Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Aftertaste of Adventure

It was John Ruskin who said, “Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.” And it is I who calls Bull Shit, John. It should be re-written as: "Sunshine is warm and nice, rain is wet and makes things damp, wind can be heinous and snow is really friggin’ cold, but the best memories don’t come from sun.”

The best memory-maker is the tried-and-true hypothermia inducing sideways-sleet-snow. I don’t know how John would describe it, probably something like “the mating of love and honey” but the metaphor I would use to share its glory would be similar to getting scissor kicked repeatedly in the neck and then dunked in an icy concoction of baby vomit and dog crap.

It was a sideways-sleet-snow kind of morning in Selma, Oregon, on November 20th, 2010. In attendance were 29 folks, 14 rafts and catarafts, 3 kayaks, 1 very cold keg, and a grand total of 290 completely numb fingers. In an impressive show of a complete lack of conventional wisdom, we’re now driving to Miami Bar, which sounds like a place to order a tropical beverage and relax on a palm tree laced beach, but I can assure you it’s not. It’s the access point to the wilderness section of the Illinois River where most trips begin. From Miami Bar to Oak Flat, the “take-out”, the river flows for 32 miles within one of the most beautiful river canyons in North America.

Creatch, Jen, and Matt at the bottom of Green Wall, Illinois River, in an Avon Expedition:

By the time we had gone eight miles downstream nearly everyone was frozen. We decided to camp at Pine Flat, which was a little worrisome because the water was low (only around 800 CFS). From Pine Flat it is 24 miles to Oak Flat. The ground was covered in three inches of snow, which made for difficulties carrying all of our gear up the slope. The following day we were on the water by 9:00 and at take-out by 4:00, an impressive feat considering the size of our group, the low water, and the cold weather.

I’ve been thinking about why people would do this and, even more intriguing, why they want to do it again. Although trips like this can be miserable at the time, looking back on them offers great memories and a renewed sense of life. It’s what I call the aftertaste of adventure and it’s the antithesis of a hangover. Also, it must be a good thing to be outside, to overcome obstacles, to exercise, and to feel so alive at the end of an adventure.

Most of the group, a few missing, at Miami Bar, Illinois River (photo by Kira Watts):

With this in mind, I started thinking about why more people don’t do this. Why are more and more people content playing video games on their computer rather than walking in the rain and splashing in puddles? Seriously, what are you going to remember? A day of poking on Facebook or a day of freezing your ass off with friends alongside a beautiful river?

Get outside people. Get your hands numb and stand under a tree. Set up a tent in the rain. Build a campfire and pass around a bottle of whiskey. If you don’t have a story to tell you will soon enough.

For those who don’t know how to start, I’ve spent my morning writing about my favorite river and how, you too, can find yourself at its put-in with snow blowing in your face. Before I begin I’ll leave you with this:

"So get out there and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, encounter the grizz, climb the mountains. Run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, that lovely, mysterious and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to your body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much: I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those deskbound people with their hearts in a safe deposit box and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this: you will outlive the bastards."
Edward Abbey

The Illinois River, Explained

There’s a lot of mystique amongst boaters about the Illinois River. With any river you’ve never run before, it’s always somewhat of a hassle to figure out logistics and the Illinois is no different. In reality there’s a road to the put in, a road to the takeout, various shuttle services, and the stretch is only 32 miles long – logistically it’s a piece of cake.

Like most coastal rivers in the Pacific Northwest, the Illinois flow jumps around a little bit. During the summer the base flow is around 40 CFS. As fall rolls around and rain starts to fall, the base flow gradually increases so that at the end of each storm (and subsequent spike) the base flow is a little bit higher. It gets to a point once everything is saturated for the winter that, even without rain for a week, the Illinois will hold above 1,000 CFS. What gets folks worried are the spikes that occur hand-in-hand with Oregon’s notorious downpours.

Different boats for different folks. Pine Flat, Illinois River (photo by David Pool):

The most widely accepted window to run the Illinois, in terms of flow, is between 800 CFS and 3,000 CFS. The gauge is roughly 30 miles upstream of Miami Bar in a town called Kerby and between the two are numerous creeks, big and small, that can add substantial flow. However, the only gauge is in Kerby, so that’s what you use. Despite the fluctuating flows and the narrow window, I would venture to say that the Illinois is the most consistent free-flowing multi-day river trip in the West, which is probably the exact opposite of what you’ve ever heard.

