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The Phenomena of People

I do not have a river story for you this week, but I had a visit from a good friend from Bellingham and our reunion reminded me of one of the other reasons I have persevered with this little cottage industry.



I wrote a story a few years back titled "Why I (Continue to) Raft" and the gist of that column was that I realized how much I enjoyed getting people out on the water and watching the transformation.  It ended with the brief tale of my very young nephew from Dallas who floated the Skagit and - at first - was terrified of the moving, darn-cold-if-you're-from-Texas water.  And, despite being on a trip surrounded by a large Y group of boisterous Northwesterners who could not get enough of swimming, it appeared he would endure the trip and be ecstatic to see the takeout and a warm, dry car.

When we were halfway down the river, his entire attitude did an about face.  And by the time we hit the takeout he WAS ecstatic, but not about being finished and back to dry land.  …

Our Own Private Idaho. . . River - Part 2

“The Selway, between Double Drop Rapids and Ladle Rapids, has averaged one drowning per year, over the past 8 years.” the veteran Selway River guide intoned.  “Don’t take it lightly.”
~~
After awkwardly clambering up a steep slope above Double Drop Rapids in an effort to get a peek at what lurked around the bend, those words lay harbored in the back of my mind.  With the Selway rising, rocks were disappearing and ugly hydrologic features were emerging.  

The reason those who scouted the day before were nonplussed about location was because they had noted an enormous boulder at the head of Double Drop Rapids.  
An enormous boulder.  With the rising tide, the telltale boulder was engulfed.
From the scout, I had no doubt of the preferred route.  However, the slightest miscalculation risked an encounter with some of the explosive breaking waves toward the rapid’s tail.  The more technically difficult Ladle Rapids were far enough downstream to be out-of-sight but close enough to not be out-of-…

Our Own Private Idaho. . . River - Part 1

“The Selway, between Double Drop Rapids and Ladle Rapids, has averaged one drowning per year, over the past 8 years.” the veteran Selway River guide intoned.  “Don’t take it lightly.”
As if we needed additional angst prior to boating one of the most difficult rivers to get a permit for in the country and one of the most remote rivers to navigate.  Our long drive to the put-in carried us deep into the forested Idaho wilderness. 


It was springtime.  The weather was gorgeous.  The skies were the kind of blue poets wax over and writers fawn on and on about struggling to come up with an original description.  The river itself was flowing at an optimal level for a party that had never seen any of its whitewater.
It’s not that we weren’t loaded with experience, we were.  Just not loaded with experience on the Selway.
Our group consisted of a paddle raft, a cataraft, two kayakers and a bevy of oar boats.  What we discovered at the put-in on the morning of our launch was that we were critically s…

Pain and Suffering in Patagonia - Part 2

(A little over halfway around the circuit trail of Torres del Paine, running short on food, running short on patience, our intrepid adventurers, having moved on to a camp safe from falling timber, discover ‘el sendero’ - the trail - might just get worse. . . )
The night following the lunch communication fiasco we camped away from the forest of quaking, due-to-topple-at-any-moment behemoths, enjoyed a final cookie and began dreaming of being anywhere but on that godforsaken trail.  The winds off the glacier were sporadic, but always prevalent.  As we tromped the western portion of the trail most exposed to the glacial torrents, we started encountering ravines with lively, splashy streams.  




A few posed no challenge to cross but one was especially treacherous.  Other than the slippery footing due to algae on the surface of the stones, gusts of wind with enough power to fling you backwards were palpable against our bulky backpacks.  At one ravine, the winds were so strong we were forced to…

Pain and Suffering in Patagonia - Part 1

We utilized a half dozen modes of transportation to wend our way to the end of the South American continent - train, plane, taxi, rental car, ‘chicken bus’ and foot.  When we reached Puerto Montt, we mulled over taking a ferry to the ‘earth’s end’ but airfare was so enticingly inexpensive and, as an added bonus, it included complimentary cocktails on a spacious jumbo jet. 
We felt like dirtbag jet setters. The ‘end of the earth’ was gorgeous and windswept.  The glaciated mountains to the north were stark beckoning sentinels on the horizon.  We were in the land of Patagonia and the Argentinian Fitzroys - famous climbing destinations and mountain ranges.  Tricia, Robert, Kent and I came to Chile for river adventures, but we journeyed to the southernmost end to exercise our legs. The jagged peaks we could see from the hostel were called the Torres del Paine, part of the region’s most noted national park.  “Towers of the Pain,” I thought, “Great.”  Actually the origins of the name Paine …

Big D Little A Double L A S

We called him Heavy D.  Because his gait was reminiscent of Bigfoot and carabiners were a part of his stock and trade.  
We called him Dilly Dally.  Because his concept of time was warped.  Skewed more toward the Latin American version than the northern European version.
I called him Big D, little A, double L, A, S.  Because that was how the radio station I listened to growing up spelled Dallas, and I liked repeating it.
He was noted for absolutely not wearing a dirndl despite our most determined efforts.  He was also noted for - begrudgingly - donning pink bunny rabbit ears to emcee Dinner Theatre on guide training despite feeling under the weather.
On that night, we called him ‘Angster Bunny’.  It has taken him more than a decade to laugh about that.
A story Dallas loves telling about me occurred during his weekend training.  He accompanied me in the company van from the greasiest of greasy spoon cafes in the slumbering lumber town of Darrington to a county park located twelve miles out …

