Canadian duo Jillian Brown and Martin Trahan, winners of C&K’s 2017 Dream Adventure Contest, presented by NRS, are currently in the midst 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’s a journey that began with 500 miles of upriver paddling against the current of the Columbia and Snake rivers before transitioning into a hellish 375-mile portage across The Great Divide. Despite the obstacles outlined in our last update, the duo made immediate miles on high-water flows down the upper Missouri. While it may have seemed safe to assume this leg would be easier than the last, nothing can be taken for granted with Mother Nature. Deadly tornados, massive reservoir crossings and the daily struggle against ticks and nature’s elements have all threatened to veer their journey off track. But with a little luck and a whole lot of willpower, Brown and Trahan powered through the windy expanses of the “big three” reservoir lakes that stall through-paddlers (Fort Peck, Sakakawea and Oahe), and are beginning the next free-flowing downriver stretch of the expedition into the Missouri River heartland, currently heading into Omaha, Nebraska.

I sat on the bank of Lake Oahe for what seemed like hours watching the storm slowly engulf the setting sun. The rays broke through every crack in the clouds sending beams of light shooting off into the sky. As I sat mesmerized I was soon reminded the storm was headed my direction as a lightning bolt cracked over me. The rain began to blow its way across the lake and we started to run. The tall, wild grasses danced as the wind picked up. All light was gone as the thick clouds rolled in. All light but that of the incredible spectacle we were witness too. The lightning furiously struck around us, from distant to above. It's been over 100 days since we've seen a movie, but this was like our own personal theatre and it was the biggest most beautiful one you could have. "It's not a bad lesson to learn in the bleaker months: how you view a storm is a question of perspective; provided you find the right rock to watch it from, it could be the most incredible thing you'll ever witness." #danstevens • • • Official partners @canoekayakmag @nrsweb @mec #coursingthroughamerica #mec #mec_nation #unrulydreamers #neverstopexploring #canoekayak #nrs #theweathernetwork #weather #storm #lightning #shareyourweather #itsamazingoutthere #otvadventures #mycanonstory #canonusa #shotoncanon #yourshotphotographer #natgeoadventure #natgeowild #naturephotography #redbulladventure #mydiscovery #outside_project #outsidemagazine #wildernessculture #enroute #discoverearth

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While dealing with bad weather is a way of life for expedition paddlers like Brown and Trahan, their latest leg of the journey featured one storm that neither of them were ready for. The two were paddling across Lake Sakakawea in North Dakota, when the skies turned dark and their weather forecaster passed along an ominous message.

"Will I die tonight? Should I call the people I love?" Martin wrote in response to the previous message. "Yes, there is a possibility." Our weather expert replied bluntly. It began to sink in, this was going to be bad. We tucked into the cove, deep within the small hills. It was the only protection out on the lake. Our canoe lay flipped between three trees, tied at each end and we practiced climbing under to make sure we knew the plan. Our four barrels braced the walls of the tent, and pelican cases sat inside ready. 22 stakes were in the hard ground when we climbed in for a sleepless night. We lay there, sleeping bags still packed, our dry gear across us as blankets, waiting. As the night drew on, the messages came in. There is a tornado on the ground, the storm is headed your way. Lightning flashed outside and finally a crash of thunder rang out. Within a moment our dry pants, tops and shoes were on and we sat there. Pelican cases sitting beside us ready to shield our heads from the hail. We breathed slowly as the first few rain drops hit. Then more, it was all we could hear, the tent shook and the sides caved, and Thunder roared. And then, silence. We sent out the word to the numerous people who had been sitting up in their homes waiting to hear. We were ok. Our gear was ok. We can sleep. As we stirred the next morning we received the news. The small town we had called home for three days, that had welcomed us in like family was hit. The tragedy we everted struck head on leaving a wake of destruction. 1 dead, 28 hospitalized and 200 now without a home. Hearing the news was the true moment of fear. The realization of that blunt statement now had its full effect and we called our families. " I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain." #frankherbert • • Official partners @canoekayakmag and @nrsweb #coursingthroughamerica #unrulydreamers #otvadventures #outdoorwomen #neverstopexploring #outdoors #weather #weathernetwork #tornado #exped #expedition #adventure_culture #explore #mydiscovery

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Jillian’s account of the harrowing early July storm is chilling and the experience has left a lasting impression. It was a point both Brown and Trahan reiterated when discussing that terrifying night.

“We did everything to be safe and even though we did it, we were not safe,” said Trahan. “Sometimes Mother Nature is going to strike and there is nothing you can do about it.”

Photo: Jillian A. Brown

“I don't think either of us have moved past thinking about the night yet, because we are still getting hit by storms,” added Brown. “It seems like everyday we get a message that we are in a severe storm warning and you instantly think back to that night and what could have happened.”

Though for all of the life-threatening encounters, the duo has also been blessed with countless interactions and help from complete strangers along the route. Perhaps no experience was more memorable than when the two Canadians found themselves in the middle of a Fourth of July parade.

This was not an isolated case of American generosity.

“I thought Canada we were the friendliest people but so far in America we have always met amazing and generous people,” said Trahan. “This is one of our goals, we wanted to experience the American culture and we just love it.”

Photo: Jillian A. Brown

Beyond the local support, the canoeists achieved another major milestone last week when they completed crossings of all the major lakes and reservoirs along the upper Missouri. With the prospect of getting windbound on these large waterways now in the rearview mirror, the two should be able to make some serious progress, aided by the abnormally high flows of the Missouri River.

To get a deeper sense of what these two have experienced, look for our hour-long conversation with Brown and Trahan to drop later this week.

Follow their expedition:

Facebook: Coursing Through America

Instagram: @jillianabrownphotography  // @martin_trahan_canoeist

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