On our first anniversary my wife and I flew to Hawaii and spent some time in Honolulu before hoping over to the Big Island. I was in the middle of a huge knee problem and could barely walk, which was just as well since all the NPS managed sites were closed. Still, not being able to get around very well, or sleep well, really put a damper on our trip. So as our second anniversary grew closer and I was once again plagued with some ridiculous recurring injury I knew I was going to be frustrated with the trip. But I’ll be damned if we’re not going to go. Suck it up, Buttercup…we got adventuring to do!
This time around our plane dropped us off in less-than-sunny Oregon, Portland to be exact. A good drive from where I wanted us to be and, I imagine, a longer drive from where my wife wished we were headed. You see, a few years ago I joined Dave Wherry in Zion for a sweet day of hiking and while we were there he imparted a piece of married-guy wisdom on me that I took to heart. Dave shared a strategy that he and his wife had found successful when it came to deciding how to spend their anniversary. Each year, one of them would take the lead and plan the trip, the next year they would swap. This struck me as a brilliant idea and a sure way to insure that each half of the couple gets their fair share of their preferred type of anniversary trip.
Our first anniversary was to Hawaii. My wife planned that one, and it was awesome. Our second anniversary was my trip to plan and I really, really wanted to get her on some whitewater. I proposed the trip and she agreed…we would spend our second anniversary on the Rogue River.
We spent the first night in Portland after getting into town and meeting my sister-in-law for dinner. By freak chance she happened to be passing through Portland the same night we got into town. The next morning we tried to work out an opportunity to visit the Columbia Sportswear HQ, as all good Omniten do when in Portland, but it didn’t work out and we had a river to catch. So we headed south to drive the length of the state of Oregon and meet up with the rest of our salty crew in Northern California.
We made a quick stop for essentials in Grants Pass before driving the last leg into California before dark. Driving down the narrow and twisty curves of 199 I couldn’t help but notice how shallow the Middle Fork of the Smith looked. The canyon was boney with more rock than water, a clear indication of a dry summer season. As we swerved through the narrowest part of the canyon along the highway my wife spied a dog hiding in the brush along the narrow shoulder of the road. It was a bad spot, trapped between a curvy road on a blind corner on one side and a nearly sheer mountain cliff on the other. Either way you cut it, that dog was in trouble and neither one of us could let it stand.
We circled back and pulled into a turnout just up the road from where the dog was trapped. We waited in the car, getting a look at the dog without drawing too much of it’s attention. We didn’t want it to bolt into the road while cars where still whizzing by around the blind curve. We thought about what to do, how to approach the situation, but all prospects seemed to end badly when taken to their ultimate conclusion. Then I spotted a lull in traffic, at least I hoped it was, and I hopped out of the drivers seat hoping I could coax the dog to me easily since I was in no shape to chase it down. Luckily, the dog had similar thoughts as soon as it saw me open the door and was halfway across the road by the time I was standing by the car. She made it to us and we got her in the back seat without a fuss. Dog saved. Sighs of relief all the way around.
But now we have a dog. In a rental car. In the middle of a lonely road in Oregon. After dark. And we are running late to meet our crew to be able to get on the river the next morning. Great.
The reaction when we showed up at my buddy Scott’s house with a dog in the back seat was about what I expected, “What the fuck is that?”
A stray dog was a bad thing to have on your hands the night before a 5 day trip into the middle of nowhere. So I started making some calls. I used to live in the area and still know a few people here and there that live in Northern California. Luckily, a close friend of the family was willing to come pick up the puppy and take over the responsibility of figuring out what to do with her. We were in the clear! We had a quick dinner, got to visit a little with old river friends and meet the couple of folks I hadn’t rafted with before, and then got some sleep.
Early the next morning, just before first light, we got out of bed and started the process of packing for the trip. Most of the heavy lifting had been done the day before by the local segment of the crew and we were left to sort out our own personal gear and extra supplies. Then we were off, back up 199 and toward the put in at Grave Creek. The long drive up was uneventful as usual and putting on the river was the same carefully orchestrated chaos it always was and soon we were on the water. Happily. Thankfully. Blissfully.
In my early years on the Rogue River we would complete the 34 mile trip from Grave Creek to Foster Bar in 3 days, pushing through pretty quickly. Later, with my dad learning to enjoy the river as a whole more than just the whitewater, we stretched the trip to 4 days. The guys I raft with had stretched the trip again since the last time I had rowed the Rogue to a luxurious 5 day trip. Running 34 miles of water in 5 days is a very relaxed pace, especially on the Rogue. We would get up, have breakfast, hit the water and by lunch time we were breaking out snacks and making camp. It was a lot less time in the boat that I am used to and a lot more time to think about Blossom Bar, the technical class IV toward the end of the trip. This was played up quite a bit, as usual, as we all talked about all the things that could go wrong at Blossom if we didn’t make “the move” at the top. This went on unnecessarily for 4 days before it was actually time to run Blossom.
The up side of such short water days was the additional time at camp casually sipping a cold beer, snacking on various goodies, visiting with old friends and telling stories. For Merelyn this was what I had hoped for, some time to get to know these people who shaped much of how I perceive the world and view adventure. River friends become so much more than just friends, they’re family. And even though I don’t see them nearly as often as I like, when we all come back to the river it connects us deeply. These were also people deeply connected to my father and there was a piece of me that really wanted Merelyn to get to know him a little better, through them. I know she felt the same way and took every opportunity to listen, sometimes requiring effort, to their wild and winding stories about my father on the river.
