Stories of a SUP Descent of the Spokane River at the 2018 Expo

Join Jed Conklin and Allison Roskelley at the Spokane Great Outdoors and Bike Expo on Saturday, February 24th, as they share the highs and lows of their first descent of the Spokane River via Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP). In mid-August of 2017, Jed, Allison, and their friend Grace Robison set out at the mouth of the Spokane River (on Lake Coeur d’ Alene) and paddled four consecutive days to the confluence of the Spokane and Columbia Rivers at Lake Roosevelt in Two Rivers, Washington.

What does it take to embark on such a trip? An adventurous spirit, a lifejacket and helmet, and the gumption to paddle 25-30 miles a day, come smoke or high water.

Grace, Jed, and Allie crouch near their paddle boards on land (Photo: Jed Conklin Photography)

Grace, Jed, and Allison (Photo: Jed Conklin Photography)

While Jed has some experience riding a SUP as a rescue swimmer at local Ironman competitions, and Allison had used a SUP a handful of times for leisure, they both learned from their 112-mile paddle and have some tips to help others get out and enjoy the Spokane River.

“For me, the biggest challenge was lack of experience. I truly had no idea what I was getting into, which was both empowering and absolutely terrifying at the same time,” says Allison. “I experienced many moments of ‘I can’t do this’ and ‘What the hell am I doing out here!?’ I had to actively fight through those thoughts because I wasn’t going to let myself quit.”

The see-it-through mentality paid off as Allison and her SUP pals got to experience the diversity of the Spokane River, from the calm and meditative waters through Spokane Valley to the rough whitewater through Riverside State Park.

Paddling through thick wildfire smoke in August 2017 (Photo: Jed Conklin Photography)

Paddling through thick wildfire smoke in August 2017 (Photo: Jed Conklin Photography)

For Jed, who planned the trip from the start, it was all about finding adventure in his own backyard.

“We’re fortunate having the [Spokane] river right here,” says Jed. “The first night we were paddling in the dark with headlamps through rapids. And the smoke sucked. The dams were a real pain, too. But not everyone can just jump on a paddleboard and go 112 miles.”

As the trio set out in the dead of summer, they took only the essentials. Jed says they had board shorts, puffy jackets, some food and beer, and a toothbrush. The crew propped up their paddleboards and slept on land, spreading sleeping bags out on their boards.

“It wasn’t the most cozy setup, but we were so tired by then that it didn’t matter,” says Allison.

Paddle boarders "cheers" beers with head lamps and paddle boards on shore (Photo: Jed Conklin Photography)

A nightcap via headlamp (Photo: Jed Conklin Photography)

The trio used a small Jetboil stove to cook up some backpack dinners, and also stopped over at friends’ houses who lived on the river for some food. At one point, Allison says she was able to meet her father-in-law on the river to retrieve a helmet from him, an item she hadn’t originally set out with, which paid off. Despite being an “urban” adventure, as Allison puts it, where they paddled through civilization, the crew came up against some challenges.

Allie and her father-in-law, John Roskelley, a few hundred yards from the team's final destination at the confluence of the Columbia River and Lake Roosevelt. John and his wife, Joyce, met the team at various stopping points along their route to drop snacks and kombucha. (Photo from Allie Roskelley.)

Allison and her father-in-law, John Roskelley, a few hundred yards from the team’s final destination at the confluence of the Columbia River and Lake Roosevelt. John and his wife, Joyce, met the team at various stopping points along their route to drop snacks and kombucha. (Photo: Rich Landers.)

“I didn’t think I needed [a helmet], which definitely stemmed from my own ignorance and lack of experience,” says Allison. “I will never go on a long-distance paddle again without a helmet. I ended up having my in-laws meet me at a section of the river before the Bowl and Pitcher rapids to drop it off, and I was so thankful. I had a pretty big topple through a set of whitewater thereafter.”

Allie paddles through the Bowl and Pitcher rapids at Riverside State Park in Spokane. (Photo from Allie Roskelley.)

Allison paddles through the Bowl and Pitcher rapids at Riverside State Park in Spokane. (Photo: Rich Landers.)

The Bowl and Pitcher area is one of the most accessible stretches of the Spokane, but, with the challenging whitewater, the area turned out to be Jed’s favorite stretch of the trip.

“We did have to portage around the Devil’s Toenail. It was un-runnable. That whole section of Riverside State Park, the Bowl and Pitcher area, was just killer. If you had to narrow it down to one point, that section was the most fun. High adrenaline and super fast. It was cool,” says Jed.

The trio faced the challenge of thick wildfire smoke and low water levels due to the time of year, but they were able to experience good water, good speed, and caught a nice ride through Peaceful Valley with all of the other “day floaters.”

The girls portage their stand up paddle boards (Photo: Jed Conklin Photography)

The crew had to portage their stand up paddleboards around dams (Photo: Jed Conklin Photography)

After their paddle saga, Jed and Allison both recommend going minimal in terms of gear.

“At the end of the day, I just packed ultra-light like I’d be doing some kind of overnight backpacking trip, except it went into a dry bag instead of a backpack,” says Jed.

Allison recommends first aid for yourself and your board, a couple layers of clothing, and a water purification system. During the trip, Allison especially enjoyed the MSR TrailShot Microfilter, as it allowed her to drink straight from the river. She’d also recommend a pair of polarized sunglasses attached to a pair of floaty Croakies, and a supportive pair of water shoes that are sturdy enough to trek over rough land.

Paddling on the Spokane amid heavy wildfire smoke (Photo: Jed Conklin Photography)

Paddling on the Spokane amid heavy wildfire smoke (Photo: Jed Conklin Photography)

The best way to adventure, according to Allison, is to just give it a shot with the knowledge that you’ll be better prepared next time:

“I always say you start each new adventure with something called a ‘suffer bucket.’ At the end of each adventure, that suffer bucket grows, and then it’s at a larger capacity to start the next adventure, to move you on to something greater.”

Adventure friends help too; Allison says there were some stretches of the river she would absolutely not have made without the support of Jed and Grace.

Navigating some rapids (Photo: Jed Conklin Photography)

Navigating some rapids (Photo: Jed Conklin Photography)

Attend Jed and Allison’s presentation, “Backyard Adventure: First SUP Descent of the Spokane River” at 10:15 a.m. on Saturday, February 24, to hear more tips and inspiration to plan your own SUP adventure. The crew used inflatable paddle boards, which are easy to rent and fairly affordable these days. If you’re an athlete, SUP is a great and affordable way to get out on the water that runs through our beautiful Inland Northwest.

 

About the Spokane Great Outdoor and Bike Expo:

Where: The Spokane Convention Center, 334 W Spokane Falls Blvd, Spokane, WA 99201

When: Saturday, February 24, 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. and Sunday, February 25, 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Tickets here

More Info here