Sunday, January 11, 2009

Insanity, Hobbies and Whitewater Rafting

Insanity is a peculiar thing. Given the right circumstances, it can justify or excuse nearly any human activity. Yes, sometimes even murder.

There are many kinds of insanity, including some that are permanent and some that are conveniently temporary. (It is the latter type that is commonly associated with homicide.)

But the form of insanity that I’m talking about here is one of the permanent ones: Hobbies. Make no mistake: Hobbies are a form of insanity, and as such anything that a person does in the pursuit of a hobby is justifiable on the grounds of insanity. Only an insane person would spend ten thousand dollars for a postage stamp—and then not even use it; and I’m not even going to talk about golf! But once you acknowledge the insanity of it, your aberrant behavior will be accepted by society, in much the same way that we accept an occasional ax murderer, like that nutty Lizzie Borden.

“Four thousand dollars for a raft,” people say to me, “You must be crazy!”

I just smile. They understand. If I want to go out in January, for instance, and throw my body into a life-and-death struggle with the icy green waters of the Clackamas River as it beats its way through such places as Powerhouse Rapid, the Toilet Bowl and Carter Bridge Falls, then it is only natural that I would want to spend a few thousand dollars in order to do it with style.

So you see, for me rafting is a serious hobby—insanity in its purist form. Incurable. But it wasn’t always that way. It started out innocently enough: high school kids in wetsuits and inner tubes floating the Spokane River somewhere around the Idaho State line. Then about 12 years later the disease moved into its second stage.

For about $150 (double that in today’s money) I bought a yellow 6-man raft, which actually holds no more than four, some oars and a homemade plywood rowing frame. And of course, life jackets. You know what they are: those orange devices that you toss into the bottom of the raft and forget about until you find yourself dancing around on the river bed, looking up at foaming water that contains way too much air to provide buoyancy, but not nearly enough to breathe.

Most people survive that baptism (I call it “beginner’s stupidity”) gasping and sputtering, dazed by the loss of their beer and Doritos—and usually the life jackets, which stayed on the surface and drifted half a mile downstream by the time the survivors crawled to shore. This is a critical moment.

Many people get cured at this point. I don’t know in medical terms how it happens, but there are too many documented cases to ignore. The waterlogged survivors just hang up their oars (unless they floated downstream with the life jackets) and are never crazy enough to do that again.

The rest are lost. They—and I am one of them—rush right out and buy new life jackets. Real ones that now cost about a hundred bucks apiece, rather than those $4.95 things from K-Mart that would either slip clear off or else get maliciously tangled with your arms (thereby making it impossible to swim) in the off-chance that you happened to be wearing one at the moment you got dumped into the river.

Remember that. It’s a key symptom. When you catch yourself buying a life jacket that could actually save your life if it had to, you may safely assume that (1) sooner or later, it probably will have to; and (2) you are permanently hooked on the hobby, which is to say, insane.

It’s best, I think, to notify all of your friends of this fact as soon as possible. In fact, even if it hasn’t happened yet, I recommend having a formal letter explaining your insanity drafted in advance and put into the hands of an attorney. It should be marked “to be opened in the event of my spending ninety bucks on a life jacket.” That way everybody will understand about your hobby (insanity) and forgive, or at least tolerate, all of your future aberrant behavior.

That behavior will include (I speak from personal experience) taking that same yellow 6-man raft, a friend or loved one, maybe a dog, a minimal amount of camping equipment packed in waterproof bags that aren’t, and three day’s worth of food on a five-day trip down a wild and unknown stretch of river through utter wilderness where your only chance of replenishing your supplies lies in the feeble hope that you may snare a wild rabbit. More likely, you’ll be able to catch a lizard or two. That’s when you’ll be happy you brought the dog. He will be considerably less happy.

Later on, with the encouragement of the Humane Society, you will resolve always to carry enough food to last you the length of your trip. A novel idea. It means buying a bigger raft, however, because that old yellow raft just can’t carry any more than two or three days worth for two people.

