Former Winnipegger still plans to canoe across U.S., in spite of broken foot

A former Winnipegger who is paddling across the United States says she will persevere despite breaking her foot during a recent portage.

Jillian Brown is on 7-month, 7,600-km journey from Oregon to Florida

Jillian Brown says she broke her foot during a recent portage, but still plans to continue on her 7,600-kilometre canoe trip. (@jillianabrownphotography/Instagram)

A former Winnipegger who is paddling across the United States says she will persevere despite breaking her foot during a recent portage.

"There's not a lot of point for me to go to a doctor because they're just going to tell me to either have a cast on or not use it, and obviously I'm not going to listen to that," Jillian Brown laughed during a phone call to CBC earlier this week.

Brown, 30, who now lives in Squamish, B.C., is about six weeks into a seven-month journey from Astoria, Ore., to Miami, Fla., along with fellow canoeist Martin Trahan. The goal is to paddle in a canoe through a 7,600-kilometre route and reach their destination by mid-November, a grueling course that will see them battle upstream currents, weather and long portages.

The broken foot is just the latest challenge for Brown.

"I got a stress fracture our second day portaging and just kept going up until a few days ago, when I wasn't able to get my boots on anymore. So I was able to get a couple of rides from incredibly nice strangers up to our next campsite so that I could [heal]."

Jillian Brown on her journey across the United States. (@jillianabrownphotography/Instagram)

But the biggest challenge about the trip may have been the fact she met her paddling partner only three days before they left.

Trahan had his trip set up with a team and was ready to go but life got in the way, said Brown. As his team members dropped out, he found himself, well, up the creek without a paddle.

He had read about Brown and knew her by reputation, so he contacted her out of the blue to join the trip.

Jillian Brown and Martin Trahan pose before launching their canoe in Oregon in April. (Ryan Heck/Instagram @trekker_heck)

"He contacted me and asked if I wanted to go and join along, and we hadn't met until three days prior to putting in on the Columbia River, and we hadn't even spoken on the phone yet," said Brown.

"So I thought that was an interesting additive to the challenge. We're already pushing our bodies, our emotions … mentally. Why not add in the social dynamic of it too and see how that affects things?"

The pair left on April 28 and she said while the scenery has been spectacular so far, the highlight has been the people. 

"We have people honking, waving at us, every single day. We have people stop and giving us money, dropping off baked goods, park rangers that have driven 30 minutes to open up showers, open up campgrounds for us. It's just incredible."

Martin Trahan takes shelter under the canoe from the rain. (@Jillianabrownphotography/Instagram)

The pair are documenting their journey online through pictures and posts. Brown is also updating her Instagram account when she can.

No stranger to epic expeditions, the adventure photographer said she does it mostly for the challenge of pushing herself.

"There are a lot of reasons. To kind of see how far you can go," she said. 

"You're enduring so much pain and working so hard every single day and there's of course moments there's no way you can paddle against that current anymore," she said.

"It's not because you don't have the strength anymore, it's just that it's way too powerful.… You have to stop and choose a different route. And I love doing that and I love experiencing that and learning from it."


Elisha Dacey

Freelance contributor

Elisha Dacey is a writer and former journalist who previously worked with CBC Manitoba. Her favourite place is outside in her backyard hammock with her dog, a good book and a wilting garden.