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Saturday, August 20, 2011

The other thing


Well, we went. This was to be a fast route over a portion of last year's epic paddle. Fifty-eight miles to the pickup point in Albany and only two days to do it in. We'd be picked up at seven in the evening, so the second day's paddle was to be extended to pull it off.

We succeeded, and Risa's arms are not as sore as she could have expected. But she was not as mentally and physically prepared for this journey, after climbing South Sister, as she had meant to be. She slipped stepping into the boat at the put-in and got one leg wet, and she and Beloved, the shuttle driver, felt a premonition. But, ever the rationalist, Risa put blade to water and went round the bend in the river, barely remembering to look back and wave.

Every year, of course, a dynamic water system like the Willamette is completely different. This year the water was higher and faster than last year, and all the deadly cottonwood "sweepers" had shifted to make new traps. There was never a dull moment, seldom an opportunity to hook up boats to drift and be chummy. It was work. Beautiful work, but work.

And then came the railroad bridge at Harrisburg. "These places can be dangerous," said Risa, as she aimed the kayak to pass a smallish, unimpressive whirlpool loaded with snags. The next thing she knew she was in ten feet of water next to an upside down boat, going in circles, emitting a muffled whimper. She reached for, and got, her passing paddle, righted the 'yak, draped her arms over it, and kicked rather feebly in imitation of a swimmer. Daughter backpaddled to give her a tailhook to cling to.

"Tow me to that gravel bank," Risa said. "Kinda slowly."

Daughter's calm, methodical navigation past the snags was superb, and halfway to the gravel bank, Risa's feet hit welcome bottom. She walked ashore under her own power, cold water pouring out of everything from her hat to her shoes.

The gravel bank was the perfect recovery place -- total southern exposure, not strewn with jetsam, and with some welcome shelter from the eternal river headwind.

Daughter helped unpack and dismantle everything. Clothing and other articles were spread in the sun to dry. The sleeping bag, which had been underwater in Risa's dry bag for at least four minutes, was in pretty good shape. The rest was wetter than the river. All the electronics were gone; double-ziplocked is not enough, as it turns out.

No, wait -- Daughter, who had seen wet cell phones before, took over. "Your screen's about to go. But I think I can get one call out." Beloved received a message assuring her we were intact; and would she please bring a camera to the pick-up?

Risa's had been stripped from a Velcroed pocket in her PFD and was now lying, shiny and new, somewhere among the rocks and snags in ten feet of whirlpool.

Then the phone, as predicted, died. Daughter set it aside and served a great lunch.

Risa stood up and finished stripping down to her bra and panties. She noticed the bra, a bit of padded vanity, was heavy, and so leaned over and wooshed what seemed like a half gallon of snowmelt onto the rocks and sand. Daughter was amused.

"Mommy, I'm always going to remember this trip as you standing here in your underwear!"

Well, it beats the other thing she could have ended up remembering.

Just ... happy to be here.

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