LEWISTON – For Thorin Loeks, adventures are all about living in the moment, appreciating the little things and meeting new people.
The 31-year-old from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada, passed through Idaho’s Lewiston-Clarkston Valley during an epic cross-country journey. He arrived by canoe on Aug. 17 and left via bicycle Aug. 23, en route from Astoria, Oregon, to the Gulf of Mexico.
It’s not his first long-distance, human-powered trek. He previously paddled from Lake Itasca, the source of the Mississippi River in Minnesota, to the Gulf of Mexico and has biked from Astoria to Portland, Maine.
He started this journey May 22 and paddled up the Columbia River before taking a right turn at the Tri-Cities and heading up the Snake River. He battled high spring flows on the lower Columbia, portaged around the eight dams on the two rivers and, lately, sweated through a string of days with temperatures that shot well past 100 degrees. But he leans into the hardships of the trip and the lessons they bring.
“It feels like it just helps me grow. It makes me appreciate the little things even more,” he said.
Take ice and insulated water bottles as an example – two things most of us take for granted. But when he takes a swig of cold water on a 105-degree day while paddling upstream on the lower Snake River, the minor luxury isn’t lost on him.
“It’s like, ‘Oh, this is just so nice,’ ” he said. “Like every time I drink out of it, I’m so grateful for that compared to using an old plastic bottle; and just going through these different forms of adversity makes me appreciate when I get to a town and meet nice people. I sit in an air conditioned place and have a good conversation or, you know, like ice – a drink with ice in it.”
When he passed through the valley, Loeks had traveled about 450 miles. That was a good distance, but anyone doing the mental math may have surmised he was only averaging about 5 miles per day. Loeks said he was in no hurry.
He was on break from graduate school, where he is studying to become a city planner. He looks at his trip as research. He has no problem stopping for a day, or three or more, in communities along the way to meet people and learn about their homes.
“I’ve been doing my thesis actually while paddling – so studying communities along the way and talking to people about what it is that they love about where they live and what is it that makes for a great community. What makes it a place that people want to live? And what are some of the challenges as well?”
He also uses such stops to bring in a little cash. He’s a singer-songwriter and books impromptu gigs and sells CDs wherever he can. In August, he took the stage at Hogan’s Pub in Clarkston. Little by little, he makes enough to fund the expedition.
“It’s just incredible how organically things come together when you’re open to it,” he said.
But he couldn’t do it without help, and people have been eager to give it. Take Tom Eier, for instance. The Lewiston man and Lewis and Clark Expedition aficionado has established himself as part of a loose network of “river angels” – people who give aid to those paddling the Columbia, Snake, Missouri and Mississippi rivers.
Eier met Loeks at the Green Belt Boat Ramp in Clarkston, housed him for part of his stay in the valley and hauled his canoe to Three Forks, Montana, where the water portion of his trip resumed.
“The amount of people that have helped me and just the generosity and kindness of – quote, unquote – strangers, has just blown me away. It’s really restored my faith in humanity. It doesn’t matter what people’s backgrounds are, there’s good people everywhere.”
On Monday, Loeks decided to end the trip for this year after making it to Great Falls, with plans of returning next summer and paddling to the Gulf of Mexico.
“It is truly hard to put into words what the last four months have meant to me,” he said on his blog Monday. “I have met and befriended so many wonderful people and had so many special moments in the different worlds I have been lucky enough to travel through.”
His journey is available at thorinloeks.com, with links to his several social media pages that include Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and a podcast.
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