52 rivers. 52 weeks.
In her career as a librarian, Shelley Walchak spent countless hours fishing through library stacks.
Now retired and her libraries behind her, she is spending the first year of her second life fishing 52 rivers in 52 weeks.
The year-long trip began in January and this week finds her on the South Platte River, next week on the Flaming Gorge stretch of the Green River, following that she’s at Paco-Chu-Puk on the Uncompahgre and, well, you get the drift.
Shelley said her initial inspiration came after seeing the book “365 Days of Pikes Peak – The Journey,” a book by Shaun Daggett, aka The Pikes Peak Guy, with his photos of Pikes Peak taken every day for a year.
It stirred her to consider writing her own book, that of fishing a different river every week.
As she writes on her website, 52rivers.com, “During my time as a school librarian I learned the value of storytelling, both from the experts in the field and in my own experiences.
“I believe that stories are integral to our survival because they help us to experiment with our emotions and strategize on the challenges we face in life.”
Filling her calendar with a different river each week wasn’t as hard as you might imagine.
“It was harder to eliminate rivers than to find them,” the Denver resident said with a laugh. “Remember, I’m a librarian, and I know how to do my research.”
The trip began in Colorado and eventually visits Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, back to Colorado and then north to Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.
Then it’s back to Colorado in midsummer before another swing north and by November she’s back in New Mexico and finally tying on the year’s last fly in December on her home waters of the South Platte in Waterton Canyon.
Even with a journey only a cartographer might love, “There are so many rivers I’m leaving out,” she lamented.
Filling out that list of rivers also meant knowing when those waters would be most fishable.
“I’ll be in Montana in May and September because I wanted to fish those rivers up there, and I know I could fish those rivers early and then into October,” she said.
When not staying with friends or family, she stays in a 13-foot camper she pulls behind her Jeep Cherokee.
“That first month I knew I needed time to get my equipment and camper together, so I picked places I could drive to within two hours of home,” she said.
She said her initial idea was to fish 250 days this year but now says that might have been a bit exuberant.
“I’m finding fishing three days a week in the winter is about as good as I’ll do,” she said.
She plans to hike that up to seven days a week come spring.
“I’m not sure I’ll make 250,” she mused, “but I think I’ll make 200.”
Just so there’s no thought of otherwise, she’s completing this marvelous adventure with the complete support, and daily website check-in, of her fly-fishing husband, Florian, and her family.
“They think it’s the coolest thing in the world,” she laughed. “Florian loves it, and my middle son says he can’t wait to have his morning coffee and see what his mom’s been up to.”
For some of us, challenging ourselves to a river a week for a year would be fearsome, but Shelley’s life has been preparing her for this journey.
“I was a single mom for 11 years, worked three jobs to support myself and my family, and I’m now remarried for 13 years to my high school sweetheart,” she said. “In those years, I’ve learned how to do a lot of things and do them well.”
These early weeks of her quest have been a bit of a whirlwind, she said.
“I feel like I still have my feet in two worlds,” she said in early February. “This last month I’ve been trying to wrap up my old life and start my new life. But I’ll take a few days off for my granddaughter’s ninth birthday, so it’s all good.
“I’m very, very fortunate.”
You can follow Shelly Walchak’s journey through her blog and website, 52rivers.com.