Are You Up for a Marathon Paddle?

Marathon paddling…adventure paddling…distance paddling. Call it whatever you like, it's unlike any other adventure you can experience. If you’ve ever put your body through a long trip on the water, you know what I mean.

why marathon paddle

You don't have to be a body builder or an athlete with 2% body fat to be a distance paddler. The most important thing you need is a reason.

What’s Your Reason to Marathon Paddle?

A reason to leave behind your life. A reason to push your mind past exhaustion. A reason to push your physical limits beyond what you ever imagined.

My reason is this: Spending time out in nature, and specifically on the water, has emotional and physical benefits that go beyond what any pharmaceutical company can give you.

Without understanding why you’re on your board, kayak,or canoe you’ll certainly throw in the paddle before you complete your goal. You’ll come up with every reason not to take an extended paddling trip.

Some of my favorite excuses are:

  • ”My knees are bad.”
  • "I have a bad back and can't sleep on the ground.”
  • "I don't know how to start a fire.”
  • "What if I get lost?”
  • "I don't have any money.”

I’ve used every single one of those reasons to not go on a trip. But every time I did, I put that on my list of reasons to ignore when a new opportunity arose. On my last big trip I had less than $75 to my name—and that was needed for a bus ticket back home when I finished paddling the river.

Don't let excuses stop you from seeking the healing of being outside and on the water.

preparing to marathon paddle

Sometimes It’s the Extras that Matter

So now you have a clear understanding behind your why of a long adventure paddle. There are a few things I bring along that really make my trips more enjoyable.

I won't list the basics like tent, sleeping bag, camp stove, an Aqua-Bound paddle and your boat or board. These are the extras I treat myself to. (Since I won’t be carrying the pack on my back, I allow myself a few extra pounds!)

Here are my top four extras:

Real coffee! Not that instant stuff. Valentine Coffee Roasters out of Milwaukee is in my neighborhood. Their beans have been with me on every long-distance adventure paddle.

Coffee is usually how I start my day when I’m not paddling, so I make sure I have it when I am. I’m a bit of a coffee snob so I grind my beans on the river and I use a french press coffee mug. Does that sound a bit like a diva? I don’t care! I say treat yo'self!

Candy. If I’m doing a really long paddle where I know I’ll put in 8-10 hours of paddling a day, I know I’ll burn major calories. My favorite paddling candy is Twix bars.

I remember many 10-hour paddling days when I was so exhausted I couldn't even make dinner. On those days I opened up a Twix bar, chowed down, and passed out.

I realize that doesn't sound like an athlete-thing to do, but distance athletes are different. We’re weird! We do whatever it takes to survive, even if it means eating candy for energy.

SUP on a wisconsin river

A hammock. Yup, you read that right. I bring a tent to sleep in, but I also pack a hammock and straps. It’s a great way to relax after a long day of paddling. Even though I prefer sleeping in a tent, I love watching the sunset after a long day from the comfort of a hammock.

On my last  big trip down the Wisconsin River there were areas so flooded I wasn't able to set up a tent. So I slept in my hammock suspended between trees with a couple feet of water underneath me. It came in extremely handy and was well worth the extra weight.

A pillow. Seems simple, I know. So often we choose not to bring a pillow along and decide to use a sweatshirt or spare underwear to use as our head rest at night.

About a year ago I bit the bullet and decided to treat myself to a camp pillow. I knew I’d be out for weeks, and knew I’d need to recuperate every night. It was by far the smartest thing I’ve done in over four years!

I can't believe I told myself that camping should be less comfortable than my bed. That a pile of spare underwear would work as good as an actual pillow. For $25 I had incredible support for my head and only gave up a measly 5 ounces and 3 cubic inches in my dry bag. Boom! Pillow! Do it! Treat yo’self!

Adventuring into the great outdoors is something many of us take for granted—so much so we forget to do it.

Next time you’re thinking about taking a trip—whether 2 days or 21 days—take that leap and go. And make sure to bring along a few things that’ll make your experience a little extra special.

(You can find more about Jesse at

(All photos courtesy of Jesse Hieb)

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