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Squatter’s Revenge

Loop Trip on the Columbia:


Squatter’s Revenge

A day spent packing belongings in boxes in preparation for a household move sent me to the water Sunday. I used the rationale I had been a good boy all Saturday, and so Sunday I deserved a respite. My SO agreed, but I really think she wanted to pack in peace. I’m a cantankerous packer.

Hit the beach next to the ramp and stepped around the messes people left, noting a squatter had taken up residence in the lee of the high and dry floats the County took out a year ago, promising to replace them “real soon now.” Scruffy tarp, smoky fire, and gear/beer cans all over.

Slid the light wooden yak off the truck top, dodged a dog doo to the water’s edge, and assembled my goodies, sans a chart and my on-deck E-bag, casualties of the packing mania. Home waters, what’s the big deal?

Not a breath of air, and it’s noon! Where’s that wind? Stroking across flat water, past skaups eyeing me, a cormorant in dracula mode airing out on a snag, and geese her-lukking overhead. I look back at the beach and spy the squatter and another guy drive up in a pickup, dump off an old decked FG canoe, and kick a couple beer cans. Glad I’m out here.

The tide is as high as it gets, so I short-cut across reeds and sprouting buttercups and skunk cabbage blossoms, mallards skittering off ahead, heading for deeper water. What’s this? A bright orange net float? Scoop it up and bungie it onto the back deck, yard fodder to please Becky. Grebes scraak by, and terns grackle overhead, shopping for smolts. Another island passes by and I head for the … gasp … shipping channel! Nobody home for miles. The VHF has been silent, and I have not seen or heard another boat yet. Are they all home doing their taxes? This isn’t Super Bowl Sunday, is it? Dunno, I’ll just be a pagan paddler out on his worship route.

The other side of the river is cliffy, so I gunkhole hanging gardens of six kinds of fern, and ogle sedum, poison oak in sprout mode, and dodge overhanging trunks, laying a scratch under my butt as I fail to finesse a rock. After an hour and a half and five miles out, I am on the float at Skamokawa, the “Venice of the Columbia,” listening to the owner’s wife noisily gossip with a cleanup lady who works the B and B at the Paddle Center. I stay on the float and loll like an overfed seal, snuffling down the provolone and bagel. Nobody comes down to see me, so I leave, and **finally** see another boat — two canoeists in the inner slough, returning their rental. God, it’s placid!

The paddle jacket has been behind my seat all the way, and another layer joins it, though the farmer john remains on my bod as I head out to the channel again, looping upriver to beat the ebb to a passage between two islands. What ho! A sturdy oceangoing tug claims the right of way, and I wave to the skipper as we pass starboard to starboard. He looks relaxed and I dodge the wake, crossing ahead of a smaller towboat, returning from a chip barge run. The whole river now has two-inch waves, at the very place I nearly capsized in steep three-foot following seas some six-seven years ago, in the middle of a Hobie Cat race, no less!

The other shore of dredge spoils is peaceful, and the tide so high I skirt the shore, raising a raptor and more mallards, hitting the return channel and float/paddling down the slough to a rest break on the USFWS float midway. The ebb is strong in here, lucky for me, going my way.

On the other side of the island, I am back in the big channel leading to my launch spot, and I hit my stride, then drift. A common loon, big as life, rises three boat lengths off the bow, and yodels as if he were on Hee Haw! He/she spies me and hits that yodel again! I stop slack-jawed, and the loon slowly paddle-drifts downstream, making way ahead of me. I feel honored and humble.

Another mile (now approaching ten), and the ramp appears, then the beach, with the squatter stoking the smoky fire higher and swizzling beer. He halloos me as I slide ashore, comes down to admire my boat, and tells me he is on the return trip back upriver, having come 300 miles down over the past month or so. I look at his huge canoe, junior high green with scratches of the ages and a fresh patch on it, and reassess my view of the “squatter.”

This guy is the real thing — no fancy Goretex or dry bags or other yuppie stuff. He’s got onions in the bag you buy them in, spuds scattered around the bilges, and tarps and a sleeping bag (no pad, I don’t think) and a single big pot. Probably the beer helps.

Think I’ll get some Hamms on the way home and burn my Goretex. Maybe I can learn to be a real paddler, some day!

Dave Kruger
Astoria, OR

Copyright 2000 by Dave Kruger.
May not be reproduced or redistributed without author’s permission.
Originally posted on Paddlewise mailing list on 4/17/2000. Republished with permission.