At some point Saturday night, while Kirra and I were loitering among the assorted river rats congregated around a raging bonfire at Lochsa Lodge, May began. Boldly spring into action, we…well, we didn’t have a watch, or phones, and we didn’t even notice. But at that moment, though we were hardly aware, our adventure began.
There couldn’t be a better beginning for us than the Lochsa Rendezvous, a wild, ad-hoc celebration of rivers and river people. On Saturday, Haaken and I made a couple warm-up laps on Fish Creek, and another with Kirra, who was rocking it until she pitoned and was surfed and flipped in a hole, earning her first booty beer of the trip with a rocky swim. Then, with a cohort of kayaking and rafting friends, we ran the lower section of the Lochsa. There was carnage, beer, hot springs, fires, swims, beatdowns, and epic lines. With so many people on the river, things got weird and wild…
That night, as I set my gear out to dry, I went to get a carabiner from my PFD and found nothing but an absence. My heart plummeted; I had left it at the takeout. It was a brand-new Astral Greenjacket I had only used for four days, after my last one was stolen. I dwelled ruefully on how excited I had been, mere hours before, about the beer sleeve in the main pocket. Fuck. Running around camp, I questioned everybody who had been on the river near us. Did you see it at the takeout? Was it thrown in your raft? Does anyone else have a similar jacket? Ultimately, I gave up and decided to drink about it.
Early Sunday morning, Kirra and I woke up her friend Berto to borrow a PFD. We were headed to Weir Hot Springs for a morning soak, but I couldn’t sit around with my jacket missing. I drove down to the takeout while everyone else relaxed, stressing the whole way, driving too fast. When I arrived, I found a single, lonely black sock, trodden into the sand and mud. No Greenjacket.
We put on the upper with a terrific kayak crew: Cole, George, Haaken, Emma, Kirra, Lynn, Bird, and Jake. I wanted to work on technique with the girls, so we played follow-the-leader. My ducks followed along, catching eddies, ferrying, practicing boofs and braces. I was loosely relying on whoever was in front to scout rapids so I could take the girls down easier lines. After one rapid, we were presented with a new horizon line, split in the middle by a pile of boulders. Right or left? There was no way to tell; Haaken headed left. I followed. All of a sudden, I found myself on the lip of a huge ledge hole. I boofed, poorly, and almost was sucked back it. I spun and yelled, “Get left! Left!” Emma, following close behind me, had no chance. She got stuffed just I was smacked by a hole and had to look downstream. There were huge holes everywhere. I looked back upstream to see Kirra boofing over Emma’s overturned kayak. I caught an eddy and Lynn’s boat drifted by me, upside-down. “Come on, Lynn, get it!” I yelled, mostly to myself. She carped one roll, then hit the other. Kirra and Emma were swimming and the rest of us rushed to get them and their gear. After a few minutes of panic, everything was ashore. “Sorry guys, that was not the line. My bad.”
For Kirra, as a pretty new kayaker, this next month is going to be incredibly educational. I will try to carefully walk the fine line between challenging, interesting rivers and dangerous ones. It’s easy, with paddling, to overcommit and go to far. By the same token, getting a little scared is essential to progress. We’re going to learn a great deal about communication and working together in a river environment.
Over the next month we’ll be kayaking and taking water samples from thirty rivers, broadening the data set on microplastics in waterways and having a terrific time. It’s been three days since and we’ve run two rivers. Somehow, we need to make up the days we can’t paddle during finals. Time is limited, obligations are real. Friday morning we get after it. We’re headed wherever the water looks best, then on Monday and Tuesday, we’ll split up and run the South Fork Salmon and South Fork Payette with some friends in Idaho. Then we’re planning a preseason Selway. NWRFC forecast shows the Selway between five and six feet. An anonymous kayaker said, “You can’t get into whitewater heaven ‘til you’ve run the Selway above five feet on the paradise gauge.”
Here we go!