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Thursday, August 05, 2010

By about two feet

Day 4.

Clouds were racing across the sky, from the west, when Risa arose, and she had a sense of foreboding. The sky became gray with low, scudding marine-air-mass cloud cover that refused to burn off, chilling the riparian environment. The winds were strong as we left the island, rather than coming up in the afternoon as usual, and at times it was a struggle to paddle forward, even with the current. Risa became obsessed with "wind shadow," seeking out the shorelines with the least wind and hugging them. All went well till she came to a corner where a surprise riffle took the Rubber Ducky and sent it hurtling toward a strainer that seemed to gather half the river underneath -- certain death should Risa spill and be swept below.

For about fifteen seconds she dug with the paddles as she had never done before, and will hopefully never need to do again, and the three days' exercise and long nights' sleep served her well. She cleared the log by about two feet and drifted downstream slowly against the cold wind, gulping down one long, ragged breath after another.

The Cowboy, who habitually keeps more to midstream than Risa, saw it all and navigated the edge of the riffle with ease, then pulled alongside, joining the boats together with a gentle hand. Risa was crying softly.

"Hey," he said, smiling. "Didn't get you, did it? That was good paddling. You're fine, I'm fine, the river's fine, and the trip's fine. Want a choco-chip granola bar?"

For lunch we pulled off the river in a fascinating town with the city hall facing the river and ate in the park. When we carried our lunch sacks, we looked like bums and the people would not make eye contact. But then when we filled our water bottles they realized we were river-trippers and smiled and talked. A little lesson in what it feels like to be "the homeless."

The sun came out and the day rapidly went from cold to hot. We paddled through the state capital and paid a brief visit to the paddle-wheeler tied up at the waterfront, then made our way to the designated campsite, a wilderness island only a stone's throw from downtown. We had made another 20.5 miles in the incessant wind, with a high temperature of 91(F) in the shade. 91 miles total.

And we'd not seen much shade while paddling.

Here the only spot was right on the beach, with the island's embankment and cottonwoods towering over us. The tents were in the broiling sun, so we had supper on the bluff above camp, back in the shadows. A motorboat drifted by with each of its occupants trying to fix the motor in turn. One of them was on a cell phone, and sure enough, a few minutes later a county sheriff's boat motored past at high speed, apparently on its way to render assistance.

A gravel pit across the channel made a horrendous din but fell silent at five o'clock, and we had the darkening river to ourselves in the midst of the metropolis.


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