Here are the stats: historically the Illinois breaks 800 CFS by the second weekend of November and remains, on average, above 800 CFS until mid-May. The base flow during this time frame is never above 1500 CFS, which means that with a few days of no rain, the river is likely to be between 800 and 1500. If we say the boating season is between mid-November and mid-May, that gives us six boatable months. Compare that to the Middle Fork of the Salmon, which is about four months, or the Upper Kern, which is around three months, and you’ll understand that this is a long season.

Cold keg of Standing Stone Brew (photo by David Pool):

There’s this damn cliché running through my head when I think of why it is a common belief the Illinois is fickle and hard to get on. And I’m sorry to even write it here because it sounds so lame but, whatever, here it is: “You miss 100% of the shots you never take.” Thank you, Michael Jordan, for your infinite wisdom. It certainly rings true on the Illinois.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve run the Illinois at great flows that weren’t predicted three days ahead of time and the predictions had caused someone to bag out. Why is that? There are a whole lot of reasons you might decide to cancel a trip but the three big ones are these:

1) You are worried about flows.

2) You only want to go if the weather is nice.

3) Your contingency plans suck.

The first thing you ought to do is cross out #2. That should never be a reason to bail on an Illinois trip. Most of the time the weather will not be ideal, so if that’s a reason to not go you have now successfully made the Illinois the most difficult river to catch a trip on. Congratulations.

Because the Illinois is in a weird place geographically for most folks it takes some driving time to get there. No one wants to drive all that way and then have the disappointment of the flows not being right. But there’s good news. The Smith River is only 45 minutes from Selma and offers everything from class II to class V. Something on the Smith will be running if the Illinois is too high. If the Illinois is too low, chances are the Smith is too, in which case the Rogue is your best bet. So now, even though you’re not on the Illinois you still get to be on the water, which is a whole lot better than a stick in the eye.

Chip and Katherine running Green Wall, Illinois River, in an Avon Adventurer:

At this point you have now narrowed down your reasons for not going on the trip to one factor: flow. If flow is your only concern you are going to get on the Illinois a lot because, like I said before, the Illinois is the most consistent free flowing multi-day river trip in the west. Just about everyone either uses the USGS website or the Northwest River Forecasting Center’s website to check the Illinois gauge. The nice thing about the NWRFC is that they show predicted flow. The downside, however, is that it is consistently wrong. It is a good indicator as to which the direction the flow will be going (up or down) but not so much of a good source for where the flow will end up (top of a peak for instance).

Whenever I plan an Illinois trip I constantly check the predicted flow because it’s fun, creates anticipation, and is wildly bizarre. I try not to get too excited because chances are I will wake up the morning of the trip and the flow will be way off from where they had predicted it to be three days earlier. Which doesn’t really matter at all because the only reason I wouldn’t go on the trip is if the water is too high or too low regardless of where it was predicted.

Most trips on the Illinois are multi-day trips, which means the flow is likely to change while you are on the river. This is the only time you ought to make a decision based on predicted flows. If you are launching at 2000 CFS and the predicted flows have it spiking on the afternoon of your first day you may want to consider heading over to the Smiths. I’m not going to tell you not to go because, well, I’ve put on in that situation, but you better think about what you’re doing.

Green Wall, Illinois River, in an Avon Adventurer (photo by David Pool):

And that just about wraps it up. The bottom line is if you reduce the number of excuses for not going to the only one that is critical (the flow), your chances of getting on this beautiful river are very good. And if it’s snowing the aftertaste of adventure will be with you even longer.

Good luck and happy boating!

Friday, March 26, 2010

My early days on the "T", part two

Part Two—The Log Jam

1983 was a great year to begin working the Tuolumne River. It was a high water year and we ran trips all the way into September. We got to see the river at different levels, learning different routes, and different dangers, thrills and beauty. But the trips all ended the same, with the mighty “T” dumping us unceremoniously into the murky, houseboat infested beast known as Lake Don Pedro. Several miles of rowing lead you to the log jam.

The “log jam” is a phenomenon that occurs on reservoirs when dead trees that were drowned in the filling of the reservoir are blown by winds into the various fingers. The Tuolumne dumps into one of these fingers and brings with it various debris as well. And in a high water year, the “T” scours the riverbanks and can carry quite a bit of dead and decaying vegetation downstream. In 1983, the log jam was huge and deep. The installation of booms could have prevented the jam but that would have been too simple. Eventually it became so deep and wide and full of everything from plastic bottles to logs and unmatched flip flops that it was impossible to get through it. A number of efforts were made to remove it including my personal favorite: An attempt to burn the water soaked logs out of the water they sat in, which, believe it or not, failed miserably.

