Friday was a flurry of activity with me wrapping up my three day trip to Olympia to fill in for our location there. It started with a message from my friend Lonnie Felton asking if we were paddling tomorrow. I told him that Jeffery had a tryout with the Oregon Rafting Team and Drew and Christie Eastman were coordinating a cleanup at the takeout of the Upper Wind River that same day and we were more than likely going to join them and paddle after the cleanup. Shortly thereafter, Mike Stratton sent me a message inquiring about paddling Saturday as well. After letting both of them know about the plans early Saturday morning, we all decided to meet at our house at 7:00 am.
After finally getting home at around 2:00 am Saturday morning, I got to sleep aroun 3:00 am. After what seemed like only five minutes, my alarm woke me up to the day ahead. We quickly changed into our clothes and started loading boats. Mike was the first to arrive with Lonnie arriving just a few minutes later. We loaded the boats and left just after 7:00 am. The plan was to meet at Tim Brink’s in Oregon City at 8:30 am to help the team get loaded and give Jeffery a chance to meet them for the first time. Greg “The Joker” Babikoff was chosen as Jeffery’s mentor early on, so he was going to be showing him the ropes today. They soon got all the gear loaded and we set out for the Wind River.
We arrived at the Stabler put-in and more people started trickling in. The Oregon Rafting Team, ORT for short, has quite the following with people at the put in chanting “ORT!, ORT!, ORT! ORT! as they got ready to launch. After making sure Jeffery was settled in with the team, we started driving back to the takeout to help with the cleanup. As we pulled up, you could see about a dozen cars with kayaks everywhere. We grabbed some gloves and a trash bag and joined in the cleanup. We got car axles, tires, bones, bottles, cans, etc. We finished up and started talking boating. The only time I did this run, it was about four and a half feet. This time it was a little higher at 5 feet. Jeremy Lynn, who took me down my first time with Paul Meier, told me that four and a half to five feet is a nice level for first timers. Most of the really sticky holes are gone and you have plenty of lines for most rapids. Lonnie had done run this once before with varied degrees of success. My last run was ugly, but successful. Mike had never run it, but he is a solid boater and I had every bit of confidence he would do well. I chatted with Christie and Drew and let them know about the skill set of our group and they graciously welcomed us into their group.
We broke up into smaller pods and drove to the put-in. As we arrived the second set of rafters were just finishing rigging their rafts and were getting ready to launch. A couple of old friends, Michelle Dorfi and Christine Broniak were going to R2 it their rafts. Shortly after we arrived, the ORT crew came back from their first run. Jeffery looked great and was ready for his next run. He said it was intense but he loved the comradery of the team. They push each other to the limit and try not to let each other down. If you are going to compete on the national stage, you have to have a pretty intense group of guys.
We unloaded the boats and geared up. We had a small pod of six boaters. A friend of Drew’s, Erin Galey, was along for her first time as well. After giving Mike and Lonnie a pep talk to relieve some pre-paddle jitters we started downriver. Drew was in the lead and I was the sweep with Christie in her Green Boat everywhere. The first mile or so is just a little class II-III boogie water. Once you get to the first rapid, Initiation, the fun really starts. Just as I remember it, Initiation did not disappoint. When we got to the bottom we all looked upstream and bumped paddles. Someone told me once if you are feeling too nervous, now would be the time to get out as it just gets more challenging from here on out and hiking out becomes next to impossible as the canyon walls get steeper. We looked at each other and we knew the answer before the question was even asked.
The Upper Wind is one steep boulder garden after another. There are eddies to catch your breath, but make no mistake, this river is continuous. We got to Ram’s Horn and everyone took different lines. I went into the meat last time, so I decided to take the far left line and try my luck against the wall. My line was tight, but successful. We all gathered to talk about the next big rapid, Balls to the Wall Right. After a short chat, we all ran it successfully and all had great lines. We styled Balls to the Wall Left and finished the steep section with the rapid, Climax. The ORT crew had already charged past us, so we pretty much just floated the rest. We came upon the ORT crew just downstream and I stopped to chat with them and see how Jeffery was doing for a bit before I headed downstream to the takeout. The ORT crew managed to snag probably the heaviest load of trash with 2 tractor-trailer tires and other odds and ends.
We all gathered at the takout and sorted out the shuttle situation. After the shuttle, the barbeque got started as did the rain. Never doubt the preparedness of a Northwest crew. As soon as the rain started the easy-up came out of the truck and we all stayed warm and dry. We chatted with the ORT crew and they seemed to be a really tight bunch. They put Jeffery through the rigors and he was still breathing at the takeout. They did say “See you next time”, so we will have to see how he feels about that.
After a couple hot dogs and some great stories, we loaded up and started the long drive back to Longview. As we drove home we all started talking about our next trip.
What a great way to kick off the season!
Thanks to all that came out and helped and a special thank you to Drew and Christie Eastman for organizing the cleanup and taking my friends and I down the river.
And a huge thank you to Tim Brink and the Oregon Rafting Team for giving Jeffery a chance to be a part of your team. I can assure you he will never forget it.
And to the love of my life, Alicia, thanks again for being the best and most beautiful shuttle bunny ever.