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Sunday, August 6, 2017


The boat ramp at Armitage County Park is long, narrow and steep and if it had a face, it would probably frown at kayakers who festoon the sides of the ramp with half-packed kayaks and hapless kayak owners here and there on one more trip to the car for those things they forgot. Uncle Rico, still not comfortable under the gaze of my camera, poses awkwardly . Kip and I inexpertly lash essentials to our plastic boats.

I pause to marvel once again at Uncle Rico’s fiberglass U.F.O.  Typically used as a stable mount for duck cannons, this one has been stripped of its artillery in exchange for a payload of frozen Pabsts.

Kip, Deb, and Uncle Rico
Kip, I and Uncle Rico take a traditional ‘Before’ selfie. Well, it would be traditional if we ever regularly documented ‘before’ and ‘after’. In this case, I’ll forget to take the ‘after’ selfie making this photo moot. Kip says, “Wait a minute, if I’m Kip and Uncle Rico is Uncle Rico, then who are you supposed to be, Napoleon?”  Kip asks this with an intonation that implies, perhaps, that I’m a narcissist who considers myself the main protagonist of an adventure that is customarily an egalitarian cooperative.

“No,” I reply, “I’m Deb.”  I hold up my camera and aim, “Okay, hold still right there. Now, just imagine you’re weightless, in the middle of the ocean, surrounded by tiny little seahorses,” and I snap the picture. “That was the one,” I say, “ I think that’s gonna come out really nice.”

Uncle Rico says, “Ah, how you did it…wow…well I felt really relaxed. Thanks Deb.”

Kip says, “Is there some kind of vest that I can wear?”

The Armitage County Park boat ramp provides access to the last couple of miles of the McKenzie River before it empties into the Willamette.  Uncle Rico manages to catch trout along the way.

We make camp on a small island just beyond Scandia Landing. Counter-intuitively, the smooth river cobbles piled loosely above the waterline make comfortable, form-contouring mattresses that are free of sand and dirt.

Meant to be appetizers, I prepared cheese-stuffed-bacon-wrapped peppers, but in such quantities that Uncle Rico decided to keep the trout on ice for the next evening.  I was unable to take a picture due to mitigating circumstances that have to do with my ability to focus, so this picture is from a previous camping trip. This year’s peppers were wrapped in much thicker-cut bacon and cooked until quite crispy, though some might describe it as partially burnt. I will likely intentionally cook them the same way next time since the charcoal ‘notes’, I felt, added a certain complexity to the whole presentation.

By the time the peppers are done, the sharp tips of the toothpicks (that hold the bacon on) have burned off. This image shows Kip and Uncle Rico carefully heeding my warning that the remains of two toothpicks are hiding in each pepper. Unfortunately I think I told them there were at least two toothpicks when I should have said there were at most two toothpicks which may have resulted in unnecessary caution and concern. Because of those mitigating circumstances regarding my focus, I found I was totally surprised every time I bit into a toothpick. Given four peppers, this means I was surprised eight times. This is why I don’t want to get a job that requires learning safety protocols for radioactive materials.

Kip uses his cage- fighting, cat-like reflexes to choose the route without strainers.
The last time I took my kayak on an extended river trip, I spent a surprising amount of time out of the kayak, desperately hanging on to it through the latter part of sets of rapids. The Willamette River, on the portion we descended, was considerably less challenging on a technical level, the trick becoming how to locate the predominate channels around islands and avoid up-current eddies at inopportune moments.

I suppose the waters of the Willamette are actively searching out the least difficult route to the ocean, despite our drawings in maps that show fixed boundaries. The thick soils of the Willamette valley seem defenseless and vulnerable, subject to deep scars. If we could see the meanderings of rivers in geologic-time, it might look like the ephemeral paths raindrops take as they roll down our windshields.

If you’re going to sit under a summer sun in an open boat for 5 days:

1. Bring a light, long-sleeve shirt — not just a fleece jacket.

2. If you’re going to wear Keen Sandals (because you’ll constantly be stepping  in and out of the water) don’t forget to put sunscreen on those little triangular areas on top of your feet where the sandals are still open to the sun’s radiation.

Raptors patrol the river, and skirmish with each other where their territories overlap. There didn’t seem to be any shortage of bald eagles, and I certainly prefer their company over the vultures who constantly seem to be appraising my paddling skills.

After leaving the McKenzie River, the trout became more difficult to find, probably because of a demoralizing wealth of Pike-minnows.

