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Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Mr. Big and Mr. Little

Sparkling fresh
Day 2.

In the morning we found that deer had walked all round the tents and did their business in the "living room" between them. This made sense as we chose the campsite as the only flat sandy spot, but it had been theirs for years as a highway to the water, and we were being an inconvenience.

We were on the water by 8 a.m. to beat the prevailing winds, which come from the north and east along the river, or against the current, which is south-to-north. There were many red-tailed hawks, cooper's hawks, and ospreys, and a bald eagle or pair roosting at intervals of about one mile. Herons would abide our approach to within about fifty feet, then launch downriver with a resentful croak. A raccoon walked along the bank, stopping to sniff empty mussel shells.

We rested on a gravel bar in the hot sun and, while eating jerky and granola, were treated to the sight of a four-point buck in velvet crossing the river with a doe, a long swim for them both, with only their heads above water.

Got everything?

Water has its preferences when running downhill, and one comes to know them and read the river and its terrain. Anywhere along the river, there will generally be a gravel beach with young willows on one side, and a high undercut bank, with cottonwoods, or an artificial riprap wall of three-foot boulders, on the other. The current stays with the high banks and wall, which are found on the outside of bends.

You may take advantage of the current by going the long way round each bend, but this is also where the "strainers" -- tall cottonwoods that have fallen down the bank and are waiting to catch and drown you -- tend to be found, so it's not something you can do in your sleep.

We also learned that as the current divides around any island, it picks up speed, and can make landings problematical, but at the tail end of the island there will be backflows -- "backwater" -- and shallows where the gravel and sand tail off. The best access and best campsites are often at this point, so it is always worth investigating.

We were doing just that when five deer came down to the water on the mainland, stepped in without noticing us, and swam toward the shallows below the island. We drifted almost among them before they became alarmed. The leader, a big buck, fairly leaped and walked on water to make the island, but the others, a smaller buck and three does, were stuck in the eddy and swam in place. Risa went by them perhaps ten feet away, and said, "C'mon, babies, you can do it" -- which was a bit much for them, so they turned as one and swam back to the mainland.

The Cowboy watched them go, and remarked: "See, there -- nature has a way of providing for the little guy. Mr. Big is on the island but Mr. Little has the does."

Our second campsite, on yet another island, proved to be even more of an animal highway, but the beavers apparently routed around us all night. The tents were close together in the only flat spot and as night fell, we were able to converse back and forth in the dark, a tribute to Risa's very ancient but still serviceable hearing aid. Twenty-five miles had been paddled yet again, for a total of fifty for the two days.

Sleep comes easily to a paddler who has put in eight hours on the water in 93(F) degree heat.

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