Eventually, the irrigation district that owned water rights to the water in Don Pedro acquired a craft known as the Log Bronc, capable of breaking its way through the jam. This stout little tugboat-shaped craft was a 12’ long diesel powered brute that broke through log jams like an icebreaker. It came from the northwest where it was designed to navigate through log ponds full of timber. I don’t know if its primary purpose on Don Pedro was to tow rafters through the log jam, but that¹s what I saw it used for. And it was a beautiful sight to see as it rocked back and forth, spewing diesel into the air and shoving logs to the wayside making its way to the inflatable rafts waiting to be tugged back through the jam.

Another reason I was excited to begin working the “T” that year was because no one was sure how much longer it would be open for rafting and I wanted to enjoy it for as long as I could. There was a serious threat of the river being dammed, resulting in our beloved river being de-watered and drowned. The river community was galvanized in the efforts to save the “T”. The Stanislaus had been lost to a reservoir just a few years earlier and no one wanted to see that happen to the Tuolumne. We asked clients to write letters after every trip and the outfitters banded together to formulate a strategy to save the river. I knew, as did all of the guides and outfitters on the river, that if word got out into the press what a wonderful place the Tuolumne was, that public sentiment could affect how legislators viewed the river. Federal protection under the Wild and Scenic program could save the river.

My final training trip, before finally being certified as a Tuolumne guide, was a trip run alongside another outfitter who brought along a couple of writers from Sunset magazine. As before, I would row the boat with gear piled high under blue tarps fore and aft. I’d figured out the routes, studied the river and felt great about getting this final trip done before I’d actually get paid to do it!

We embarked on a standard two day Tuolumne trip and camped at Indian Creek. That night we erected a river sauna and our fellow (and more knowledgeable) guides extolled the praises of the river to the Sunset writers.

On the last day our of the trip, we stopped at the North Fork of the T for lunch. This is a magical tributary with a side hike that’s not to be missed. I stayed behind to put together lunch while fellow guides took our guests and the writers on the hike. I had almost finished laying out the our lunch spread, when the dark thunderheads that had been holding over the ridge began to move into the canyon with a vengeance. No worries I thought, I’ll just grab a tarp, a couple oars and some hoopie and save lunch from becoming a soggy mess. It’s summer in the Sierra so I knew this would be a passing squall. The group returned, wolfed down the lunch and we loaded up and got back on the river. We had a few miles before meeting the Log Bronc to tow us through the log jam, and the squall I was so sure would pass, soon settled into a full-blown thunderstorm. It was the middle of the summer and most of our clients had brought absolutely no rain gear. A veteran guide had convinced me earlier that season to always stash a lightweight rain jacket in my bag. It’s something I’ve done ever since and it certainly kept me comfortable that afternoon. And into the night.

About an hour or so later, we dropped into the reservoir and saw the ominous log jam laying between us and the take out. My summer squall-turned-miserable-thunderstorm continued unabated while we waited patiently for the Log Bronc to show. There was one other river company ahead of us, so we knew we’d have to wait a bit before our tow. I pulled the tarps off the load and sent them over to the other boats so that our clients could shelter under them.

I sat in the rain waiting. It wasn’t particularly cold, just wet. Eventually, I heard the sound of an engine coming up the reservoir. The Old Log Bronc. As it got closer, I realized I wasn’t looking at the Log Bronc. Instead, what I saw was a couple of colorful looking characters in a homemade steel hulled craft with the name “Rusty Sucker” emblazoned across it. It was an open boat with an old Cadillac V-8 near the stern. The powerplant was hooked up to jet drive that was probably salvaged from an old ski boat. Instead of having a deep keel and a sharp iron reinforced bow to clear logs, the Sucker relied on - let’s call him “Jethro”- in the bow with an iron bar to clear logs out of the way. Ricky Bobby manned the wheel and shouted orders to Jethro. It wasn’t the Bronc, but I didn’t care, as it seemed to work just fine pulling the other company through the logjam. That is until the Rusty Sucker was almost at the end of the logjam. At that point I saw Jethro prying and pulling at the engine or jet drive with the iron bar he was formerly using to clear logs from the bow. That didn’t seem right to me, but sometimes when your toolbox only has one tool, well, that’s what you use. Eventually they cleared the jam and were on their way to the take-out while I sat in the rain and imagined Jethro at home adjusting his television set with a hammer.

