Tag Archives: Salmon River

Faux Outdoorsiness

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Early summer sunset over the Cascades

I am flipping through the Sundance catalog in a speedy staccato of magazine pages while sipping a cup of coffee. I don’t want to look at the pile of bills I’ve also retrieved from the mailbox, so instead I glance through the expensive litany of stylized offerings. A person could spend a lot of money to make herself and her home look rugged and outdoorsy. Mountain towns across the west are splattered with distressed barn wood siding and reclaimed flooring. Roofs are pre-rusted and copper gutters are pre-patinaed. Leather jackets and jeans come pre-faded now, rubbed soft by machines instead of greasy palms and cans of Copenhagen. I pick up another catalog full of Carhartt look-alikes (about three times as expensive as the originals). These, too, come pre-softened, complete with fake creases and a tool pocket just the right size for an iPhone.

I am not fooled. This faux outdoorsiness is not the same as the real thing. We want to feel rugged. But not live rugged. We just want to glimpse it from the comfort of our 700 thread-count sheets, not sleep on the ground with the dirt and the mosquitoes.

Camping in the Himalayas

Even as I write this, knowing that the sun will soon fade behind the gunmetal clouds of a PNW winter, I worry that I haven’t slept enough nights on the ground. I haven’t, yet, walked enough trail miles or surfed enough waves or flown enough bush miles. More nights than not this summer, I’ve slept in a comfortable bed. Not once has my puffy jacket saved my life, or have I drank water tinged with iodine. What’s next? Fake Carhartts?

I suppose, I could say I’ve challenged myself in other ways. Not every hike has to turn into an epic. Sometimes you make it home. I could remind myself that I’m not traveling away from my core so much as expanding it. I’m working on a new book; John and I flew to remote places in the Beaver; I rafted the Salmon River; I hiked miles and miles in the Cascades; I spoke to large groups about taking risks and getting through hardship just 15 minutes at a time; we’re saving up for that surf trip to Indonesia next month. This summer was more than just a chance to work-in those old canvas pants. It was an indoor-outdoor kind of summer. Sort of like that polyester carpet from the 70s.

But something inside me yearns for one more cool night under the stars with my hands wrapped around my faded Outward Bound coffee mug. I long to watch the sunset over jagged peaks and crawl into my sleeping bag knowing that I’ve done all that I can do–for the day, for the evening, and in the world. The weekend weather looks good for one more backpacking trip, and my down jacket could use another duct-tape patch or two.

Puffy jackets and coffee mugs

The catalog I have in my hands shows a pretty woman in a red dress and what look like very old cowboy boots that she found in her grandfather’s barn. Except they’re $450. She leans against a faded wood door hanging slightly off its hinges.  I have to admit. The dress is nice. It would be perfect for my friend’s outside wedding coming up in a few weeks. It would project that perfect mix of mountain girl and gauzy femme that my husband claims is my “style”.

By ordering from the catalog I could avoid a trip to the mall. Instead I could drag my husband out for one last night out under the stars.

I pick up the phone and dial the number at the bottom of the page, press my finger against the style number and wait to be connected.

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Go With the Flow: A week on the Salmon River

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Salmon River, Idaho

Last week I was reminded how much I love river trips. Winter snows melt into runoff, seep into creeks and become tributaries to large rivers like the Salmon in Idaho. After a few months of rehabbing nagging injuries and dodging summer rains in the PNW, a week of warm weather, good people and splashy whitewater was just the ticket.

The Salmon River is the second deepest river canyon in the Lower 48 and lies within the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. We floated the Main Salmon from Corn Creek to Carey Creek, a little over 80 miles of Class III water, beautiful sandy beaches and high canyon walls.

At medium flow, its important to keep the boat in the main current. Since the river is not dammed and river levels fluctuate wildly, the channels are narrow, creating swirly eddies and little ribbons of downriver current. Stay in those and you’ll be fine. Eddy out and you’ll have to pull hard to get back in.

Christina–raft guide, ski patroller and all-around awesome woman

This is my new motto: stay in the current. Or put another way, go with the flow. Thanks to Christina, a fellow ski patroller and guide on this trip, I learned how to row a dory. It is heavier than it looks and rides the waves like a coffin. But you feel the river more intimately. The hydraulics and swirly eddies suck at the edges of the chine, and waves crash against the bow. Face the waves, take them on the chin and you’ll sail through the rapids. But be sure to avoid the rocks. When the river drops away–the horizon line disrupted only by shots of spray and foam–trust your line, point yourself right at it and row like hell.

Of course, we’re only dealing with Class III rapids here, and that makes all the difference. I recently wrote a post about risk taking, and the dance we do around it. Risk makes us feel alive, but can also kill us. It is a strange dichotomy. On my last river trip, I kayaked the Grand Canyon. After swimming through Lava, the biggest rapid on the river, I stepped back from that risk and reevaluated it. Then my husband got sick and my kayak got stolen and I decided I was okay with that.

A girl in her element

The Salmon taught me something else. I don’t have to risk quite so much for an endeavor to be valid. An easier river can bring just as much joy as the most difficult one. I tell beginners skiers this all the time: you don’t have to ski black diamonds to have fun. It’s easier to give this advice than to adhere to it. But I’ll declare it again: I don’t have to take big risks to have a big adventure.

This was also my first time ever being a client on a guided trip. I decided it wasn’t so bad, especially since two of the guides were friends and the whole group came together much like a private trip. Besides that, the food was excellent and I didn’t have to shop or plan for any of it. Nor did I have to clean the gear once the trip ended.

On day 3 of the trip, Evelyn, my ten-year-old step-daughter told me she wished she could stay on the river forever. “No faucets, no showers, and sleeping outside,” were her favorite parts. “I never want to return to civilization.”

Whether on the river or in the frontcountry, there’s always a way to find the main current and simply go with the flow.