Recollections of Lava Falls - Part 2

The majority of my memories of Lava revolve around the aftermath.  
The decompression.  
The catharsis.  
The blowing off steam on one of the beaches within easy rowing distance.  Or the first beach you wash up on.  Or a midstream boulder, a stone’s throw from the maelstrom, imbibing a post-Lava beer with my boat crew gayly snapping selfies.  Ecstatic having the whitewater turmoil harmlessly upstream of us. 
I prefer to camp far enough away Lava is not audible or visible but close enough to have plenty of time to clean up and still allow a large, lazy portion of the day for a party.  By ‘clean up’ I mean retrieving items and rafts and swimmers and other detritus following any potential mishap.  
Not a shave and shower.
It was on the beach at the bottom of Lava I learned of Lewis Carroll’s poem  “Jabberwocky”.  When I first heard it recited I was too much in the party mood to focus but I distinctly recall being enraptured by the gibberish which sounded grammatically correct and certainly tea…

Recollections of Lava Falls - Part 1

My relationship with Lava Falls on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon is relatively lengthy.  For an erstwhile Canyon boater, I have stood at the brink of this geologically cataclysmic, gnarly stretch of water quite a bit.  More than your average Grand Canyon duffer. 


And, in spite of its surly reputation, Lava Falls has only spanked me and my crew mates the very first time I encountered it.  Of course, I abide the hoary old adage, “There are those who have, there are those who will and there are those who will again.”  Consequently, I take nothing for granted when I reach River Mile 179.
In my original encounter, I couldn’t find the fucking bubbles.  But that is not the hoary river tale I am writing about on this go around.  
(As an aside, according to the author of The Emerald Mile, the route known as the “Bubble Run” no longer exists.  It’s magical period of existence, when those who found the bubbles slipped through Lava like greased pigs through the clutches of contestants at a …

Jesus Shaves

(The original working title for this story was 'California Dreamy'.  But I came across an ammo box sticker years ago at Bumbershoot that I couldn't pass up. And it has long been my favorite sticker - along with Porkins Lives, of course.  Due to the walking on water reference, I thought it just as fitting.   Two things - when you become a river guide, bumper stickers are no longer bumper stickers but ammo box stickers, and because of the protagonist of this tale, Orion began using oarlocks versus whatever archaic contrivance we had been using previously.  Hallelujah!)


~~~ In the end, he wasn’t known as Randy “MacBackRub” for nothing. But, in the beginning, a few of us swear we saw him walk on water. It started on the Skykomish River on a dreary western Washington day early in the spring.  Temperatures hovered around nut-clenching and penis-shriveling
The good news was - it wasn’t raining.  At least not yet.

Our guests were a UW fraternity and, though the river was high and t…

Trip of a Lifetime - Part 2

(In my last post, myself and fifteen intrepid adventurers found ourselves up to our armpits in darkest Peru lashing down gear on six rafts at the put-in for a 24-day expedition down the Grand Canyon of South America - the Rio Maranon.)
So there we were.  In a working gravel pit.  Sweltering under the relentless onslaught of the equatorial sun while lashing gear for the next three weeks, and then some, onto our Chinese-manufactured, inflatable aircraft carriers.
We were as excited and giddy as a bunch of pigs wallowing in a mud hole.  We were prepping to run a river in Peru!
Unfortunately, a slight hiccup in our river time bliss arose - nasty, ubiquitous, biting gnats.  Easy - at first - to ignore, but only at your peril.  Before long, we noticed our calves, ankles and hands were swollen, or in the process of swelling, from bites.  On the fortunate side, the learning curve was steep.  It did not take long for us to learn you had to wear protective clothing from dawn to dusk in combination…

Trip of a Lifetime - Part 1

Two winters ago an article I read in American WhiteWater magazine struck a chord with my sense of adventure.  Resonated with my alter ego. 


The alter ego not married to the couch.  The alter ego which still has a hankering for a dosage of adrenaline.  (Though the dosage is - admittedly - getting smaller.)  The alter ego who imagines himself as one of the most interesting men in the world.  (“Whose passport requires no photograph.” “Who won a staring contest with his own reflection - Dos Equis.”  You need to know the commercial to appreciate the reference.)
The article was written about one of the major tributaries of the Amazon.  Possibly even the actual source tributary for the Amazon, according to the article’s author.  It was the Rio MaraƱon.  The Grand Canyon of South America was how the article touted it.  
And it was - in the immortal words of Paddington Bear - “in darkest Peru.”
How dark?  I couldn’t have guessed or imagined by reading the article.  But the story fired my imaginati…