visit photo: Brooks Foster / paddler: Bill Bowey / location: Clear Fork Cowlitz, July 4th, 2004

I'll never forget the day I heard about Bill.

It was another mundane Tuesday morning at the office, the tapping of keyboards and the glow of computer monitors a far cry from the wild rivers and creeks that occupy most of my weekends.

Suddenly, an email popped up with the subject line:   Sad news

The message was from a fellow kayaker, so I knew what was coming. That said, I must admit I was totally unprepared for the terrible words I was about to read..

"... Sunday .. Bill 'Bowie' was found at the base of a falls on a previously unexplored creek near Mount Rainier ... paddling alone .. solo .. never returned home that night .. a search party found the bike he had set as shuttle..."

The words jumbled together as the smallest sliver of hope glimmered in the back of my mind, and I clung to it desperately, foolishly... They said Bowie.. The name was wrong. It was WRONG. They said Bowie like the knife, not Bowey like the boater..

I immediately replied back: "Are you SURE?!?   Was it THE Bill Bowey?!?"

And then I sat there numbly, staring at the screen, a sense of dread growing as the seconds ticked by.

Shortly after, much too soon, the reply came back: "Yes. It was THE Bill Bowey..."

Denial hit hard. No Way. Not Possible. Not Bill.

I sat there stunned while tears trickled down my face and the ghostly shapes of my coworkers drifted by outside, oblivious to the cruel blow Bill's family and our paddling community had been dealt. They took our Bill away. He was gone.

This was Bill Bowey of the Bowey Hotel on the Little White Salmon; The Bill Bowey who literally wrote the book on Steep Creeking in the Northwest; the guidebook description for the legendary Clear Fork Cowlitz bears his name as well as many other hard, rarely unexplored runs.
Bill was the real thing, and there will never be another like him.

Bill, soft-spoken and humble, easygoing as the wind, but the man of steel in a kayak. Unstoppable. Unflappable. The King of Steep Creeking, Bill was running class V before many of today's young hot shots were born..

Bill was a legend, a larger-than-life paddler who was also a genuinely great guy, kind and generous to all. He was admired by so many paddlers that his passing leaves a tremendous sense of loss that we will never fully recover from. I know, however, that this void in our world will be balanced by the gifts Bill gave to so many of us: A word of advice shared with a wry smile, the line that always went, a leader who never faltered. It seems like every time I talked to Bill he had another run to explore, another creek that was calling his name. His eyes would gleam as he talked about a place that only he had seen, a rapid only he had run.

I wonder if he knew how much I admired him.

For me, this hit very close to home. Bill was someone I had tremendous respect for, someone I looked to as a role model in my boating career. Deep down inside I knew I would never paddle at Bill's level, but if I could be half as good as him I'd be better than most.

I still can't believe he's gone.

jason rackley