Springs, Ill., where his brother works as a teacher. During one session, Kuntz even got to take the class inside the Wanapum Dam in central Washington where they had a question and answer session with a worker there.
“They just lit up with real excitement and it was so much fun answering their questions,” Kuntz said.
And now he gets to make his presentations in person. In November, Kuntz will fly back to his home state of Illinois and meet with the students with whom he corresponded throughout the trip, as well as speak to a few other groups.
“I enjoy that because it gives me a chance to talk about the connection, especially with young people,” Kuntz said. There’s more to life than what you see in front of you. I can show you something that can enrich your life.”
Building connections was a big part of this adventure. When Kuntz had reached Brewster, he had been experiencing headaches and pressure, and had sand and wax built up in his ears to the point they were impacted. With no car, he had to count on others to help him get to a hospital in Wenatchee.
He also had some help getting around the various dams along the river. Without it, he would have had to spend more time pulling his 120-pound kayak several miles and then get back into the water, an arduous task for those in even the best of shape. Occasionally, a fisherman with a power boat would be able to help him along. In one particular instance, at the John Day Dam, an Army Corps of Engineers boat took him straight through.
A few folks, including his children, paddled alongside him as well. His son, Keith, went 50 miles him with over the course of two days in Oregon. He and his daughter, Kellie, also traveled about 120 miles together from Pasco to through the big bend where the Columbia River turns west toward the Pacific Ocean.
“That was really important, too, for me — to be able to connect with other people,” Kuntz said.
However, Kuntz spent most of the 73-day trip alone. And he battled the elements along the way.
He began his trip in August as the Pacific Northwest was under siege from wildfires. He often found his kayak and tent covered in ash, and he had to use a mask while he paddled to avoid breathing the smoke. The normally stunning views near Golden and Revelstoke in British Columbia were completely obscured by thick smoke.
After a sunny and relatively dry September, the fall storms arrived from the Pacific Ocean. Turning toward the coast, he encountered plenty of rain, and he was pinned down for an entire day with 30-40 mile per hour winds. As he neared Astoria, he found few suitable places to stop and make camp, so he pitched his tent underneath the I-84 overpass, which made for a noisy night’s sleep.
But on Oct. 11, he finally reached Clatsop Spit. He waited there a day for his brother and son to arrive before making the journey to Fort Stevens to commemorate the end of a journey.
Slowly but surely, Kuntz is readjusting to his normal routine. But as those who love for adventure are wont to do, he quickly went from dreaming of home to dreaming of life back out on the open water.
“I have it about every night,” Kuntz said. “Sometimes, I’ll wake up and I feel like I’m still in a tent.”
— Mark Krulish is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MKrulishKDN.