• Leon Pantenburg | Survival Common Sense


Best canoe? 40+ years and this Coleman is still going strong

600 341 Survival Common Sense Blog | Emergency Preparedness

Good gear is an investment. I bought my 15-foot Coleman Ram-X canoe before I set out on my 1980 Source-to-Sea voyage on the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico.

The canoe served me well, and it is still being used. 

by Leon Pantenburg

Throwing rocks in the water is an important part of canoe adventuring.

My sister-in-law sent me these first two photos last week. I gave my canoe to my brother Mike several years ago, and it was used at Payette Lake in McCall, Idaho. Mike and his wife Julie took their kids out in the boat, and it was probably the kids’ first introduction to canoeing.

Several years later, Mike’s family got into kayaks, and the canoe wasn’t being used much. With my prior – and enthusiastic – permission, Mike gave the canoe to his nephew, Neal.

I am delighted to see how the canoe is being today. Neal recently took his sons out fishing in the old canoe at Lucky Peak Reservoir near Boise, Idaho. They are being raised right.

Good parenting: These brothers were out with their dad learning how to fish and have fun outdoors.

Here is the rest of the canoe’s story.

“I dub thee Dunderhead! (Read “Life on the Mississippi” by Mark Twain to get the full impact of that name!) said Andy Michalicek, as he threw a handful of sand into the canoe. It was June 7, 1980, and the boat was in the tiny creek that flowed out of Lake Itasca, Minnesota and that would later become the Father of Waters. I intended to paddle to the ocean. (You can read the story of that voyage here.)

Mississippi River Headwaters, 1980 canoe trip

The first bridge, about 100 yards downriver from the source of the Mississippi River.

Several Iowans were there. Andy, a roommate from Iowa State, had gone along to help shuttle vehicles. My sister Karla Pantenburg Moore and friend Alan Johnson had gone along to paddle with us for the first week. My brother Michael was going to go with me some 600 miles south to St, Paul, and the rest of trip would be a solo. I reached Venice, Louisiana on November 29 of that year.

Mike piloted Dunderhead nearly 600 miles, from Lake Itasca to St. Paul.

I am very attached to Dunderhead. It was bought at J.C. Penny’s in Ames, Iowa, prior to the Mississippi trip. I wanted something other than aluminum in the boat, because of the summer heat on the big river. Dunderhead was made of this new material called Ram-X 2, a combination of Kevlar and fiberglass, and I figured the material would not reflect heat as badly as aluminum would.

I got the 15-footer, because I wanted something small enough to handle solo once Mike left the voyage.  Dunderhead was assembled in my garage, and was used several times on Iowa rivers before heading for the big river. After the Mississippi River trip, the canoe was used extensively in Idaho, Oregon and the state of Mississippi.

I still use the 15-foot canoe that carried me all the way to the gulf.

Belle, my son Jimmy and I use the canoe on Oregon’s John Day River. All my kids learned how to fish from the bow of Dunderhead.

Dunderhead has been in blazing hot heat on desert rivers, and in snow storms on the Upper Iowa River.  It rolled down the Clarno Rapids on Oregon’s John Day River after my wife and I dumped it at the head of the rapids.

I slept under Dunderhead in a few rain storms, and weathered a tornado underneath it on the river below St. Paul. The canoe and a tarp made up many shelters while I was camping on big river sandbars. I rowed it through the port of New Orleans in the dark. (Yeah, that was against all advice and really, really stupid. If there had been a choice that would never have happened.)

The value of some things increases when they are passed on. So I am very glad and beyond pleased that Dunderhead ended up being a family’s canoe.

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Here are some of Dunderhead’s archival photos from the Source-to-Sea voyage.

Mike and Karla attempt to jump a beaver dam with Dunderhead. It didn’t work very well.

Some portages around the dams were grueling.

Mike, eating breakfast and reading “Tom Sawyer.”

Taking shelter under a bridge during a rain storm seemed luxurious.

Dawn on the Mississippi.

Pulling in for the night.

The huge towboats need a lot of room to pass.

I rowed Dunderhead through the Post of New Orleans in the dark, undoubtedly one of the stupidest things I’ve ever done.

Venice, Louisiana was as far as I could go on the Mississippi. I symbolically broke my spare paddle to signify the end of the journey.


Dunderhead made the cover of “Picture” magazine after we completed the big river trip.

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