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. He was ecstatic about his experience.
I love experiencing that joie de vivre with clients and students and new guides. I don't believe I will ever get enough of those revelatory expressions.
But the other thing I love is getting to know people.
The width and breadth of experiences of the people who I have come to know through their brief stints as river guides is phenomenal. The Orion guide pool, stretching back through the decades and all the way to the present, is a phenomenal, eclectic collection of talent and skills and attitudes and life experiences that I do not believe I would ever have come in contact with if I had chosen any other means of making a living.
And y'all are everywhere.
I was in downtown Olympia at a off-brand coffeehouse catching up with Dyana Fiediga, a few months after sharing a boat with her in Peru on the Rio Maranon, when in walks Randy Stocker whom I had not seen in ages. And though the encounter seemed almost magical, as it is with all old friends, it was as if no span of time lay between us.
We chatted amiably for five to ten minutes when we could easily have whiled away the rest of the afternoon laughing and reminiscing.
I was driving the Orion bus to the Tieton when I pulled into the rest area just north of Selah and before I could make my way to the bathroom, Therese Harrild pulled in figuring there just might be a chance she knew someone driving those white rigs. Though I had not seen Therese since the '80s she was a friendly face with a friendly smile and our banter was natural and easy.
Nowadays she occupies her time driving buses for Metro and, though I have never taken her up on the offer she made to moonlight for Orion, it was generous of her to mention it.
Last May I was hanging out in the middle of the Puget Sound in a white raft with the logo prominently splashed across the front during the Shell No protests and - the next thing I know - Danny Geiger has paddled up alongside us in his canoe to say hello. I have not seen Danny since he officiated Jeremy and Lachovia's wedding in Leavenworth but we may as well have been back on the bus headed to Costa Rica, doing orangutan imitations on the roof rack and making ceviche from scratch.
Earlier in the day, I had been maneuvering the truck and trailer into position to offload the boats at a West Seattle boat launch, when a motorcycle cop from SPD sauntered up only to give me a good-natured nudge and a big hug. I had been braced for a clash with authority and instead I was treated to the warmest smile you'll ever see from a police officer and an encounter that genuinely made my morning.
It was Carol Castellani. Hard nosed on her 'day job' escorting President Obama and keeping order where there is little, but a cupcake when you've seen her scrambling in the middle of the night to keep herself dry from an unexpected Grand Canyon thunderstorm.
Another coffeehouse - this time on Capitol Hill in Seattle - another Orionite. There I was at Victrola's whiling my time away making up stuff to write about when I look up to see Chris Pratt at the counter. I don't recall the last time I saw Chris - perhaps on the Selway trip I just recently wrote about - but I thoroughly enjoyed running into him and being brought up to speed on some consequential life changes.
I love connecting. I love reconnecting.
One of the things I have always treasured is the somewhat random occurrences of these connections and reconnections. Greg Chapman stopping by on his way to California via Pullman. Jerry Baird checking in after coming down from Bamfield on Vancouver Island. Julie Ann Porter-Scott making the effort to 'pass through' Leavenworth when she was visiting Seattle. Charley and Cindy and Linda and Ed inviting me to dinner at their rental cabin. Dyana asking me to lunch on her way to Portland.
My life is richer due to all of these interactions and intermingling stories.
And in several days, once another guide training begins in earnest, it will be richer and deeper still.
Consider this my deepest thanks to you all.
Sunday, March 13, 2016
Monday, March 7, 2016
“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-mind.
In case you wondered, Robert was eddied out on the left side of the river down below the rapid and, unbeknownst to us, was desperately trying to scale the cliffs to reach us. Also, unbeknownst to us, his effort failed when he peeled off the cliff into the river and was forced to swim back to his boat.
After a brief scout, we hustled back to the rafts to tackle Double Drop before it got any bigger. I guided my attentive paddlers through the frothing mess without disaster. The remainder of the party followed without carnage but Dane reported an adventure run captured on - at least - two cameras.
One camera was mounted facing upstream and the other mounted on his helmet. The exciting part was the two contrasting perspectives when he engaged the nasty curling wave near Double Drop’s runout. As his cataraft balanced on its side, it was clear from his head camera his body was scrambling to keep his world upright as the boat tottered on the brink of capsizing.
Meanwhile, Nancy caught the powerful tail wave head on and, as her boat rounded into sight from our vantage point above Ladle, we saw her clinging to the frame like a refugee clinging to flotsam at sea. For a moment we feared she would float through Ladle’s minefield of hydraulics and, if she had, which of us would take chase, but to our everlasting relief - and hers as well - she remounted the boat and rowed to shore.
The veteran guide’s admonition made sense now that we had experienced the runaway freight train of water between the two drops. Little wonder people met their demise on this stretch. If you lost it in Double Drop, the recovery time before Ladle, at high water, was halved.
Still unnerved by the whitewater above, we hiked the trail to take a closer look at the infamous Ladle.
The next thing we knew we saw an inverted cataraft being flushed downriver and through the plethora of river features pocking the entire length and breadth of Ladle. No rafter, as far as we could ascertain, was with the craft. Another group had caught us. Two kayakers, however, were aggressively pursuing the cataraft as it was sucked downstream and out of our vision.
The ghost boat, the fierce whitewater upstream, the ever rising river and the unknown of what was right before our eyes spooked the lot of us.
River runners say “there are old boaters and bold boaters, but not a lot of old, bold boaters. . . “
Robert fell into the older, bolder boater category. A whitewater ninja if ever there was one. All of us have come to understand that the bigger his grin, the more difficult the whitewater we face.
After a scant reconnoiter, he bombed his cataraft down the middle of the rapid and, though he did not make it look enticing, he was scampering back upstream grinning from ear to ear. A couple of hours went by with considerable discussion of portaging.
Instead, Robert elected to row Jeremy and Mike’s rafts, Tom volunteered to take Nancy’s oar boat through and the rest of us continued to mull over route options.
The same guide who warned us of the fatalities had also proffered that, though it ‘looked’ like there was a ‘sneak’ route on Ladle’s left side, rafts couldn’t achieve the escape velocity to reach it. I watched Robert tenuously survive a couple of ugly sample runs and determined the paddle raft could improve on all three of them.
I wanted to sneak left but I feared jeopardizing my crew. Robert joined us in the paddle raft to help with the ‘lay of the land’. He also thought we could improve on his three hair-raising wild rides.
As we approached the top of the rapid, passing a monster reversal churning to our left, I gave a quiet forward command hoping to get just far enough out of the roaring midstream flow to slow our speed and set us up to thread the needle between the multiple sentry hydraulics that Robert had monkeyed around with all morning.
Unexpectedly, my paddlers responded like a prize steer pent up too long and released onto the rodeo grounds. We shot across the lip of the rapid several boat lengths farther left than any of us anticipated. The next thing I realized we hit the slot I yearned for all along, I straightened the bow into the oncoming waves and held on for dear life.
From shore, Dane said later it looked as if our raft was a hydrofoil. Gliding beyond the turmoil and completely dodging the fray. We eddied out as the final three boaters, elated to know they had options - one of them being as close to a dry run as you could ever hope - hastened to their crafts.
There was more. There was plenty more. Like the ‘boils of death’ at Little Niagara, and the ‘Wave that wouldn’t peak’ at Wolf Creek. And the lousy weather that never got better right on to the next dreary, wet trip on the Lochsa.
But cheating Ladle - accidentally - is the Selway story I’ll never forget.