Important as the people were to this river trip, I also wanted Merelyn to get to know the river. I suffer from an unquenchable love of rivers and the primal feeling of running it’s current. I have wanted to share that experience with the woman I fell in love with for a long time. It’s only fair to bring my two loves together so they can acquaint themselves with each other and come to an understanding. I think I was successful. The river was beautiful and generous with us, the low water and the slow pace of the trip made it an easier run for a first timer and even though I’m sure Merelyn would rather have been on a pristine sandy beach in Hawaii, I know she came to enjoy the river as well. The river is a relentless seductress and it is impossible, given enough time, to resist it’s sensuous melody. Toward the end of the trip Merelyn turned to me, possibly begrudgingly, and admitted that the Rogue River made for a good anniversary trip. Good enough that it could be repeated whenever it was my turn to plan our anniversary.
That’s good enough for me!
It was absolutely impossible to run the Rogue River again without thinking about my #Omniten friends. Our guided trip together last year down this same stretch of river was a memorable trip and I miss those people tremendously. As much as I really love running a private trip, in control of my own raft and my own oars, I still had an amazing time with Columbia and the whole crew in Oregon last year. Maybe some day I’ll be able to get some of them out on this river under a private trip. That would be incredible. As it was, this trip seemed like it was half-sponsored by Columbia Sportswear anyway since a ton of their gear made it down the river with us. My wife was head-to-toe Columbia most times at camp with Omnifreeze shirts for the day and Omniheat baselayers at night, Drainmaker Shoes, and a puffy. I also had my Drainmakers, various Omniheat gear and the killer new Turbodown puffy jacket. Killer gear makes it on all the trips and Columbia stuff is always with us.
It’s always hard to say goodbye to old friends knowing that you’ll likely not see them again for a long time. Especially when a river, a few boats and a handful of campfires are involved. I’m glad that Merelyn got to get to know them on the river where they are most purely themselves. That’s the funny thing about river people, you don’t really ever get to know them until you know them on the river. They aren’t the same when they’re not on the water. After our 5 days on the Rogue we were running out of time and had to make quick work out of our goodbyes and hit the road. With handshakes, hugs and heart promises to do it again soon, we drove our dusty little rental care out of the takeout and up over the mountain toward Grants Pass. We grabbed some dinner in town and hammered through a week’s worth of missed emails and messages and high-tailed it up to Portland again where we spent WAY too much money on a hotel room and crashed for the night.
The next day we woke up and headed downstairs just as the Portland Marathon was wrapping up. That explained why our hotel room was so expensive. I headed down to the parking garage to grab the rental car and discovered it had a dead battery. It took nearly 4 hours for us to finally get a new vehicle so we missed out on a lot of sight seeing that morning around Portland but we did manage to make arrangements to meet a friend from Columbia for a late lunch. Daniel Green carved out some time on our last afternoon in Oregon to meet us for some food and beer at Base Camp Brewery. Brew was pretty good (I sampled just about everything they made) and Daniel was great company. Even if we didn’t get to make it to the Columbia HQ while we were in town, getting to see Daniel almost made up for it.
On our way to the airport we had another freak coincidence as we noticed a couple of very close friends of ours checked-in on Facebook at a restaurant in Portland. They had come into town to celebrate their anniversary as well and were flying out the same afternoon. We managed to meet them for a few minutes at the airport before we had to head through security. It’s small world, especially when one travels often. It’s fun to know that we have friends everywhere and there’s always a pretty good chance we’ll run into someone. For me that’s especially true in Oregon.
It turned out to be a great trip, even if I was partially laid up and in pain. I have a hard time finding any way to complain when I get to be on the river. Merelyn had a great time too and I can’t wait for the next opportunity to get her out on some whitewater. Hopefully next time I’ll be able to get around a little better and she won’t have to work so hard. No matter what, we’re definitely doing this again.
For those of you who have not run much water, class IV rapids can get ugly pretty fast. We talked about it a little on our Columbia trip, how technical Blossom Bar could get and what we needed to do to avoid a bad day. Not long before this trip, someone had had a bad day at Blossom Bar and the evidence was still there as we went through. Just to show you (especially YOU, Omniten), this is what a bad day looks like at Blossom Bar if you don’t make “the move” at the top.
…About that Dog-
After we had left, our good friends Pam and Steve contacted a local that had expressed some interest in the dog. They left the puppy with her on the condition she’d follow through with the vet, check for a microchip and, if all came back clear, take care of her. Later that first day after getting the dog, someone recognized her from posters that had been left around town. It turns out the dog was in Northern California getting specialized training. She was a Belgian Malinois, a prized pure bred related to a German Shepherd and just as trainable. A Canadian family had bought her from a special breeder and had spent a decent amount of money to have her trained in the states. They had flown in to pick up the dog, her name is Aspen, and drive her home to Canada. Somewhere along 199 before Grants Pass she somehow got out of her crate and was either thrown or jumped from the back of their truck. She had been out there at least a few days before we found her.
Once the local woman who had taken her realized what she had, she made a phone call and Aspen’s family was on the next flight out to come get her and bring her home. Aspen is now at home with her family.
Gotta love a happy ending.