At that point you become a genuine Rafter. You will spend something like $2,000 or $3,000 for a good raft (and you certainly don’t want one that isn’t good!) big enough to carry everything you need. Then your entire life will be structured around Saturday adventures on the McKenzie, Deschutes, North Santiam or Clackamas, and every year two or three Expeditions.

Expeditions will take you to places like “The River of No Return” or “Hell’s Canyon” on trips that will last a week or maybe two. And when you come back from an expedition you will spend your next couple of weeks back at work, wondering why you came back. But you know the answer. Deep down inside. You came back here so you can earn some money so that you can afford to go back there and maybe stay longer next time.

Beginner’s Luck

My wife and I started rafting in the usual way. A friend named Drew Patterson invited us to float the Upper Clackamas with him. With not the slightest idea what that meant, we put total trust in Drew, assuming that he wouldn’t do it if there was a significant risk. We did a short float that included the Toilet Bowl, Fish Creek Rapid, Lockaby Chute, and Carter Bridge Rapid. Jackie (my wife du jour) and I wore our wetsuits, which provided as much buoyancy as a life jacket. The “collar” style life vests we had along were used for kneeling cushions.

We made the trip without incident and had a really good time. Our second rafting adventure was in the same yellow 6-man raft, but on the Sandy River. Drew’s wife, Leanne, was along, and she actually wore her life vest—she was a non-swimmer. The other three life vests were used again for knee cushions. We blundered into a hole at the end of a rapid, and everyone except Leanne got ejected into the river. The only one who stayed in the raft was the one wearing the life vest. She was stuck in the reversal, helpless and terrified, until I got into the water upstream and swam down in my wetsuit and grabbed the raft as I went past.

Another Lesson Learned

By then, despite our little misadventure on the Sandy, we were thinking that this rafting thing was pretty easy, so in April when my brother Jerry—who was in the Air Force, stationed at Belleville Illinois—came visiting, my wife and I decided to take him rafting. We rented a raft that was supposed to be a six-man but turned out to be a four-man. Oh well, we thought, there were only three of us, so it would be okay. We headed up to the Upper Clackamas with our wetsuits. We launched upstream from where Drew had taken us, so we were on unfamiliar water, other than what we had seen from the road. We did fine for the first half-hour, but then as we were approaching the Toilet Bowl, half of the raft suddenly deflated.

The paddles that we were using had riveted aluminum blades, and as we studied them after the event, we noted that one of the paddles had a loose rivet that made a sharp raft ripper. That is probably what ripped the raft open—about a three inch tear. In any case, we convinced the rental company that it happened that way, so they didn’t charge us for the damage. As soon as the raft lost air, we were dumped into the river. We swam the raft carcass to shore, just above the main drop into the Toilet Bowl, not fully appreciating what would have happened if we had been pulled into that.

The Ubiquitous Yellow 6-Man Raft

Well, we were through with rented rafts. We went out and bought our own yellow 6-man raft, which came with instructions for building a simple four-board frame for rowing, instead of paddling. I started planning our first Rogue River trip, using an article from the outdoor section of the Sunday paper as a guide. With a plethora of other projects to occupy my time, I didn’t get the raft frame done until two weeks before our scheduled vacation.

About that time, my sister Jan and her husband Chris came for a visit, and we took them on our raft’s maiden voyage on the Sandy River—my first time with an oar raft. It was a fun, uneventful trip, although my oarlock blocks split. Lesson learned: you have to pay attention to which way the grain runs in the wood.

A week later, my wife and I took the raft, with new oarlock blocks, out for our first trip on the North Santiam. Here again, I was using a newspaper article as a guide. At the time, the newspaper was doing a whole series of articles covering all of the rivers in Oregon. Eventually, they were compiled and published as a book, thus institutionalizing the shortcomings of the individual articles.

