Why I am Paddling a Homemade Canoe through all 50 States

Adventurer Justin Riney on a new year ahead, searching for the simple life in wilderness

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SEARCHING FOR THE SIMPLE LIFE IN WILDERNESS

BY JUSTIN RINEY

Nothing is static. Everything shifts and changes and evolves with the timing of seasons. A new year, unmarred and rich with possibility, presents us all with renewed opportunity to make adjustments in our paths.

My name is Justin Riney, and I was born in the rolling hills and countryside of East Texas. My family owned a modest home and small plot of land on Lake Jacksonville, and so my childhood consisted of skipping rocks, wandering through woods, searching for frogs and snakes, rolling in wheelbarrows, and swinging from tire swings. We lived simply and didn't need much at all. Hell, we didn't want much. And those early years, I now realize, have quietly withstood the test of time, buried deep within my subconscious and heavily influencing the man I am today.

At the age of 33, having never experienced mountains or the full cycle of seasons, last year I shed my belongings and ventured north to Appalachia for the winter and spring. I continued west to the Rockies in summer, and finally on to the lower Cascades of the Pacific Northwest for fall. My world had suddenly grown much larger, and I knew my standards would never be the same. I'd traded the suffocating buzz of society for the quiet, peaceful rhythms of wilderness, and I felt closer to the land than ever before. Closer to that simpler life I've longed for since childhood.

And so a new year begins, and I'm ready to make some exciting adjustments to my path. This month, I'll head to Bozeman, Montana, to prepare a home base for several years of work ahead. In February, I'll reconnect with an old friend, Johnny "Driftwood” Ruskey, from the Quapaw Canoe Company in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Under his guidance, I'll spend the next three to four months crafting a handmade voyageur-style canoe from Louisiana bald cypress, documenting the building process from start to finish, and exploring one of America's historic wildlands, the Lower Mississippi, along the way. Upon completion of the canoe, I'll pack my bags and embark on perhaps the greatest journey of my life: exploring wilderness and waterways in all 50 states of my home country.

I invite y’all to join me if you'd like. Canoeing will obviously be a big part of this adventure, and I've partnered with Canoe & Kayak to share that portion of my trek, though paddling certainly won't be the only medium. Don't be surprised to see me hiking, fishing, camping, surfing, kayaking, mountain biking, snowboarding, climbing—I hope to connect with the outdoors in many ways. I'll be road-tripping throughout the country in my old Ford pickup, utilizing the National and State Parks as an infrastructure and heading deeper into wilderness on foot and by water where possible. This will be a patchwork series of small, medium, and large projects, and I'll be starting from scratch and building this out naturally as I go. No rigid plans, timelines, or expectations; I'll remain open and free to pursue whatever opportunities present themselves along the way, sharing the highs and lows of my experiences with a focus on authentic, raw documentation from the field.

I look forward to sharing my world with y’all as I explore America's vast outdoors. I'm convinced that wilderness holds the path to a simple, balanced life, and I'm going in search of it.

— Justin Riney will be writing and photographing for C&K from the field. Previously Riney spent an entire year paddling 2,500 miles around and through Florida, earning a nod as the Top Expedition at the 2013 SUP Awards. Follow Riney’s work on C&K through periodic Dispatches, or see more from his daily travels on riney.earth, as well as Riney’s Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook pages.

— Read more Dispatches from the Field as Dave and Amy Freeman continue their year-long journey in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.