Carol Havens
March 10, 1980 12:00 PM

Approaching their first wedding anniversary this month, Greg and Cathy Jensen of Bend, Oreg. can claim a unique distinction: They have spent most of their married life paddling a canoe from one coast to the other. Last May 2 the Jensens stood near the mouth of the Columbia River in Oregon, christening their 18-foot aluminum canoe, Rip Snorter, with a cupful of Pacific Ocean water. On Dec. 12, 225 days, 4,900 miles, 15 rivers and untold aching muscles later, they repeated the ceremony at Tybee Island, Ga.

“Boy, you’ve got to be dedicated or tough or crazy to do something like that,” marvels Greg’s father, Chris Jensen, a retired biologist. But though Cathy and Greg were often up the creek, they were never without a paddle. “We never got sick and we never got hurt,” says Cathy. “It’s amazing what you can do when you take it all in little steps.” Adds Greg: “You just have to respect what Mother Nature says. If it’s a good day, you paddle 16 hours, and if it’s a bad day, you sit on the shore and watch the waves go by.”

The Jensens were out of the water five days while their canoe was transported by truck across Glacier National Park and the Continental Divide (and Greg and Cathy negotiated the 55 miles on foot). Afloat, they averaged better than 20 miles a day. Hoping to establish a national cross-country canoe route, they packed 150 pounds of gear in the 67-pound Rip Snorter and made the entire voyage without swamping or mishap. Cathy pitched the tent at night while Greg did the cooking; he lugged the canoe when they portaged. “It bothered me in the beginning when Greg had to carry it up really steep rocky places where I could hardly manage my pack,” says Cathy. “Finally I just didn’t look.”

The more experienced canoeist of the two, Greg, 32, grew up fishing, hunting, skiing and climbing. He worked his way through Portland State University as a fire fighter for the Forest Service and went on to earn his degree in biology. Greg makes his living distributing and repairing a fish-egg-sorting machine called the Jensorter that is used in hatcheries throughout the Northwest.

Cathy, 38, a doctor’s daughter, met Greg in 1976. She was leading a Bicentennial bicycle expedition that was spending the night in Charlottesville, Va.; Greg was beginning the return leg of a cross-country bike trip. A few months later he sent her a postcard. They corresponded; he invited her to Oregon. She went, then decided to stay. Cathy has been married and divorced twice. A son, Rick, 20, and a daughter, Lisa, 18, live with her and Greg; a son by the second marriage lives with his father in Kentucky.

The Jensens decided on their transcontinental voyage after two other canoeists set out on a similar trip in 1978 and were drowned. Greg and Cathy plotted their route along rivers once used by fur traders, traveling only by day except once, in South Dakota, where they paddled by moonlight to see a lunar eclipse. Pressing on through heat (108° in South Dakota last August) and cold (16° in South Carolina in December), they followed the Missouri River from Montana to the Mississippi, paddled down the Mississippi to the mouth of the Ohio, up the Ohio to the Tennessee and, finally, down the Savannah to the sea. “A lot of our trip was exciting,” says Cathy, “a lot was placid and peaceful, and a lot was monotonous, but it was never really boring. Going home was kind of sad really, but now I have a satisfied feeling. What we did wasn’t brave or adventurous. It was just a nice way to spend part of my life.”

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