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Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Kayaks on the Sandy River – A True Story


paper boat
cast adrift on the current
sent on an indeterminate voyage
bound to get soggy
destined to sink
fun in the journey
(for the creator?)

silver fry
cast adrift on the current
sent to the ocean
bound to return
destined to spawn (and die)

(Fun in the journey?)

the River
the Current
carries us along

Maybe we understand the river is a metaphor.
Maybe we learn to read the currents and risk the rapids in order to live out the story, to wager our lives and prove we can win…sometimes.


The Narrative:

Well, I don’t know about all that philosophical crap, but my brother Fred, the Monkey-cam and I decided to try kayaks on the Sandy River. We started at the far end of Oxbow Park with the intention to make it down to Lewis and Clark State Park.

None of us had ever taken kayaks down a river before, not even the Monkey-cam, and I don’t think I’d taken my canoe down since before the floods in November – the floods that significantly rearranged the landscapes of the Northwest’s strato-volcanoes.

As I’ve hiked various trails around the three ‘guardian’ peaks (Adams, Hood & St. Helens) I’ve come to realize that mountains are far from static environments. I think that in terms of geologic timeframes, a volcano is like those pyramid shaped stacks of oranges at the grocery store which can collapse quickly and completely if you take out an orange from the bottom row.

The Sandy River is a child of Mt. Hood.
Evidence of its dynamic potential was everywhere evident.

I picked this particular section of the Sandy River because it was supposed to be lacking in significant rapids – the kind that demand the technical kayaking excellence that none of us possessed. But an ominous roar from an unexpected location ahead suggested that we should pull ashore and scout downriver by foot – just to be safe.

What we saw was an incredible uncharted waterfall formed by accelerated erosion. I had little doubt that the unconsolidated debris carried by November’s record rainfall was somehow responsible for this new river feature. I’m a little hazy on the location. It was somewhere between Oxbow Park and Dabney State Park, but, as big as it was, it seemed extremely unstable, and for all I know, it may have been worn down since then. As I studied it, it didn’t escape my attention that it looked remarkably similar to Falls Creek falls, though more like a mirror image.

I had seen mountain climbers on T.V. outline their assaults on Mt. Everest, so, in a similar fashion, I drew up a preliminary plan for our route down the falls. I knew our borrowed Pungos, with their ‘V’ shaped hulls were not ideal for maneuvering in rapids like these, but all of us had drunk enough of Fred’s homebrewed beer to believe that it really wouldn’t be that hard.

Never-the-less, Fred and I determined that the Monkey-cam should go first – just in case.

The Monkey-cam courageously followed my proposed route to the edge of the precipice (bless his heart) with disastrous results. Fortunately, he was dexterous enough to leap form the Pungo to some nearby branches. (I’ve decided his probation period is over.) You can see the Monkey-cam’s wrecked Pungo submerged in the punchbowl at the base of the falls (a punchbowl remarkably similar to the one I’ve seen on the Eagle Creek Trail.).

Fred was up next.

Having seen what befell the Monkey-cam, and keenly aware that he would be unable to leap from his kayak, Fred chose to use ‘the Force’ like Luke Skywalker in the first Star Wars movie. At least that’s the reason he said his eyes were closed.

Halfway down the stretch of rough water, Fred, like a bareback bronco rider, demonstrates his excellent, evidently instinctual balance and form.

All I had to do was follow Fred’s path.

It really didn’t help much to paddle in the midst of the cascading torrent, but I noticed that once you got going fast enough, you could use your paddle to fly much like flying squirrels use flaps of underarm skin. In this manner, I was able to avoid the hidden rocks (rocks that are remarkably similar to the rocks at the base of Latourell Falls) cloaked by the dynamic white robe of water approaching terminal velocity.

I can’t speak for Fred, but in my own case I believe it was my super buoyant love-handles that minimized the time I spent underwater (for some reason, this scene reminds me of the upper section of Pup Creek Falls.)

We got lucky this time. We triumphed against the river. We demonstrated that we could take our destinies into our own hands…at least for a time. We perpetuated the illusion of free will and self determination.

Mostly, we had fun.

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