Photo courtesy Kip copyright 2017

I was determined to make a fish contribution to our evening meal, and even though this is the second day of the trip, I still hadn’t lost my fishing pole — until right about here, where my bait got stuck on some underwater obstacle or another. I didn’t actually lose the pole, but I did snap it in half.  Note: I’m wearing a heavy, black, fleece jacket.

The shadows are growing long, so we begin looking for our second campsite in earnest.

Some of the available campsites have River-Trail signage or they happily correspond with the river-mile markers, but more often than not, you end up picking a random gravel bank, and hope for shade and fire-wood. Uncle Rico and Kip are expert at identifying potential firewood and take a perverse delight in identifying impossibly large, tree-size candidates for planned conflagrations that would be better suited for Viking funerals. Somewhere close to this spot is the Sam Daws Landing or the Buckskin Mary Landing, unseen by me.

We were lucky we had Uncle Rico’s trout from the first day on ice because neither Kip nor I were able to catch any more.

We spent most of the day catching pike-minnows, but understood that they weren’t good to eat. In desperation someone asked, “Has anyone ever really eaten a pike-minnow?”

We all looked at each other, but evidently nobody had.

Uncle Rico decided we should try one.

The experimental, butchered pike-minnow had ribs that resembled some kind of exuberant, yet deficient weaving and flesh that was white and insubstantial. In a way, the meat almost expanded when placed in the frying pan, like it was puffing up. Technically, if incorporated, it helped the evening’s tacos qualify as two-species tacos…but we did not eat pike-minnow again.

Ummm, trout!

A one-species taco.

Owing to a technical contrivance that utilizes the flammable by-products of the distillation process, we fell into a bad habit of not bothering with kindling to start the evening’s conspicuous bonfires. In this picture you can see we are about to enjoy a fireless bonfire up until the point where Kip remembers that whole thing about kindling.

The ancient ways still work.

The third campsite was beautiful.

But between (or amongst) the three of us, we caught no eatable fish.

Though bound by an unwritten code that compels us only to eat those things which we catch and kill on the trip (excluding beer…and bacon-wrapped-cheese-stuffed peppers) I typically hide away a package of sausages and half a dozen potatoes. I neglected to do so this time.

Fortunately, Kip sheepishly revealed that he was hiding a substantial kielbasa and half a dozen potatoes in his supplies, and so for the first time, we tried kielbasa and potato tacos. Whatever moral qualms I had about transgressing the code diminished with every bite of my taco. Later, Kip pulled out the biggest bag of pistachios, salted and peppered, that I’d ever seen (also two kinds of jerky).

This raises something of a mystery about camping and eating —that is — why does food taste so good when you’re camping (except for pike-minnow)?
It seems like every time we have fish tacos on these trips, they are the best fish tacos we’ve ever had…even when they’re made of kielbasa and potatoes. Are we just getting incrementally better at making fish tacos year after year? Is that even possible?
I guess there’s nothing to do but monitor the situation and report any future anomalies.

Photo courtesy Kip copyright 2017

Early the next morning, I caught a bass. I think it was one of my proudest moments. Note: I’ve draped a dry bag across the top of my Keen Sandals in an effort to protect the top of my feet which  I’ve burned to the point of blistering (not one of my proudest moments).

By this time in the trip, the ice we’ve had in our ice chests is mostly melted and the only truly cold beer left is Uncle Rico’s frozen cans. Among some religious factions, much is made of sharing meals — communion they call it. In this picture, Uncle Rico is sharing something very much like communion.
I’m sure I’ve shared sentiments like this before, but fish tacos and ice cold beer in a natural setting makes me feel connected to the earth…and to friends.


At times, the river broadens and spreads out, becoming lake-like. The current is all but missing and more often than not, an afternoon wind kicks up out of the north making forward progress totally dependent on paddling.

On the last night, there is plenty of bass for everyone.

Uncle Rico expertly prepares bass filets.


Deep fried bass.

Try and identify the filets that weren’t expertly cut (by Deb)

Our fourth camp was at Luckiamute Landing, and as much as I enjoy camping, this fresh facility was a welcome surprise.

We had expected to find good fishing during our trip, so I was puzzled to find such a preponderance of pike-minnow…

…only to find that Uncle Rico had been sharing his beer with them.

The Buena Vista Ferry.
Time to take out at Buena Vista State Park.


  1. Too bad you didn't have some sauerkraut and onions to add to your kielbasa and potato fish tacos,

    Thanks for the PNW travelogue. I was supposed to be in PDX last week, but life.

  2. While I understand the sentiment, I still mostly regret that there was no fish.



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