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Not the Sharpest Tool in the Raft Shed

The first time I rowed a raft was on the Rogue River.  Come to think of it, the very first time I rowed - anything - was on the Rogue River.
Thirteen kayakers led by a WWU professor hired me to haul their cargo on a week long trip.  But there was one glitch - I was a paddle guide.  I had no idea how to row.  What I knew about rowing you could put on the back of a matchbook cover.
But it was an offer I couldn’t refuse for two reasons.  It was the Rogue River made famous by Zane Grey, the pulp fiction western writer, and by guide books claiming the Rogue harbored one of the country’s ten biggest rapids.


More importantly, the kayakers were paying me five hundred dollars for the week. 
I saw no reason to dissuade them of their offer, or mention my deficiency.  I set about building an oar frame out of knotty pine purchased at the local lumber yard.
I found a blueprint for a rudimentary frame in a river running handbook.  I wisely, and assiduously, countersunk the bolts binding the planks togeth…

Dam River

“So, this is how it is going to end,” I thought.
Ironic. 
Steelhead Falls - Lower White Salmon - low water
It appeared I was to be the first drowning fatality on one of my company’s outings.  After all these decades.  Nothing sobering about it.  I was already as sober as a church deacon.  I was being flushed through an unfamiliar gorge toward an uncertain ending.  My thoughts as incurious as a heifer facing her demise.
I can’t define irony but I know it when I am experiencing it.
It was only moments before I was masterfully in charge of my raft and three powerful, experienced paddlers.  We were wending our way downstream on the Lower White Salmon, marveling at the changes since Condit Dam’s removal.  The dam had plugged the river for quite some time, and was now meticulously deconstructed and effectively vanished.  Videos immortalizing its vanishing act were viral internet sensations amongst the conservation crowd.
Time lapse photography.  Aerial cameras, perhaps drones, observing the destr…

A Most Unlikely Candidate

The call came in the dead of winter.  It was a Seattle winter; therefore, instead of layers of snow blanketing the ground, or biting Arctic air knifing through your thickest, down jacket, there was a dismal grey light coming through the window and the streets glistened with rain.  Any phone call was a welcome distraction.
His voice sounded young, his questions were many and he spoke in the laconic parlance of surfers.  Or, in his case, a snowboarder.
He wanted to know about rafting and, specifically, guide training.  He hailed from Baltimore and was working his way westward.  That winter, he was a “liftie” at Schweitzer in the panhandle of Idaho.  A Democratic governor with a penchant for Krispy Kreme donuts and blue dresses had just been elected president and - frankly - anything seemed likely.  
Even so, I was dubious.  
A snowboard punk thousands of miles from home, unfamiliar with the Northwest, expecting to land in Seattle and earn a living guiding!  What were his odds, I wondered?  …