With nothing but waiting ahead of me, I watched the string of rafts being pulled along behind the Sucker until they disappeared around the bend. The rain kept falling and I looked over at our clients now huddled under the blue tarps. Secretly (and silently) I was glad that I was still a trainee and not a working guide.

Next Blog: The Return of the Rusty Sucker

Monday, February 15, 2010

Dumpster Diving - the highlight of my Grand Canyon trip

We're in a van headed to Flagstaff. We hired Ceiba, a company out of Flag, to pick us up at Diamond Creek and they've got a driver so of course we're having a good time telling stories, hooting and hollering. Maybe sneaking beers here and there. Maybe. Over the past 19 days there has not been one moment that couldn't make a great story. We've made great friends with each other. Most of us were acquaintances before the trip but now it's just full on bromances and, hell, even a few romances.

Both my brothers are in the van. Matt is a student at UCSB, Skip at University of Oregon - we don't get on the water together as often as we used to. My girlfriend Dana is sitting next to me. We've done quite a few multi-day trips together but nothing really prepares someone for a 19-day river trip so I'm ecstatic that she had loved it as much as I had. Everything other than getting to the river has gone perfectly. Dan Thurber, one of my favorite people to float any river with, had a major vehicle break-down in California. It seems that some gophers took a liking to the wiring under the hood. He had to borrow a van from a friend to get out, and arrived at Lee's Ferry around 10 AM the day we were to launch. But that's a whole other story. Other than that this has been a dream trip. Great people, great river - and really those are the only two things that matter.

Skip, Will, and Matt. Christmas Day:

In October I got a hold of the boys at Clavey and told them what I was looking for: two Kokatat dry suits. Over the last four years I have gone through eight other suits and I was ready to find a high quality suit that would last. I got Dana the Women's Dry Suit with the drop seat and myself the typical blue/mango Men's Dry Suit. Dana also got the full-body fleece outfit (often dubbed a "penguin suit"). These are sweet to wear underneath your dry suit. They keep you toasty and they're comfortable. Our trip launched December 13th - which is a perfect time of year to ensure that your beer is always ice cold, but it's also that time of year most folks don't go boating because, well, everything is ice cold. With our new dry suits packed and our Avon Expedition in tow we headed to Lee's Ferry.

We had the river to ourselves and didn't run into another party until the afternoon of our ninth day. We had a great Christmas layover across from Deer Creek. The hiking was phenomenal, whitewater was plentiful... it was just one of those trips. Dana and I wore our drysuits the entire time we were on the water. They were comfortable so it just never seemed that bad.

Even Santa came and partied with us:

Our last night camp was about a mile from Diamond Creek. In the morning we woke up and started putting things away. Dana and I didn't feel like wearing our dry suits with only one mile to go, so we threw them in a black trash bag and into the boat...

Boy, we sure were happy:

Fast forward five hours and the van is pulling into Ceiba's driveway. Our vehicles are here so we jump out and move them near the big trailer of mixed gear. All the equipment needs to be separated and put into the correct rig. While Dana and I are throwing things into our little trailer other folks are doing the same with their respective rigs. A few other people are throwing bags of trash into the back of one of Ceiba's trucks, which then is driven to their dumpster where the bags of trash are hurled in. As all this is happening, the trash truck shows up (great timing, right?), picks up the now-full dumpster, lifts it up and over, sets the empty dumpster down, and then leaves for its next destination. Everything is going great.

Let me pause and tell you a few things about relationships. As Dane Cook says, there are two types: you can have a "great relationship" or you can have a "relationshit". Dana and I have a great relationship. Regardless of the type of relationship you have, boaters in particular need to be wary of the DTI. This stands for Domestic Tranquility Index. This is an incredibly volatile index that shows exactly how tranquil ones relationship is - and it can change in seconds. For instance, if Dana is having a bad day and I do something nice, like buy her a chocolate snack, the index rises. But, if she is having a bad day and I eat the chocolate snack without asking her if she wants any then the index plummets.

Also, the DTI is tested when shit hits the fan. For instance, when, at this moment in the story, Dana says "Have you seen the drysuits?" this is an instant when shit is definitely hitting the fan because I know that the drysuits are in a black trash bag inside the garbage truck headed to who-knows-where.

We look everywhere. Maybe they weren't thrown out, right? Alas, no one can find them. Dana goes into Ceiba's office to talk to someone who might know where the trash truck is going. Nobody at the trash company picks up the phone, so she leaves a message. I'm pissed, Dana's pissed, so naturally we blame each other for putting the most expensive articles of clothing we've ever owned inside trash bags. The DTI is plummeting and there is no bottom in sight.

