WENATCHEE — This summer, Matt Honor has been having trouble making a fist.
“When I close my hands, they are the exact diameter of the paddle,” he said.
That’s the piece of equipment that has helped propel him more than half way down the Columbia River from its source at Columbia Lake in British Columbia.
Honor, a 23-year-old special education teacher at Eastmont Junior High School, hopes to paddle the length of the Columbia River on his stand-up paddleboard this summer. He started June 11 and expects to land in Wenatchee this afternoon for a few days off the river.
On Tuesday, he was at the Chelan Falls Park, just south of the Beebe Bridge.
“People tell me I’m crazy,” he said.
But Honor was smiling, then he broke out in a laugh.
“I guess I am.”
It was three years ago when Honor first got on a paddleboard, a 14-foot-long piece of Fiberglas that looks like a big surfboard. He took a few short spins on the Columbia River off of Riverfront Park and — wasn’t really hooked.
“To be honest, when I got on and paddled around, I was kind of bored,” he said.
But several months later, he was reading a story about a man who kayaked from Rock Island Dam to Vantage as a day trip.
“And I thought — this was a late night thought — ‘why not just do a day trip on the Columbia; why not do the whole river, and on a paddleboard?’ ”
He did some research and couldn’t find that anyone else had ever done that.
“I just thought, that was kind of cool,” he said. “It was something fun to do that would make stand-up paddleboarding more challenging.”
Honor took his first overnight trip over Christmas break this past winter. He paddled the Columbia from Chelan Falls to downtown Wenatchee.
“That was fun; I wore a dry suit because it was snowing,” he said. “It was interesting and fun to do.”
Crazy? “A little bit,” he said.
Honor decided the summerlong odessey was a go, and set about planning food drops, getting filters for water, packing freeze-dried food and planning his portages around a total of 14 dams. He sais he has had no trouble making it around any of the six he’s gone around so far.
Honor worked last summer as a guide on Wenatchee River rafting trips but that didn’t really prepare him for paddling down a big river like the Columbia that goes at different speeds, depending on rain runoff and how much water dam operators are letting out of reservoirs.
It also didn’t prepare him for the effect of wind on his paddling. Most days, Honor said, he travels 20 to 25 miles. But for a few days in British Columbia he went only seven miles a day because of the wind.
That was when he wondered if he’d really reach Astoria, Ore., by the middle of August.
“It was depressing, in a way,” he said. “It was the first time I’d thought that maybe I wouldn’t reach my goal.”
He said it also got him thinking that he might have to do the Columbia over two summers. “That would be OK, too,” he said. “People do the Pacific Crest Trail in sections.”
On the river, Honor also encountered what he thought were Class 2 rapids in British Columbia. They didn’t cause him to lose his balance, though.
“It wasn’t rocky stuff, just big white water foam,” he said.
Honor said he has only fallen off his board once, and that was on the first day when he hadn’t balanced his load of two packs well enough on the front and back of the board.
Honor mostly sleeps in a tent that he pitches along the riverbank wherever he happens to be when he reaches the point of exhaustion after 10- to 12-hour days of paddling. The exceptions: one night in a motel, one night in a bunkhouse and one night sleeping in a friendly Canadian’s backyard.
Honor said he’s gained an appreciation for the river.
“It’s fun. It’s big, “ he said. “It’s interesting going through some areas because you see the way the water moves and swirls and you can imagine what the rapids were like before the dams.”
Honor said he doesn’t get bored or lonely as he’s paddling for hours down the river, but he was looking forward to the multi-day stop in Wenatchee.
Instead of high-protein, high-fiber freeze-dried food, “I’m going to order something with tons of grease,” he said. He’s also craving sushi.
Honor said he has met some nice people along the way and hasn’t been hassled by anyone. Boaters, he said, are mostly curious.
“They slow down and look at me and maybe wave,” he said. “I did have one boater come out and bring me lunch.”
Other than swollen hands, Honor said, the paddling has been good for his body. He’s gained some muscle mass and lost some belly fat.
After the stop in Wenatchee, Honor plans to be back on his board on Sunday or Monday, headed for areas of the river known for serious wind. He expects it will slow him down, but not so much that he won’t make the final leg of his 1,243-mile journey.
Next summer, Honor said, he is thinking of “throwing on a backpack and hitchhiking or taking the train and exploring the country.”
Then he had another thought.
“I’d like to try skydiving and maybe get a squirrel suit,” he said, talking about the outfits that some people use to fly through the air off mountain tops. “Am I serious? Yeah, I’m serious. It sounds like a lot of fun.”