Photos by Jillian Brown

Last time we checked in with Canadian duo Jillian Brown and Martin Trahan, winners of C&K's 2017 Dream Adventure Contest, presented by NRS, they had just completed the first leg of Coursing Through America, a radical 4,750-mile canoe voyage from the Pacific northwest coast to the Atlantic waters on the tip of Florida.

It was a brutal introduction to the journey that had them paddling upstream against both the Columbia and Snake rivers for over 500 grueling miles. Despite the long haul to start the trip, our last update left off as they geared up for their most daunting challenge yet: portaging across the Great Divide — all 375 miles of it.

Countless blisters, a broken foot and plenty of blood, sweat and tears later, the duo has made it to mighty Missouri River. To get a sense of what their trek over the Rockies was like, Brown’s journal from the road give us an up-close look at the challenges, triumphs and what lies ahead on their epic journey. 

Sometimes it rains! A lot of people like rain, I don't! When I was younger, I was telling ladies how much I liked walking under the rain to impress them! Don't get me wrong, I'm a romantic guy. I would love to walk under the rain with a sweet lady holding hands but alone, haha never! Many people would say rain is life, it allows you to be alive, to canoe on lakes and rivers, to live your dreams…alright then, it could rain when I'm sleeping in my tent. This would be amazing! At least, the photos and the light are amazing when it's dark and raining 😉Sometimes, I'm not a badass!* * 📷 @jillianabrownphotography * * #rain #storm #explore #adventure #photography #chasingthelight #love #romantic #novacraftcanoe #ospreypacks #fjallraven #mec #coursingthroughamerica @novacraftcanoe @ospreypacks @fjallravencanada @fjallravenusa @mec @mec_pleinair @nrsweb @canoekayakmag @garmin

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We arrived in Helena, Montana after completing the 350-mile portage on June 12, or day 46 of the expedition. We spent a couple days recovering, resupplying and reorganizing our gear before hitting the river again. We are now in Great Falls, Montana after having paddled two and a half days down the Missouri River (113 miles), portaging dams and battling the pouring rains and relentless headwinds–with gusts of over 40 mph while crossing Lower Holter Lake.

The portage was grueling and scary.

Just keep walking.

A few miles from Orofino, Idaho, the highway narrows into tight turns, big cliffs and no shoulder. We found ourselves running as best we could around the rock walls and even jumping the guardrail at one point in fear of oncoming RVs. On day two of our portage, I began to experience severe pain in my right foot. After consulting doctors we determined there was a stress fracture, but rather than heed any advice of stopping, we pushed on.

Three days before reaching Helena, my feet hurt and were so swollen that I could no longer get my boots on. With the break in my right foot, I had been compensating with my left which caused huge blisters. The swelling and pressure was pushing two toes against the boots and had turned them black and blue, which felt as though they had been hit with a hammer. My heels raw, blistered and bleeding.

Portaging 375 miles takes a toll on the feet.

That was the hardest moment, looking at Martin and telling him I can’t walk and that he has to go alone. It was not the pain that had me at the point of tears, it was watching my partner walk down the highway with the canoe alone, as I waited for a ride to our next camp.

As much fear and exhaustion as we may have had, the people we encountered along the road over-shadowed it all. Every day we received honks and waves from the passerby, numerous cars would pull off to check on us, offer assistance, and once finding out our story, hand us everything from full lunches and baked goods to money to go towards a good meal. At each camp, we encountered amazing people who reminisced upon their days of adventuring–sharing wine, laughs and support.

The duo is all smiles as they are back on the water and off of their feet.

I think going into the expedition, we would have said that with the portage done, the crux is now behind us. However, we have learned each and every day on the river and while hiking, to expect the unexpected. From the unexpectedly high waters and open dams of the Columbia and Snake rivers, to the lack of shoulders along highways and fractured feet.

We can only say there is likely more hardship ahead and do not forget it for a moment. That is what helps us appreciate even the little breaks in the rain we have had thus far, these three days on the Missouri River.–Jillian Brown

We woke to the familiar sound of rain beating down on our tent fly. We both burrowed deeper into our cozy sleeping bags pretending we didn't have to get up to paddle in the down pour. Soon the inevitable came, though, and we slowly climbed from our warm nest among the wild flowers. The tap-tap-tap continued as the rain now came down upon our hoods. Our dry wear had been broken out the day prior and it now became vital, not just on the water but around camp. The cold winds would drive the sheets of rain into us as we broke camp, reminders of our days on the Columbia River. Going from a calm, strong stroke, to a full sprint with all our strength in moments. We had already made plans to skip lunch that day to keep paddling and as we became increasingly immersed in the storm, continuing to move was the only way to keep going. It was that or the chill set in and we risked our sleeping bags not being enough to break free from it. "Live in moments that consume your heart and mind, but be distracted by the music from the leaves, birds, wind, rain, sun and people" #valuchendu Follow @jillianabrownphotography and @martin_trahan_canoeist as they move across the country by canoe.

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Stay tuned for updates from the expedition, plus follow @jillianbrownphotography  and @martin_trahan_canoeist as they post from the trail, and check their progress in real-time with their expedition map tracker.

Read more on the Dream Adventure Contest, and the last year’s winning expedition, the Patagonia Triple Crown.