The article covered the section of river from Packsaddle Park to Stayton, so Stayton was where we parked our shuttle car. Then we headed boldly down river. We did fine all the way to Mill City. Even Spencers Hole, which I now know flips rafts regularly, was no problem. We had scouted Mill City Falls from the bridge on our way to the put-in, and I knew where to run it. But as I approached it on the water, the chute looked steeper than I had expected. It was slack water, so I started ferrying across the river toward the right, looking for a better chute. I was on my way back to the left when the current grabbed the raft and sucked us right over the tallest part of the falls. No life jackets on—and this time, no wetsuits either. That’s where we got to learn the power of a reversal. And the river really wasn’t running very strong that day. We both came up sputtering, with a new appreciation for life jackets. I went to Andy & Bax and got a pair of those big, bulky Type I jackets for our Rogue trip—and we actually wore them.

We finished our Santiam trip at Mehama. By the time we got there, it had already taken more time than our newspaper article had logged for the full distance all the way to Stayton. And a fisherman told me that it was about the same distance from Mehama to Stayton as from Packsaddle Park to Mehama. At that rate, it would be 10:00 PM by the time we got to Stayton. So I hitched a ride to Stayton to get our shuttle car, and I still haven’t made the rest of the run.

First Expedition

Originally, our two-week vacation that year was to be a scuba diving trip to California. Jackie, who worked at a Portland TV station, got free media passes to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, so we added a stop at Ashland and scheduled our vacation around that date. In the meantime, I made a thorough study of the newspaper article about the Rogue River. With careful and selective interpretation of the information, I determined that we could actually add a Rogue trip to our vacation.

The trick to it was that we couldn’t carry camping gear—our raft was too small, and we didn’t have river bags. Furthermore, all the rest of our gear was made for car camping, not rafting. For instance, our cotton-filled sleeping bags were huge and heavy. And if they had ever gotten wet, they’d have never gotten dry. So I had to interpret the float log from the newspaper in such a way that we could do the run in two days, with an overnight stop at Marial, halfway through the run. It was the one place in the canyon with road access, and I figured we could drive in and drop off our camping gear.

We’d launch at Almeda Bar, float to Marial in a day, and spend the night there. Then we’d float out to Foster Bar and drive back to Marial to retrieve our gear. It seemed like a practicable plan—at least by my creative interpretation of the newspaper article.

After a couple of days in Ashland, we intended to drive straight to Marial, set up camp, and then drive to Grave Creek to launch our raft. But it rained hard the night before, and it was cool and cloudy in the morning. The local weather forecast was frustratingly vague, so we decided to hold off a day and see what happened. With time on our hands, we went to Grave Creek and hiked down to see Rainie Falls. In the course of our hike, we got to take a look at Grave Creek Rapid, Grave Creek Falls and Sanderson’s Riffle. Those were collectively referred to in our newspaper article as “busy water.” We watched a raft just like ours get flipped easily by Grave Creek Falls. With that, as well as our Santiam misadventure, fresh in mind, we decided that we couldn’t trust the Sunday paper, and would need to scout rapids. I knew we couldn’t do that on our 2-day schedule. The 2-day plan was a stretch to begin with.

Well, I wasn’t about to simply scrap our rafting plans, so we drove back into Grants Pass and found the library, where we studied Consumer Reports articles on sleeping bags—we had to know what we were looking for. Then we went and bought the bags that we used for all of our subsequent rafting, camping and backpacking adventures for the next 20 years. We went to a surplus store and got a white canvas zipper bag, which would protect the heavy duty plastic bags we put our new sleeping bags in. Real river bags hadn’t been invented yet. We also got a couple of “jungle bags” that we used in conjunction with more large plastic bags to hold a few clothes and some food, mostly in cans. We didn’t carry a stove—our old 3-burner Coleman was far too big to carry on the little raft. We would just cook on a fire, as I had learned to do in Boy Scouts. We took a minimal amount of cookware, and a little foam cooler that I strapped beneath the seat board.