Everything (well, you know, minus the stupid drysuits) is packed. It's New Year's Eve, we're in Flagstaff, our group wants to party. Dana and I are going to look for the drysuits and meet everyone at the hotel. We take off headed down the road looking for a garbage truck. The DTI has now officially hit an all-time low. While we're busy yelling at each other Skip calls me and says they were able to get the driver's name and phone number. We call him. He says we aren't really supposed to go through the trash, but he'll wait to dump it until we get to the dump. We look the address up on Dana's iPhone and hit the accelerator.

We get to the dump. The old lady at the gate quizzes us about what we're doing. We try to explain but her response is "You aren't allowed to salvage." I tell her we just really need to see our friend, Patrick, the dump truck driver. She lets us in. We fly by the 5 M.P.H. sign and head into the abyss. I call Patrick, he tells me where he's at. We find him and he says that we're "lucky because it was a small load today." The amount of trash is astounding. This would not be a "small load" in my book but, hey, I'm not a trash expert. Patrick, my new favorite person on Earth, gives us a hint. He points at a yellow bucket. "You see that yellow bucket? That was one load before your guys. So," he says waving his hands in front of a four foot section in the middle, "your stuff is somewhere around here."

Neither Dana or I have showered in 19 days. We dive into the trash pile. People throw out a lot more than just trash. There's a lot of dog crap, two dead cats, and a dead rabbit. And that was just in our four-foot section. As far as we had come, as lucky as we had gotten, and as helpful as everyone had been, I had doubts we would find the suits. There was just so much trash. Too much. And, of course, it's not like a black trash bag is an uncommon color. But all of a sudden I found a trash bag that was full of empty liquor bottles. These were bottles that had traveled down the river with us, bottles that had united our group and had helped build new friendships, and bottles that were now leading me to my sacred drysuit. I reached down, brushing aside more dog shit, and picked up a black trash bag.

In Flagstaff there are train tracks that go right through the middle of town. It's New Year's Eve and I'm at a bar with a group of friends I would never trade out for anything. Every time a train rolls through town you can get discounted "train shots". Awesome, right? A train rumbles through town, we get train shots, and I hoist my shot high in the air. "To the river gods." We cheer and take our drinks. Dana's beside me. We've had a long day of ups and downs with the DTI but we're right back where we started: the index is running high, we're as happy as can be, and we have two awesome drysuits. Plus, hell, we've got a great story.



* We would never have been on the water without Andrew Wilkin. He organized one helluva trip. Thanks Andrew!
* Special thanks to Idaho River Journeys, Rogue River Journeys, and Kern River Outfitters for the gear they lent us.
* Ceiba is an awesome company. The owners took care of us and helped Dana and me out so much. We wouldn't have gotten our drysuits back without them! If you're doing a Grand Canyon trip... use these guys!

Friday, January 22, 2010

My early days on the "T"

I fired up the wayback machine this week and came up with a few reminiscences of my river guiding career.

Back in 1983, several years before there were self-bailing Avon rafts, the Tuolumne was considered one of the more difficult commercially run rivers in the West. In fact, our company’s name is taken from one of the original “Big Drops” - Clavey Falls.

Back then we ran 16’ gear boats piled high bow and stern with duffle bags loaded on plywood decks. There were no drybags. Everybody put their personal gear in nylon duffle bags and then we wrapped everything up with big blue tarps (for maximum water resistance). When you were done rigging, the pile was so high often it required the guide to turn the boat sideways or stand up on the slant board frame just to see downstream. A couple of coolers were slung in the cockpit and the center section was left open so that you could bail what water you could reach out of the bilge. We’d carabiner two 5 gallon buckets next to the seat for bailing purposes. Two buckets were required because sometimes you’d lose one in the frantic effort to lighten the boat by as many bucketfuls in as short a time as possible. Believe me, you did not want to be without a bucket!

On a typical trip, we might run one or two paddle rafts, a couple of stern loaded oar boats with passengers in the front, and a couple of the aforementioned gear boats. You had to plan your routes to avoid as much whitewater as possible, keeping as much water out of the bilge as you could. Nonetheless, quite often in the middle of a rapid you would find yourself caroming half out of control, bilge full of water and straining to see over that load.

The Forest Service on the “T” requires that a guide run the river top to bottom at least three times before taking commercial passengers. Hence, the gear boat is often run by a “training guide”. Essentially a “training guide” was somebody who was rowing a heavily-laden boat, down a river they don’t know well, and not getting paid for it. As a second-year guide in 1983, I couldn’t wait for the opportunity.

