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River Rafting Adventure

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My sun hat, the Salmon River guidebook, my camera in its Ruggard Holster Bag, and its dry-bag to keep it safe from splashes.

I don’t even know where to begin to describe my seven-day experience on the River of No Return. I’ll admit, I’d rather be 100 feet high on sketchy gear than in fast moving water–it makes me uncomfortable to say the least. I’m not going to deny that I was scared at some points during the 85 miles of whitewater–50 rapids ranging from Class II ripples to raging Class IV drops–but with a group of thirty incredible people, many of them professional oarsmen, I was in the best hands, literally. Our group fell into an easy daily rhythm: wake up, make breakfast, pack up the tents, load the boats with our gear, push off shore, oar for about 12-15 miles, take out at a beachy, riverside campsite, unload the boats, set up the tents and hammocks and kitchen, make dinner, clean up, play horseshoes, go to sleep, wake up and break down all over again. There was so much to observe and learn and try for the first time from rigging a boat to understanding the flows and currents of the river. Every day there was a new challenge and new places to explore. Here are some of the highlights!

The Salmon River Canyon in Idaho is the continent’s second deepest gorge; some of its depths surpassing that of the Grand Canyon! The pine-covered hillsides and limestone walls glared green in the sunlight and the river was wide, and deep, and exhilarating. On 90-degree days, we took a break from oaring to jump into the river and let it carry us and our boats along on its swift path through the wilderness.

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Our group scouting Black Creek rapid on the main Salmon. I still hear everyone’s voices: excited, apprehensive, nervous.

Many of the main Salmon’s rapids are fun and non-threatening, just enough bump for a refreshing splash, while others like Black Creek, Big Mallard, and Vinegar rapids are big enough to put a lump in your throat if you’re an inexperienced rafter. The first rapid of the Salmon was Black Creek, one that a few in our group would run for the first time, and for which others had only done once. For this rapid, we pulled over, walked downstream and scouted the rapid for the safest route through the whitewater. We scrambled over the rocks along the shore in our life jackets to a high spot to look out over the rushing water. Our team leaders, Mark, Doug, and Lanny (Mike’s Dad) pointed out to big holes, rocks, and drops to avoid. “Enter center-left, and pull hard left,” they said, explaining the run.

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On of our group’s rafts, Matt and Allison, approaching the run for Black Creek rapid, Class IV.

Mike oared us through these difficult, technical rapids, and I clutched our raft’s straps, and yelled “Please don’t let us flip!” Approaching the rapid was always the scariest.

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Mike looking ahead to a big rapid.

Once inside, Mike slipped us by big holes, and pulled us away from obstacles, pointing us into giant waves that sloshed over the front of our boat, and spat us out on the other end where the rest of our group watched and cheered.

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Approaching a rapid, Mike pushes us into position for the best possible run. I also love how this picture captures our shared tattoo.
In the afternoon, like clockwork, the wind swooped through the canyon and made oaring through flat water especially difficult so after a day of oaring, swimming, and scouting, everyone was hungry. Each family was responsible for two meals, and everyone really out-did themselves: chicken curry, Italian beef sandwiches, bacon and eggs, pancakes and caramel brownies–we ate like riverside kings.
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Egg sandwiches for breakfast. I ate better on the river than I do at home!
On the third day, we stopped at Bath Hot Springs, a stone basin that accommodated almost all us. We relaxed in the springs with beers and then hopped back in the river to cool off.
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Allison and her daughter Sage (left) soaking in the springs.

At night, we sat in a circle in camp chairs sipping hot cocoa on the evenings it rained, and cocktails on the clear summer nights, played horseshoes, lounged in hammocks, and watched the setting sun turn the canyon purple. The evenings were relaxing and fun, full of laughter, and one night, a rattlesnake that Lanny and Mike chased into the river, away from our camp.

On the morning of day five, people couldn’t stop talking about “the bridge.” “Is today the bridge?” some of the kids asked the adults who consulted the map that morning. The bridge is a 40-ft jumping tradition, and I had no idea how high until I sat on the edge of the railing, my heart in my throat. It took me a full twenty minutes, but I finally jumped!

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Jumping off this bridge was such a rush. I’m glad I didn’t back out.
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The beauty of this canyon was unrivaled in my experiences so far.

On the slower parts of the river, I took over the oars to take a shot at steering us down the river. After being a passenger for so many hours, I loved the opportunity to “drive.” I even had the chance to raft us successfully through class III rapids! I couldn’t have done it without Mike yelling out specific instructions through the run. “One big pull, right!” he said, pointing to my right, and “Good! Now give me a giant pull back on both!” and “Get ready to point our nose toward that rock wall.”

The last day seemed surreal. I had finally gotten used to the rhythms of the river and it was time to take out. There was so much gear to organize and carry out, but it’s so important to pack in and pack out everything. Popping the tops of some Bitter Root Brewing beers made packing out not so bad. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Remember the river rafting packing guide I made before I left? Well, I made a list during the trip of the items that turned out to be the most helpful and the ones that turned out to be kind of useless after all. The most surprising item on the useless list? My bathing suit! It turned out to be uncomfortable to wear all day, and my dry-fit clothes dried faster than my swim suit, and didn’t rub and poke. I packed six pairs of underwear and didn’t wear one pair, crazy right? The one item I wish I had was lotion! I had no idea the river could dry out your skin so badly, but by the end of the trip, I was gray as ash and flaking away. Good to know!

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So lucky to have spent this incredible adventure with so many amazing people!

The river challenged my fear of water, and I’m proud of myself for taking an adventure that is outside of my comfort zone, because well, that’s the point, right? Never be afraid to jump in!

 

bda