We camped at Almeda Bar. It was dry but cloudy in the morning as I set up the raft, struggling to figure out where and how to tie everything down. The raft had no D-rings, so that was a challenge. It was almost noon before we got underway. We were wearing our wetsuits, but the weather was improving. By the time we got to Rainie Falls, we had stripped off our wetsuit jackets, and the pants were about to go. But I was glad I still had mine on for padding when I slipped and fell on my butt while lining the raft down the side chute. Despite the resulting bruise, we were having a great time. It was late in the afternoon when we scouted Wildcat Rapid. That was a long, tough scout, fighting our way through dense brush, scrambling over boulders and wading through mud bogs.

By the time we got through Wildcat Rapid, it was dinner time and I was starved. I found a little campsite at Russian Creek, on the right just above Russian Rapid. We got a good early start for our second day, and needed it. I scouted every rapid: Russian, Upper and Lower Montgomery, Howard Creek Chute, Slim Pickens, Plowshare, Big Windy, Black Bar and Black Bar Falls. We had a late lunch in the shade under the big rocks on the left side at Horseshoe Bend. Looking at the map, I knew that we were in trouble. We were going to run out of food before we ran out of river. So when a group of Whitewater Voyages rafts with real river guides came by, we quickly packed up and dropped in behind them.

I carefully watched every move the guides made and made the same moves myself. In that way, they guided me through the rapids of Kelsey Canyon—with great time savings—all the way to Winkle Bar. The guided group stopped for the night at Hewitt Creek. After visiting Zane Grey’s cabin, on the opposite side of the river, we went on ahead to Long Gulch and set up our camp there. I had no idea how we were going to get all the way from Long Gulch to Foster Bar in one day. We hadn’t even reached the halfway point on our trip after two full days.

The next morning, we stopped at Marial Lodge to try to buy some film. I was up in the lodge looking at the selection of film on the shelf, wondering if anybody was there. I hollered, but nobody answered, and I couldn’t see any film that would fit our Instamatic. Looking back at the river, I saw our old friends, the Whitewater Voyages group, coming past Mule Creek. I rushed back down to the raft to let them lead me through Mule Creek Canyon and Blossom Bar. They were good-humored about it, and even invited us to climb up Stair Creek Falls with their group. At Blossom Bar, they took the time to explain to me how to do it and even put a raft in a rescue position in case I had any trouble. I didn’t. Actually, I never had any control problem on the trip. The nearest we came to dumping was at the bottom of Wildcat, where I caught a side-breaking wave over the left side of the raft.

The guides stopped for the day below Devil’s Staircase, and we kept going. What we had to eat at that point was just nibbling snacks—granola bars and the like. We ate every crumb, and I pushed hard downstream. By the time we got through Clay Hill Flats, the sun was low and reflecting into our faces as I pushed against the upriver wind. We got to Foster Bar at about 7:30. From there, we drove out to the Coast and found a drive-in restaurant in Gold Beach. We ate everything they had. Hamburgers never tasted so good! If it seems sometimes that I tend to take too much along on my raft trips, now you know why!

How I Became a World Famous Rafter

Six months later, in the middle of the winter, Cal Watson, a guy in my office, offered to sell me his raft. Later to become known as Mariah, it is a black 14-foot World Famous “12-man” raft—a Japanese copy of the military 10-man assault raft. Bingham-Willamette had bought a truck load of these to install as life rafts on a ship they were refitting. But as soon as the union thugs found out that the rafts were Japanese-made, they refused to touch them and threatened to walk out on strike. So the company bought new union-made rafts (at ten times the price) and then offered the World Famous rafts to employees at cost.

Cal had bought one for $300 to use as a fishing boat that he could carry in the trunk of his car. He used it once. It took two people a full hour to pump it up using two cheapie hand pumps, and then it turned out to be almost impossible to control as the breeze blew him all over the lake. I told him that I couldn’t pay him what the raft was worth, but he kept badgering me to tell him what I could pay. Afraid of insulting him, I finally offered $100. Amazingly, he took it. Our plan was to go back to the Rogue River the next summer, giving me half a year to design and build a raft frame.

Building a World Famous Raft Frame

In 1975, there may have been commercial manufacturers of raft frames. But none were listed in the Yellow Pages, and there was nowhere else to look. I figured out fairly quickly that the only way I was going to get a frame for my new big raft was to build it myself.

