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Community profile: Canoeist still paddling after stroke

Lee Snyder points out the route of his canoe trip from Thompson to Churchill, Manitoba, in 1975.
Charlie Wertheim / Post Independent

Lee Snyder just finished hiking the final segment of the Colorado Trail at age 68.

It’s more impressive knowing that he undertook the project after suffering a major stroke in 2017. He and his wife, Susan, starting hiking segments in 2018.

After his stroke he had to be attentive when holding things or he’d drop them.

But that was early on. It’s not such an issue anymore. 

He attributes that to a combination of learning how to compensate and his body rebuilding itself.

Still, there have been some changes.

“It makes his voice almost hoarse,” Susan said.

“I think he’s different, but one thing that’s the same is his sense of adventure,” his daughter Jess Kramer said.

That’s what he’d rather talk about; and, canoeing in particular. 

He even took three weeks off from his Colorado Trail hiking this summer to canoe in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area with his brother. 

“We get along pretty good,” Snyder said.

Well enough that he paddled a tandem canoe with him instead of taking two solo canoes.

He said he likes to go to Hoare Lake, which he pointed out on a Boundary Waters map that showed portages between lakes. 

There is no portage to Hoare Lake.

Adventurous spirit

Snyder has a history of doing things the hard way.

In mid-July 1975, when Snyder was 23, he embarked on a 29-day trip from Thompson to Churchill, Manitoba, on Hudson’s Bay. He, Dick Davidson and one other covered between 600 and 700 miles.

In mid-June 1979, when Snyder was 27, he made a canoe trip of 900-1,000 miles, which he could have called the Yukon to Yukon excursion. He, Davidson and two others started in the Yukon Territory off the Dempster Highway the first year it was open to the public, and ended up on the Yukon River at the North Slope Haul Road, now better known as the Dalton Highway.

“We didn’t have any trip advice about that, we just kind of did that on our own. We made our own trail, that was good. That was back in the days of compass and maps and making your own trail,” Snyder said.

While he says the trip was fun, it didn’t start out so well.

“The first nine days were the toughest,” Snyder said.

Considering they had canoes but no navigable river, that’s not surprising.

“The only problem was our starting point was 20 miles off the road so we had to portage to that,” Snyder said. 

The trip report written by Davidson describes the portaging the group faced on day 1.

“About 85% of the tundra this day (and the days to follow) was a ‘bad news’ type of tundra. Unstable, mushroomlike grass clods surrounded by quagmire. These clods rise 3” to 28” above the quagmire, and the quagmire was 2” to 15” deep before footing was reached,” Davidson wrote.

On days 3 and 4, at least there was some water to follow.

“We walk, lift, push, drag and plow the canoes through the willows. The lead man attacked the willow with the machete,” Davidson wrote.

On day 8 they lost the machete, but no longer had a need for it as they began to canoe the McFarland River. They canoed the McFarland to the Whitestone, which eventually joins the Miner which becomes the Porcupine, which flows to the Yukon River. 

The trip took “34 days with no nights,” as Davidson put it, not including the 12 days of driving time.

Journey to Glenwood

At the time, Snyder was living on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota bordering Nebraska. During the Hudson’s Bay trip he was working at Standing Rock bordering North Dakota.

“I had a social case worker job,” he said, which worked well when he was in his 20s.

“You’re kind of socially conscious; it was good work, it fit my values good,” Snyder said.

In his spare time he could canoe the tributaries of the Missouri River.

Lee and Susan Snyder at home in Glenwood
Charlie Wertheim / Post Independent

He had just met his wife, Susan, and she watched his dog, Blue, for him while he was gone on the Yukon trip. Actually, she didn’t see much of the dog, but she’d leave food out for him. She saw Blue when Snyder returned 46 days later.

Two years later, Lee and Susan married, and they moved to Glenwood Springs in 1989. 

Snyder, a licensed clinical social worker, worked for 18 years as a therapist in Glenwood Springs for Colorado West Regional Mental Health Center (now Mind Springs), and for seven years as social service director at the veterans home in Rifle.

Along the way he coached Little League and soccer for his kids. His son, Matt, was a senior on the football team during Glenwood’s illustrious undefeated state championship season. Snyder offers what may be even higher praise than that: “He’s a good paddler,” he said.

Like father like son.

Kramer said of her father, “He’s always the fastest one out there, and we’re all trying to keep up. Even when he takes my high school friends on a trip, we’re all younger and most of those guys are pretty muscular, but we’re all struggling to keep up.”

Susan said she’s never done a 900-mile canoe trip, but “most of the 10-day trips I’ve gone with him.”

She mentioned several locations, like numerous trips on the Niobrara in Nebraska; Quetico in Canada, which borders Boundary Waters; and Banff.

“He’s dragged us on a lot of trips,” Kramer said.

And he might even “drag” Susan on a Canada canoe trip for their 40th wedding anniversary in May — though she’s hoping for the French Riviera.

Trail time

Susan also joined him for 430 miles of the Colorado Trail hikes before she needed to give her feet a rest.

After a particularly hard day Susan was exhausted. Lee was indefatigable.

“He comes up to me and he goes, ‘Livin’ the dream,’” she said.

Snyder said he and Susan had no particular difficulties out on the trail.

“Her blistered feet and toenails were the only problems,” he said.

One advantage of hiking this summer was being away from the Grizzly Creek Fire.

“It was good to be down south, to tell you the truth,” he said.

COVID managed to have an impact on the hike to a certain degree.

“This year, we didn’t meet any international people. Usually you can meet people from a lot of places,” Snyder said. 

After 486 miles of adventures on the Colorado Trail, does Snyder prefer canoeing or hiking?

“I’d rather paddle,” Snyder said.

cwertheim@postindependent.com


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