Phil used to guide river trips on the Salmon and Snake rivers. He did this every summer for seven years, and he is quite good at it. So good that OARS, the company he guided for, allowed him to come back and row just for one trip on the Main Fork of the Salmon and bring me along as well.
To that end, we bid adieu to the sparkling Chetco and aimed our car toward exotic Lewiston, Idaho. We stopped for the night in White Salmon, Washington so we could rest up and reconnect with some of Phil's river friends—Amy, Dave, and Eve.
There was plenty of talk about flow rates on the Salmon above 70,000 cubic feet per second—that's quite a lot of water, I learned—to get us excited/terrified for our ride. I had fun watching Phil slip so easily back into his river world. With friends like the Sacquetys, it's no wonder he returned to boatland year after year. White Salmon will definitely be a recurring pit stop in the future, for the Sacquetys' company and their amazing view.
I was not prepared for the strange reality of boatland, the base for OARS's Idaho operations. It's a Never Never Land for tree-hugging adrenaline addicts, and it's in a permanent state of flux. Every day, there are trips ending and beginning, packing and unpacking. OARS attracts an incredible array of employees. Plenty of fit college kids trying to earn summer cash, but also people into their thirties, forties, fifties, and beyond, and they hail from all over. Everyone there has held onto a desire to turn playing outside into a career—something I think most people share until they trade it in for more "mature," "practical," or "realistic" pursuits. I'm jealous of them, a little, but I've made my choice.
As Phil's guest, I wasn't exactly a real client, so I helped as much as I could (read: got underfoot) during the pack-up for our trip, which was to have about thirty people on it. That's thirty people to fit into boats and to house, feed and water for six days, and thirty people's excrement to collect and cart around (lest the riverbanks become one big pile of poo). Packing for all of that was something to behold. When we weren't packing, we visited a couple of Phil's other river friends, including Eric and Cassie, who very generously lent me some of their fancy gear. I also crammed in as much study time as I could, because, sadly, I would not be able to study on our trip; believe it or not, there is no 3G in the Frank Church Wilderness. Shucks.
If the pack-up was a frenzied blur, the put-in was a frenzied blur set to the Benny Hill theme. All the stuff that took the dozen or so of us most of a day to put on the truck came back off in about an hour. Here's Phil taking a well-deserved break after rigging his boat (like a boss).
The clients showed up, we ate and mingled and talked about safety and the like, and then we pushed off on a very swollen river under some mean-looking clouds.
We landed some minutes later, about three miles downriver, and set up camp. We ended up staying at this first camp for three of our six days, because our wise trip leader Heather thought we should let the river calm down so the last big rapid on our trip, "Whiplash," did not dash us all against the rocks. The three-day stretch gave us plenty of time to hike, swim, and poke around for snakes (see below).
This guy almost surprised us on the trail. Like, a venom-coursing-through-your-veins-type surprise.
River friends are good friends.
We eventually piled back in the boats and headed downstream. I was sad to leave that first campsite—it was the best of the trip, and the multi-day stop meant far less packing and unpacking. Rowing lessons cheered me up.
Smiling because, when I get hot and tired, I can give the oars back to Phil—do your job, lazy!
The last half of the trip was rigorous. We packed and unpacked everything each day, cooked for thirty at every meal, and just spent alllllllll day on the water, which pretty well wrings you out. I decided to ride in one of the clients' dories for a bit to see what it was like and get a chance to row. Pretty much as soon as I left Phil alone, he managed to stand the boat up vertically on its stern in a hole in one of the rapids before crashing down, triumphantly upright. I didn't get to see this feat myself, but I understand it was Phil's finest hour. I also understand that, had I been in the boat, I would have no longer been in the boat. Thanks, Phil, for sparing me from your rowing gymnastics.
The river corridor was
Pretty much James Bond.
We made time at camp to relax and do some more hiking and swimming.
There's always time for more snakes.
And there's always time for, uh, this.
WHIPLASH. This is Phil's scared face.
The clients and crew.
We said goodbye to the clients at the take-out and commenced the reverse of the herculean effort that got the boats into the water and full of stuff. Back at boatland, everything was cleaned and put away, and I finally understood just how much it meant for my narcoleptic husband to drive the six hours to Seattle to see me after derigging back when we were first dating. We slept like big, tired rocks.
Phil and I left the next morning for sunny Seattle, grooving to the soothing strains of "CORPORATIONS AND OTHER BUSINESS ENTITIES." River > real world.
Don't miss the final installment of our epic saga, in which we play outside some more. I promise it's more interesting than it sounds.