For ideas, I went to Bill McGinnis’s book Whitewater Rafting, and found several sketches of very elaborate raft frames built of wood. I could work in wood. In fact, I could make my raft frame even more elaborate than those in the book.
I measured the raft, my big 48-quart ice chest, my three-burner Coleman stove, my river bags, and everything else I wanted to take on my next raft trip. I even measured my wife. But that’s another story. After making many scale drawings of my ideas, I finally settled on a design that I liked. I bought a van load of plywood, dimensional lumber and hardware and set to work.

It took a couple of months, but in June of 1976, I pumped up my raft—named Mariah, for obvious reasons—and assembled World’s Greatest Raft Frame. It filled half of my garage, and looked really good. I spent the next few weeks applying layer upon layer of polyurethane varnish.

By the time the frame was ready to take rafting, Jackie was pregnant, so the Wild Rogue trip was postponed indefinitely. In consolation, we instead floated the Grants Pass to Grave Creek section of the river at Labor Day, two months before our son was born. It was almost painful to tear down the raft at Grave Creek!

The Drunk Trip

It was four more years before I went back to the Wild and Scenic section of the Rogue. That trip will always be known as The Drunk Trip. Drew Patterson and his two buddies drank huge quantities of beer, mooned the jet boats, got arrested at Indian Mary Park for doing so, and still managed to get down the river. There were three other guys along too. One rode with me, one was rowing solo on a four-man raft and the other paddled a Tahiti. I was the only one in the group who had been down the Rogue; and in fact, though Drew was an experienced paddler, I was the only one who had ever rowed a raft.

That’s one reason we launched at Shroeder Park in Grants Pass—that and simply to extend our trip. The first day was all flat water, but within two miles of the launch our trip nearly ended. We spotted a rope swing hanging from a tree that leaned way out over the river and stopped to play. We all took turns climbing the steps nailed onto the tree trunk, then swinging out high over the water and dropping into the deep pool. When Drew, already wobbly drunk, took his turn, the tether rope that is used to retrieve the main rope for the next jump, got snagged on one of the steps. Drew swung out from the tree and just as he was about to go out over the water he ran out of slack in the tether. He was yanked to a stop, let go of the rope and dropped ten feet into water about six inches deep. I thought the trip was over right there. But Drew just picked himself up and went back to try it again. He made sure he took the tether rope along that time.

In camp that evening, after a long day of power-drinking, Drew and some of the others were up on the river bank playing poker. I was down next to the river, where I watched an orange jet boat roar upriver. A rousing cheer went up from the crowd on the jet boat and I turned around to see why, just in time to see the three drunks mooning the jet boat. They told me later that they had done it earlier in the day too, when the jet boat was going the other way.

After lunch on our second day we went through Hellgate Canyon, and as had become the pattern, Drew and the Drunks were lagging behind. The jet boat from Morrison’s Lodge passed us, heading upstream. I looked back to see that they had stopped next to Drew’s raft and even from a quarter mile away I could tell there was a heated conversation going on. I waited for Drew to catch up, and asked what that was all about. He said that after they mooned the jet boat, the operator had told him every law enforcement authority in the county was looking for him and his buddies. It all sounded like hot air, but when we stopped to fill our water jugs at Indian Mary Park, the sheriff was there. The jet boat must have had a radio. While Drew and the Drunks talked to the sheriff, I went on ahead and found a place to camp. They caught up later.

The next morning we stopped at Galice, where my van was parked awaiting shuttle, and I replenished some of our food box supplies. Drew and the Drunks, after phoning their attorney in Portland to deal with their little legal problem, replenished their beer supply. Before we left Portland, they loaded 14 cases of beer into my van, and had begun consuming it right away. We stopped at every rest area along I-5—and made a few stops where there weren’t any rest areas. At Galice, fearing that their supply wasn’t adequate, they bought 8 more cases. That made a total of 528 cans of beer for three guys—about 30 beers a day, per person.

