Sharing the Ripples

As with every summer, it seems the busy schedule (and having FUN) takes precedence to writing about it. This year’s evolution is somewhat poignant and met with sad nostalgia, as it seems SO much has changed in a very short time.  Just weeks after I wrote the following content, a significant part of my beautiful home-state of Oregon went up in flames.  The rivers I most paddle and write about are now largely log-choked and… well, let’s leave it at “altered”.  Every location that experienced devastating fire holds at least one, if not countless memories over my lifetime.  However, I’m doing my best to look at this situation with hope and optimism for the future.  I’m grateful I got to see and paddle the Umpqua before it burned. You’ll notice this blog entry ends abruptly. I wasn’t finished writing as I was going to wrap it up with a point….a message that perhaps someone could connect with or maybe find inspiration. I leave it unfinished because the path I was moving through was interrupted. Entirely. This too will pass, and heal with time. Here is what I’d wrote:

The irony isn’t lost on me that when I’m getting out on the water most, is when I write the least (not that I’m assuming there are vast amounts of readers waiting with bated breath for my blog).  However, in the past 4 months I’ve had some amazing experiences with some really incredible people.

My summer paddling season started off with a bang, and the intent was to write a daily account of my trip on the Middle Fork of the Salmon, back in May/early June.  This is a highly sought-after permit and the opposite of “frisky ripples”.  It’s “big water” and I didn’t SUP it, but got many river miles behind the sticks apprenticing with Sam who I either helped row, or was my training wheels as I learned how to navigate class III’s.  The trip was absolutely delightful from beginning to end–all of the typical multi-day variables ideal, including the weather, water level, food, sights and people.  While the details fade, they are replaced by a general feeling of happiness surrounding the experience.  A few memories that stand out…the incredible wild flowers. They were SO prolific and beautiful.  Velvet Falls, where Sam and I almost flipped our boat.  Both of us popped out but I was able to hold on, pulling myself in (and some might say him too).  Pistol rapids which Sam and I nailed but some others in our crew swam.  Amazing Dutch Oven dinners and desserts compliments of Ruffwear crew Patrick and Will. There were fun river games, birthday-after-dinner-evening surf sessions and birthday cake.  Hot springs.  And lots of laughter.  There were 11 of us in the group with varying backgrounds, belief systems and lifestyles but whatever the mix was, it was truly special.

Photo Credit David Kinker

Another paddle-day of note was with TCKC cohort and friend, Kelli, who I took down the McKenzie on a paddleboard.  I say I “took her down” but really she ran her own lines and fared well, having splash and giggle fun.  It’s always nice to get someone out on a whitewater board, especially in a shop where kayaking is the main focus.

Photo Credit Kelli Wittman

There was a “local” trip to the Umpqua with Sam.  This time of year….any time really…is challenging to get time alone, just the two of us. Groups are fun, but some precious, uninterrupted time for more than a few hours…in this case a few days…are rare.  It was an incredible 3-day, 2 night trip for us, basking in the joy of stunning scenery, amazing paddling (SUP one day, Dynamic Duo the other), the North Umpqua trail to hike and NO schedule to follow.  Add to that, the logistical heaven of a dispersed campsite right at the take-out of our SUP paddle stretch from Gravel Bin and post paddle DO lasagna enjoyed with Merlot.  In truth, I’d say the lasagna was greatly improved with the Merlot since it was a “first go” at DO cooking for us and had no recipe.  Turned out like lasagna soup but with a little wine it was heavenly.  Regarding the paddling–this stretch on a SUP definitely tested my technical skills.  It was extremely helpful to have Sam leading the way to show me the lines, and while I’m improving with the “read and run” aspect of running new water I get nervous. It went really well, and this particular day sticks out in my mind as the best SUP day of my summer (at least so far).  The scenery certainly didn’t disappoint–it was nothing short of magical.

Riding in a Duo (tandem whitewater kayak) allows me the opportunity to experience stretches of the river I’d never be able to paddle myself. We paddled Bogus to Susan Creek–the rocks coming at me and then whooosh “we’d” maneuver right around them.  Absolutely fun and beautiful! After Susan Creek we drove farther out, past Glide where the ecosystem rapidly transformed from gorgeous Pac NW to what I’d consider Northern California feel–hot, arid and rolling hills with oak and eucalyptus trees.  The river was also substantially easier and got me thinking it’s time to try my hand in a single kayak.

I’ve spent enough time in a Duo and on the water with SUP, to have confidence to try solo kayaking.  Therefore, I jumped onto our Full Immersion whitewater course, knowing that the guides and students were people I knew, liked and trusted.  It was really fun!  I felt good in the kayak…or at least mentally ready…does anyone actually feel “good” in a whitewater kayak? Feet and/or legs falling asleep if you’re fit correctly.  I paddled all of the first two days of the class, but portaged First Street Rapids, as I’m basically a wimp.  The final day, I had to work when the crew was headed to Packsaddle on the North Santiam (my backyard river).  Ironically, I’d have been terrified to kayak that stretch but paddleboard…sure thing.  Still, the group had grown in numbers, with some other staff and staff’s mom joining in.  Serious case of FOMO.

The weekend following my whitewater kayak class as a student, I led an intro to whitewater SUP course.  I’ve expanded the program to include a half day on flatwater and very small rapids to get people comfortable with moving around on their board, and the more focused skills necessary transitioning to whitewater.  It was a really fun weekend, and once again, got to experience the gratifying moments when participants “drink the Koolaid” of whitewater SUP.  New paddlers have solid winning moments in rapids, they swim, and they learn how much fun (and not scary) it can be.

Photo Credit Kelli Wittman

As I wind this article down, I’ll say I’ve paddled a bunch this season…most of which I’ll leave to my own wonderful memories.  

Thanks for listening, and may we all work together, do our part for the restoration of our trails and waterways.

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