Skip to main content

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 the weather was less than ideal, Scott, Mark and I figured the show must go on.  But, first, we needed to rendezvous with a Californian guide who called me out of the blue to see if he could tag along.

The three of us - all veteran guides - loitered in the company van at the launch site shooting the breeze in anticipation of meeting this guy from the ‘other’ sunshine state.  We heard a knock on the sliding door of the van and, upon opening it, we eyed a guy wearing a cowboy hat, plaid flannel shirt, canvas shorts and flip flops.  Of course, he also sported a mountain man beard.

Scott and Mark immediately suspected we were dealing with a yahoo.

If not a yahoo, a Californian too vain for his own good.

They refused to cut him slack.  While the three of us were dressed to make a run at the South Pole, Randy McChristian was dressed for warmer climes.  Luckily, he brought neoprene but it was a shorty wetsuit suitable for not-particularly-foul-weather conditions.

Needless to say, his lack of understanding of the appropriate gear both baffled us and made us dubious of his supposed skills and ballyhooed experience.

After he and I chatted one another up, he boldly asked if he could row the safety boat.  The Skykomish was running somewhere within the vicinity of burly and unpleasant.  Even under the best of circumstances, I rarely allow anyone to be in charge of my fate on - what I consider - serious white water.

But, for some inexplicable reason, I capitulated.  No doubt begrudgingly.
We launched on the South Fork of the Skykomish and after an uneventful, predominantly dry, definitely smooth ride, the four of us were standing on boulders on the right bank of an angry-looking section of river appropriately enough called Boulder Drop.

Three hundred yards or so of mesmerizing currents, exploding waves and intimidating hydraulics.  Three hundred yards requiring several decisions, a few maneuvers and poor odds that nothing will go awry.  Especially for non-self-bailing paddle rafts.

Especially at what, in the industry, we like to call “pushy” water levels.

Randy seemed undaunted.  He was eager to dip his oars in Boulder Drop’s waters and experience the chaos firsthand.

I don’t remember his exact demeanor as we looked down upon what was - at the time - the nastiest bit of white water any of us ever wanted to voluntarily boat, but I am guessing it fell within the range of giddy to sublime.  He reminded me of a determined rodeo cowboy preparing himself to take on the wildest stallion, or an ancient yoga master reciting the Bhagavad Gita while doing a headstand.  In other words, even though this was his first gander at Boulder Drop, his pulse rate was rock steady.
Meanwhile, Scott and Mark put on a their best swagger.  Beneath the bravado?  I could only hazard a guess.

I queried Randy about his markers and route, found his response to be reassuring and steeled myself for what was surely one of the first times I ever dropped into this stretch of hellish white water without being in control.

Long story short - he made it look effortless.

In two shakes of a lamb’s tail (okay - how about. . . faster than I could tie a double fisherman's knot?) he was tucking the raft into a bit of calm water on the left bank downstream of the cascade.  I couldn’t have been more impressed.  We bobbed in the river’s intermittent pulse awaiting two paddle rafts brimming with youthful college students’ vim and vigor.

Mark led.  We watched his raft plunge over a steep chute, get swallowed, recycled, flipped and then all we saw were seven bobbing hockey helmets.

Scott’s plunge produced the same result.

And - suddenly - we had, what we call in the industry, a “yard sale”.  Boats, paddles, water bottles, bobbing hockey helmets attached to flailing bodies - all choosing varying courses through the remainder of the rapid.  Needless to say, my adrenalin spiked.  I grabbed every throw bag available.
Randy, on the other hand, could have been standing in line at the bank.  He patiently waited as if he were at a stoplight.

As the first two swimmers approached, he rowed out, rescued them, then returned to the eddy.  He darted back out to grab the next several.  I threw throw bags to expedite the process.  On the next pass we scooped up a few of the stragglers, ferried to the opposite bank and collected the rest.

With fourteen of us in the safety boat, Randy rowed into the main current and we began retrieving the detritus of a double flip - paddles and boats in particular - en route to our scheduled lunch stop a quarter mile downstream.  Scott and Mark, like the good guides they were, swam to save themselves.
Somewhere, somehow in that quarter mile journey everyone was reunited with their crews and gear. 
When we landed for lunch, it was clear a few of our guests were a tad shell-shocked.  Most verged on hypothermia.

Once more, the white water cowboy from SoCal came to the rescue.  He built a campfire, acted like everyone had just won a huge payout at Vegas and made sure no one was left to brood about their circumstances.  It wasn’t genuine, but it was an Oscar performance, and it was precisely the response the frat boys required.

As time went by, Randy wore out his welcome, especially with the back rubs and all; however, on that day, he walked on water.

Popular posts from this blog

Spring River Guide Training

Time to sign up if you want to be a guide, or if you just want to feel comfortable on the river on your own.
Only a few weeks away from our annual seven day guide training odyssey on the Deschutes River in north central Oregon and - as the senior instructor - I am beginning to feel the undertow of another river season.

Orion's guide training course kicks off every whitewater season and is comprised of seasoned and salty veterans, women and men, wide-eyed whitewater neophytes, those who revel in the adversity and those who are challenging their ordinary state of being, whatever that may be.

It is a time for ditching cellphones and the comfort of our creature habits.  Sharing and laughing and looking one another in the eye.  Being physically present because...you have to be to deal with the circumstances of being out amidst the elements.  Setting up tarps in windstorms and cooking over fires.

It will be a memorable trip.  Even for those of us participating in it for the 40th time.

River Rafting is Good for You

I have been rafting for a long time.

My first rafting experience was in the fall of my first year in college.  As a matter of fact, after matriculation, it was the very next thing I did.  The river rafting trip, regarded as my wilderness orientation to Prescott College, was a month long affair.

One month in the wilderness after having spent the majority of my life in well-ordered suburbs where my primary contact with the outdoors involved sports.

You can imagine it was an eye-opener in a number of ways.

My wilderness orientation, which took place over four decades ago, brought me serendipitously to this place.

Overnight raft trips are the single easiest method to 'leave it all behind.'  The 'behind' we referred to leaving used to just mean the traffic and the stressors of modern day life, ringing phones, the hustle and bustle of humanity and bills coming due, responsibilities to uphold.

Now, we are saddled with the ubiquity of always being connected to what is going o…

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.  …