Drew had a radio along, and he soon realized that the only station he could receive was the Grants Pass station, which was doing play by play coverage of Little League baseball games. Drew and the Drunks made cash bets on all of the games, betting on what each individual batter would do, what the next pitch would be, and anything else that occurred to them. Over a couple of days a lot of money changed hands, but probably everyone broke even.

They bet on everything. I spotted a blue heron and bet five bucks that it would fly downstream when it took off. I bet only on sure things. When we stopped to pick up our permit, the ranger told us that there had been a drowning at Blossom Bar, and the recovery operation was intermittently blocking the river. We were told to be sure to check before going into the rapid. By this time, the radio had mercifully crapped out, so the guys made bets on whether or not the body would still be in the water when we got there. It wasn’t, but in the meantime a drift boat had become lodged in the row of rocks called “the Picket Fence” at Blossom Bar.

A salvage team was out on the rocks attempting to recover the boat. They had carried extension ladders from Paradise Lodge to use as bridges to get out near the boat, and were attempting to snare it with a grappling hook. I still have a picture of that on the wall.

Judd and the Silver Sieve

My next run down the Wild section of the Rogue was in 1985 with Judd Lucas and his brother, Curt. By then I had picked up a second World Famous raft, which I named Silver Sieve. The name says all there is to know about the raft.

Judd and I worked at a dental equipment manufacturing company, where I was surrounded by all kinds of aluminum tubing and barstock, I built a classy knock-down aluminum frame for Mariah. Judd and Curt used my old wooden frame on the Silver Sieve. When they hit Telephone Hole sideways, I saw the entire black bottom of their raft before they came back down right side up.

On the way home from that trip, we blew a trailer tire at Elk Creek on Interstate-5. That was the last time I went out without a spare tire. I had to unhitch the trailer and leave it with Judd and Curt while I took off to find a new tire. I went to Cottage Grove and tried every possible tire source there, but came up empty. I ended up going all the way to the far northwest corner of Eugene, where I found the GI Joe’s store, moments before they locked up for the night, despite the monumentally poor road directions that people in that town give. It was close to 11:00 PM when I got back to Judd and Curt. It had been warm in the early evening when I left them, so they hadn’t taken jackets out of the car. By 10:00 they were huddling behind the raft trailer shivering and thinking unkind thoughts about me.

Rainie John

Then there was the time “Rainie John” MacFarnham rode Klamath over Rainie Falls on a commercial trip for students from Western Mennonite School. We had already taken the paddle raft (Cheyenne) down the lining chute, and I was attempting to show John how to get into the middle chute with the barge raft. He was a very experienced boater, so I was reluctant to jump in and give him too much coaching. It was a late May trip at a moderate water level, so there was a fairly strong pull toward the falls at the entry channel to the middle chute. John misjudged the current and didn’t pull quite hard enough to stay in the channel, and we suddenly found ourselves out of the channel, moving toward the falls.

In the few seconds available, I saw one possibility to keep from going over. I stepped off the raft onto a three-foot wide rock, with the intention of wrapping the bow line around it; but the raft was moving too fast by then. John went backward over the falls. I sat on the rock above the brink and saw the entire raft vanish under water in the white, churning pool. It surfaced against the left bank, full of water but right side up. I couldn’t see John, but I could tell from the reactions of the people on shore that they could see him. He came into my view about 100 yards below the falls, where he was able to catch the raft and eventually drag it to shore. Amazingly, nothing was lost. One oar blade got bent, and I think some water got into the breadbox.

Adventures in the Middle Chute

The middle chute at Rainie Falls can save a lot of work, compared with what it takes to run a big raft down the “lining chute” on the right. The first time I ever tried it was a late-season trip in a low-water year. The lining chute was so shallow that we had trouble even getting the lead boat down. I talked it over with one of my experienced guides, Don, and we decided to take the two larger rafts down the middle chute. He’d done it before, so he showed me how it was done. For the remainder of that season, I ran the heavies down the middle.

