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What is a Wild River Life?

Everyone who knows us, Susan and Adam Elliott, immediately thinks of rivers. At least that’s what we’ve been told. So, no surprise that we decided to sell most of our belongings, buy an old RV, and set out to paddle 50 of America’s Wild & Scenic Rivers for 2 years as the Wild River Life.

We’ve spent the last 10+ years of our lives exploring rivers all over the globe. Not just paddling them, but guiding people down them, educating students about them, measuring the water quality of them, and managing tourism businesses that showcased them. However, we recently began craving a better familiarity with the rivers in our own country, the rivers that have been treasured by generations.

Traveling with a Purpose

We created the Wild River Life to focus on a set of rivers that we didn’t know much about: the federally designated Wild & Scenic Rivers of America. We also wanted to embody our own values of living with less stuff and taking action to protect the outdoor places where we love to play.

Despite so many years on rivers, we didn’t know much about the Wild & Scenic designation. President Johnson signed the first eight rivers into protection in 1968, which would make 2018 the 50th anniversary of our nation’s choice to value rivers in their free-flowing state. Today, 200+ rivers fall under the Act’s protection. Wild & Scenic designation is probably the best tool for preserving the free-flowing values of a river. And rivers function best as free-flowing bodies.


Our trip goals would be simple:

  1. Paddle 50 Wild & Scenic Rivers by the end of 2018.
  2. Live with less while exploring the watersheds of our nation’s most treasured waterways.
  3. Spread awareness for the importance of river protection and clean water.


We officially hit the road in April 2017. But, living in the Pacific Northwest before we launched gave us a head start on checking off our 50 rivers. Our home base of Oregon boasts 59 of the 208 designated rivers – the most of any state.

The Right Set of River Gear

We’ve been living in our RV since the fall of 2016, which has given us practice with all of our systems. We played with our storage systems, winnowed down our gear selection, and continued to find stuff we didn’t actually need.

Selecting our river gear proved to be the most challenging. Along with discovering the diversity of America’s Wild & Scenic Rivers, we also wanted to experience those rivers in diverse ways. This means more equipment. Adam built a box trailer for our rolled raft + multi-day set-up. We installed four Yakima CoreBars on top that carry two bikes in FrontLoader mounts and 5 kayaks nestled up against 2 BigStack mounts (yes, we know, who actually needs 5 kayaks?).

However, the Northwest’s wet winter threw us a curve ball. Our trailer was not moisture-proof. Wet gear + open slats on the trailer floor had introduced moisture and mold inside the box. Our dry bags with their fabric handles were starting to sprout colonies of fur.

Susan, in particular, freaked out a bit.

Our solution: install more CoreBars and a SkyBox 21 on top of the RV to keep our soft goods protected from our wet lifestyle. We also repainted the interior and exterior of the trailer to rid any strongholds of our fungal friends. Finally, we looked forward to dry days of rolling through the desert.  Want to learn about installing racks on your RV or trailer? Check it out.

On the Road

Since April, we’ve paddled down the Merced River after seeing it pour over Vernal Falls in Yosemite Park. We’ve floated through Zion National Park on the Virgin River in peace and quiet as crowds trotted along the popular hiking trails nearby. We’ve snuggled with our dog around a campfire along the Oregon’s Owyhee River.

We’ve paddled, hiked and explored an incredible variety of our nation’s most treasured waterways…and it is only July.

Soon, we’ll investigate a few Montana rivers proposed as Wild & Scenic with our friends at American Whitewater. We’ll float iconic stretches of Idaho’s Salmon River and travel to new territory in the Midwest. After a few months back in Washington and Oregon, we’ll start preparing for our 2018 east coast tour and a whole lot more celebrating Wild & Scenic Rivers during the anniversary year.

Learn more about all of our nation’s incredible rivers by checking out the amazing non-profit: American Rivers.

We’d love to hear from you! Follow us on Facebook and Instagram @wildriverlife. Perhaps we’ll be near your favorite Wild & Scenic River soon!