By Tim Goodfellow
Lesson #1--Sandy River, 15,000 cfs
My fifth day kayaking on a river was on the Sandy River between Dodge Park and Oxbow Park. It was Halloween Day 1997. At that point I considered my self an expert because I had paddled the Maupin run on the Deschutes with out swimming and had hit my "combat roll" in the pool below Boxcar. Thus I had no worries that the Sandy happened to be flowing somewhere around 15,000 cfs. It was still below floodstage, that magical level all the instruction books warn you about and paddlers dream about, so I figured it wouldn't be too dangerous. And really, how hard could the Sandy be?
So three of us showed up at the put in and got dressed for the river. While we were getting organized and warmed up, one of the guys, who had never paddled before, decided that he didn't want to paddle. He felt the river was a little high for his first run. So he said he'd run shuttle and it was down to two of us. We put on the water and drifted quickly off downstream.
Now the Sandy at 15,000 is basically one long rapid (at least it seemed like it then) with large waves, a couple big holes and some squirrely pools to break things up followed by four miles of flat water. We hit Pipeline and I started holding on. The river carried us up and over the waves, past the holes around corners and before we knew it we reached the end of the rapids and hit flat water. We drifted along, marveling at the exciting water we'd just paddled, and 8 miles and 40 minutes after leaving Dodge Park we turned the corner and saw the Oxbow Park boat ramp. Our shuttle drive had just arrived not 5 minutes before us. We high fived each other for a successful run.
Lesson: Just because you can make it down a river doesn't mean you have the skill or judgement to be there.
Lesson #2--NFMF Willamette, The Miracle Mile, 1.25 feet.
Significantly later in my boating career I found myself on another tributary of the Columbia, the Willamette. (Though, it is hard to think of the NFMF of the Willamette as a tributary of the Columbia.) Jason had introduced me to the Miracle Mile about three weeks before during a Spring boating marathon alternating between the Miracle Mile and Upper Quartzville Creek. It was the Friday of Memorial Day weekend, a beautiful sunny day and the MM was running just over a foot. We had paddled it at a foot and a half the week before so we figured just over a foot would be no problem. Morale was high and we were excited to get on the river.
We'd planned to do the usual, run a couple laps on the MM and then cruise down through the gorge below after we'd had enough "Mileage." We put in at the duck pond and paddled the "warm-up" class three above the bridge. We ducked under the log jam, paddled under the bridge and were off into Initiation and the rest of The Mile. The first run went great. We both felt good, nailed our lines and had a great time. It was easy to see why it is such a great run.
We ran the shuttle quickly and got back on the river for the second run of the day. Again the run went great. We went through each boulder garden with grace and style and were feeling good. We peeled out of the eddy following Confusion and paddled through Shark's Tooth and Whoop-de-Doo, safely making it past the hardest part of the Mile. It was at that point that I got cocky. This is not a good thing to be on a river.
I turned the corner after Whoop-de-Doo and made a half hearted attempt for the next eddy. Needless to say I missed it. I flushed into a line of boulders that block the center of the channel and flipped. The current then drug me, upside down and backwards, over a long chain of boulders. I kept trying to roll only to have my shoulder hit a new boulder each time I set up. I wasn't feeling short of breath, but I wasn't enjoy getting beat over rocks either so I decided to try one more roll attempt before I bailed. Fortunately, no rocks got in the way and I was able to roll up just above the "Silly Putty Slot." I straightened my boat out and bounced down the rocky channel on the left side of the boulder from the slot. I paddled another 20 yards and caught a small eddy on the left to regain my composure. We finished the run with out a hitch and then ran down through the gorge and called it a day.
Lesson: Never lose respect for the power of the river.
Tim has a clean run through the Silly Putty Slot at 1.5 feet.
Lessons 3 & 4 -The Green Truss section of the White Salmon at 3 feet.
It had been five months since I had been in my creekboat and had only boated about five times in those five months. As had become a pattern for me, this meant it was time to jump on some good hard white water. So I fired away a few e-mails and, that Saturday, found myself lowering my boat down the cliff at the Green Truss bridge for the first time. Despite breaking my paddle less than a mile into the run, it was a great day. Being a mortal boater, I portaged the big three, but felt solid on everything else. We ran down through BZ and over Husom to finish the day. It was such a good day, I decided to go back the next week...
The next week Tom, Dave, Jason and I met at Husom, left a car and then headed up to start the trip that has become infamously known as "Critical Mass for Carnage." Completely forgetting that I had a great run the week before, I set out (with my new AT paddle) to brush up my rodeo moves in all the wrong holes. I wrestled my way out of two insignificant holes that decided I would make a good victim, almost became Bob bait at Bob's Falls, tried to practice splatting the wall on the left side of upper Zig Zag (stunt boater #1), worked on my side surfing and rodeo rolls in a hole at the top of Lower Zig Zag, and did some impact testing on my helmet in a no-name rapid below Lower Zig Zag. By the time we got to BZ corner, I'd had enough.
I shouldered my boat, hiked up the hill and ran shuttle while the guys continued down to Husom.
Lesson: Some days you just aren't on.
Bonus Lesson: Cool gear doesn't make you a good paddler. (Though I've been boating a lot better since I put stickers on my paddle.)
Tim probes the dangerous left wall on Upper Zig Zag.
I'm sure there are a lot of other lessons that I have yet to learn too. One lesson that I have learned after four years of boating is that judgement and skill don't always go hand in hand. Know your limits, because they won't always be obvious.