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Man passes through coulee on 1,250-mile kayak journey


John Kuntz puts his kayak in at the Crescent Bay boat launch Sept. 8, with the Grand Coulee Dam in the background. - Jacob Wagner photo

Imagine kayaking 1,250 miles down the Columbia River from Columbia Lake, in British Columbia, down to Astoria, Oregon.

That's exactly what John Kuntz, of Fort Gamble, Washington, is doing.

"It's beautiful," Kuntz said. "Lots of beaches, dramatic landscapes," adding that he's seen a variety of wildlife, including bear, elk, moose, river otter, turkey, coyotes, and at least the prints of cougars.

Kuntz, who is paddling the river in part as a way of "teaching youth the art of adventure," left the Keller Ferry area at about 7:30 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 8, and arrived at the Crescent Bay boat launch at 1 p.m.

Locals Peggy and Lou Nevsimal helped Kuntz get his kayak around Grand Coulee Dam.

Kuntz stayed at the Columbia River Inn for the night before continuing along his journey.

He started the journey Aug. 2, and should reach Astoria around October 13, he estimates.

With all his supplies, ranging from a tent, to cooking gear and food, to a GoPro camera attached to his touring kayak charged by solar power, Kuntz says he paddles about six hours a day, finding beaches to camp on along the way, or occasionally taking advantage of a motel or campground showers.

Kuntz will filter Columbia River water to drink, or boil it for cooking his meals of rice, pasta, canned meats, and more, on which he stocks up about 10 days-worth at a time. Kuntz noted that the water gets dirtier the further down river he travels.

Smoke was an issue earlier in the journey. "The smoke was just terrible," Kuntz said. "I had to wear a mask."

"One of the purposes of the trip is to get kids excited about the outdoors," Kuntz said. "It could be kayaking or hiking. If you look at what they're keeping themselves busy with, it's nonsense, it's junk. They could be out experiencing something like this, learning about nature, and growing in other ways. I'm not trying to tell them not to do that, but I'm saying there are better things to do than spending your time on your phone playing games."

Kuntz is dedicating his journey to Erica Reith, a 19-year-old who lost her life in an accident outside of the Chicago, Illinois area. Kuntz is friends with her mother. "An outstanding kid," Kuntz said about Reith. "She loved the outdoors and loved helping kids, so in that spirit is what I'm dedicating the trip to. She's somebody the kids can associate with."

Kuntz owns Olympic Outdoor Center in Fort Gamble, which sells kayaks, paddleboards, mountain bikes and more, and teaches classes about these activities.

His journey can be followed at, and includes information for teachers. Kuntz video conferences with classrooms around the country, answering questions and encouraging children to try adventure in the outdoors themselves.

But you have to be careful when you adventure!

"I got caught in a huge whirlpool at some rapids," Kuntz said. "Scared the daylights out of me! I was shaking afterwards. It makes you appreciate the challenge a little bit. I would say, if someone's going to do the river and rapids, they need some white water experience."

Another challenge came at the Canadian/United States border.

"You can't paddle through the border on the Columbia," Kuntz said. "You have to get out, and go up. The border station is on a little hill. But a little hill to me is a big hill, so it was quite the battle to get the kayak up there. They don't usually see kayaks crossing the border. It was pretty brutal."

Kuntz has wheels that attach to his kayak for such occasions.

From Grand Coulee Dam, Kuntz is making his way to Chief Joseph Dam, and beyond.

"I think we need to re-establish these environments, help nature," Kuntz said. Although appreciating the contributions of the dams, Kuntz said, "that there is no fish passage on Chief Joseph or Grand Coulee Dam is a tragedy."

A button on shows where he is currently on his journey. Teachers interested in video conferencing with him can reach him at 360-471-0836.

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