For 23 days we got more and more deeply into the groove of River Time. Starting on September 7th, seven of us paddling SOAR inflatable canoes launched on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, near its source at Boundary Creek. On September 29th, 5 of us completed the through journey, down the Middle Fork to the Main Salmon, and on down the river to its confluence with the Snake, where we took out at Heller Bar, just upstream of Lewiston, Idaho. All in all, more than three continuous weeks on the river, traveling some 330 miles, down one of the classic waterways in the West.
By the end, the core group of five paddlers had lost the clamor of the outside world, the political insanity, the daily stresses we all face, the distractions and confusions of the current state of the world. Instead we noticed fledgling great-horned owls on a sandbar as evening fell, we scouted and ran intimidating whitewater, we stayed put during rainstorms and held court under a rain fly, we watched a month of moons wax and wane, we watched a black bear on a slope above camp, we talked about our lives and passions, we played cribbage, we remembered times on the same river with our families. We lost the frenzy of life and instead, embedded ourselves in the flow of a great western river that runs free of dams, prone to floods, full of unexpected surprises, as it gathered itself over the miles into the formidable natural force it is.
It was surprisingly easy to pull off. Sure, we had to secure a permit for the Middle Fork a year ahead of time. We had to navigate the permit process virtually due to the virus, we had to figure out the vagaries of a complicated shuttle regime and some food resupply options. We had to figure out how to get rid of poop now and then. All of that went smoothly, aided by a few companions coming and going as we went down the sections of the river.
What stands out is the gathering filaments of water coursing under the hulls of our boats, from a bony shallow flow at the start, to a powerful force by the end. What stands out is the simple and profound satisfaction of running a river from top to bottom without a break. What stands out is the simple pleasure of sharing that sort of adventure with companions who are competent, spirited, flexible, humorous, careful, honest, upbeat, and true.
The most common refrain we heard from people we saw along the way was, “Wow, that’s epic! I’ve always wanted to do that.” Our response . . . well, then, get going. It’s not that hard. And it’s totally worth it.
As with all worthy river journeys, ideas for future major trips were hatched along the way, so stay tuned. At the take-out at Heller Bar, the 5 of us joined in a messy group hug. “It’s been a while since I got to the end of a really long trip and felt like it was still ending too soon,” I said.
The only down side was that Marypat and I picked up the first presidential debate on our way home. We lasted about 10 minutes before we had to turn off that abomination. And we very nearly turned the car around and headed back for more river time!