Things may have changed since then, I don’t know. But back then the more experienced guides literally threw everything and anything they didn’t want to carry on your load. Instruction for rapids included the following:

“Keep up, follow me, and don’t get stuck”.

Because you were rowing a boat by yourself, you needed to make sure you didn’t get stuck.

Early on in the trip, at a rapid called Nemesis, you have two choices:

One is to to run left at the bottom and risk getting royally stuck.

Or two, run what we used to call Airplane Turn where if you did it right you pivoted your raft down a chute, not getting stuck. If you missed a stroke, you would end up hopelessly wrapped around the entrance rock.

I remember seeing a photo on the cover of National Geographic magazine of just such a wrap on that very rock. Fortunately, I never lost an oar or missed a stroke there. Later on, after qualifying as a lead guide and after self-bailing rafts came along I decided I never had to try that move again.

The most challenging rapid on the Tuolumne, the one it is really known for, is formed just downstream of where the Clavey river comes in. The route over Clavey Falls is hard to read from the river, and so requires a look from shore. At high water it’s difficult to scout right, as that requires a hard pull across the current that’s much stronger because of the Clavey coming in at that point. So at high water, you scout left and at lower levels, scout right.

Prior to my first training trip, I had seen the river twice; once at low water, and once at high water. Naturally the level was right in middle of the two extremes for my first crack at rowing it myself. Our lead guide decided we would scout right.

In addition to his minimal approach to instruction, he felt that training guides should be able to secure their boat with no assistance. So landing upstream of Clavey Falls meant you first made sure that your stern line was unfurled and laying on top of the load. Then, after pulling as hard as you can, you jump over the load, grab the line and leap for the shore right before the raft hits. Miss your timing and the boat bounces off of shore, and you’re hanging on for dear life-with visions in your head of the fully loaded raft dragging you over the falls.

If you’ve done it right, as the boat hits shore, you wrap the rope around your waist and hunker down in a body belay. Later on, when I began training guides on the “T” their boats would come in last with assistance from the crew already on shore. Call me soft if you will, but we never had anyone dragged downstream by his or her overloaded boats anymore.

These days, my guess is that when new guides arrive at Clavey Falls, the more experienced among them show them possible routes, things to be aware of, and probably have them watch a boat or two “do it right” before shoving them off. A more callous lead guide would make a training guide go first, “so we can be behind you in case you screw up!”

Our lead guide that day is probably thought of very fondly by his mother. But I don’t personally recall any fond feelings for him as I untied my boat, pushed off by myself, and quickly clambered up and over my load. I grabbed the oars (heavy solid ash oars) and looked down at my hands - shaking. With just a few strokes to clear the shore, I felt the current pushing me towards the falls before I was ready. I was not really sure where the route was—after all, I was the lead boat on our trip now, with no one to follow.

I struggled to pivot the overloaded craft sideways so that I could see downstream. Water was sloshing about in the bilge making the boat even more unwieldy—I’d forgotten to bail it before shoving off. Here comes the falls! Time to straighten it out now and brace...(I can’t really see ahead of me as there is this huge blue tarp full of camp gear and our passenger’s worldly possessions in my way).

In an instant I am at the bottom of the falls and my boat is totally full of water. There’s no time to bail. Here comes the hole! (I’d heard that if a raft hits that hole dead center, it stops abruptly, rotates sideways and goes over in mere seconds--something I’d learn firsthand later in my career.) There’s no chance I’m going to make the pull to the green highway - a nice tongue of beautiful water marking the border of that seething beast - the route you’re supposed to take.

It doesn’t matter. My boat is so loaded with water that it’s gushing back over from the bilge into the river (a classic “Grand Canyon swamp”). All I can do is haul on the right oar with everything I’ve got and hope to straighten it out before plunging in. And within the next moment, my boat and I are both into and out of Clavey hole. Completely out of control now, I drop sideways down the next drop and shoot into an eddy. And bail. And bail and bail and bail. 5 gallons, 10 gallons, 15....

Finally my boat is empty. The other boats fly by, passengers busily bailing and hooting and hollering. A thumbs up from my lead guide, and it’s off to camp we go. He gives me that look and I can hear it in my mind: “Keep up, follow me and don’t get stuck. Oh, and while you’re at it, don’t forget to gather lots of firewood before camp, because we don’t use a stove and trainees are in charge of the cooking fire”.