The first time I ever had any problem there, other than occasionally getting stuck on an inconveniently-placed shallow rock at the entrance to the chute, was when Rainie John took Klamath over the main drop. But we’ve had other troubles there. On an October trip in a low-water year, I was taking Cheyenne down the chute. As is typical, we were rebounding back and forth off the sides as we bounced down the three big drops. At the lip of the third drop, the raft went left and ran up onto a rock that protruded out over the water. Pinched between the rock and the stove box, the floor of the raft sustained a couple of one-inch cuts and immediately deflated. The current behind the raft kept us pushed hard onto the rock.

I worked my way down to the front of the raft, and eventually out onto the rocks, where I struggled to lift and shove the raft back into the chute. I hopped on as it broke loose and fell through the final drop. We floated the rest of the day with a deflated floor, and fixed it in our camp below Hewitt Creek.

More recently, I accompanied my daughter Tamara on her first try at running a raft down the middle chute. It was not the first time that Bright Star, a twelve-foot raft, had been through there—we had done it on a Clan trip a couple of years before. Everything went fine approaching the chute, and we dropped through cleanly. But in the swirling water below, Bright Star got stopped by the reversal. At first, the current just pushed us back against the rocks between the middle chute and the main falls. But the situation became urgent when we felt the raft being pulled toward the hole at the foot of the main drop. We did not want to go there!

I added some extra horsepower to the rowing, and was able to pull the raft away from the hole and out onto the downstream current. We have the whole thing on videotape, and it is easy to see how close we were to getting the Maytag treatment.

Experience Beach

Some of my best trips down the Rogue have been in October, after the throngs of summer boaters have abandoned the river and returned to jobs and school. My first October trip was in 1986, with Judd Lucas and a couple of other fishermen. I had just bought Cheyenne, and I really, really wanted to taker her out on a river trip. We recruited two other guys from our office, and Judd even talked me into getting a fishing license—possibly the only time in my life I’ve had one. We left Newberg early in the morning and arrived at Almeda Bar at about 10:30. I didn’t yet have a trailer that would carry the rafts already set-up, so we spent the next couple of hours inflating and rigging our rafts.

I used my still relatively new aluminum frame (built for Mariah) on Cheyenne, even though it didn’t fit as well as I had hoped when I bought the raft. Judd rowed Mariah using its original wooden frame. We started down river at 1:00. At Rainie Falls a couple of hours later, we wrestled the rafts down the lining chute, and by the time we were done with that, we were ready to stop for the day. Less than a mile below Rainie, we spotted a beach on the left. Judd thought that the pool next to the beach looked like a good fishing hole, so we pulled-in and set up camp.

The next morning, Judd broke out his fishing gear and began rigging. But before he got rigged-up, another fisherman came walking down the riverbank and tossed his line into our fishing hole. Don’t fishermen have some kind of unwritten rule about butting-in on someone else’s fishing hole?

“This is one of my favorite fishing spots,” the guy told us. “A few years ago, I came down here one morning, and started fishing this hole. There was a tent on the beach, but there was nobody in sight. Well, just as I hooked into a big Chinook, I saw a hippy kind of guy—you know, long hair, beard—climb out of the tent. He stood there stark naked and complained, ‘Hey man, you’re, like, unravelling the fabric of my experience.’ Ever since then we’ve called it Experience Beach.”

Screamer Beach

Another interesting name is attached to a campsite on the Lower Salmon. The guides with my company call it “Screamer Beach.” In the middle of the night, we were all jolted out of our sleep by a blood-curdling scream. Like most guides, I was not using a tent, so I was up instantly, shining my light around to find the wild beast that I knew must be attacking one of the guests. Immediately, I could see evidence of thrashing around in one of the guest tents, which was occupied by a couple in their 30s. I heard the zipper open, and the young lady came bursting out, wearing nothing but a t-shirt.

“Don’t you ever do that again!” she exclaimed loudly.

Discretion prompted me to turn off my flashlight and pretend that I hadn’t seen or heard a thing. The next day, all of the other guides related similar stories, but none of us ever found out what had actually happened.