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Columbia River

Columbia River

Scuttling down the side channel toward the River was more work than usual, what with the head wind and the heat. Seventy degrees in April? Give me a break! Pleasure boaters out working the lower units of their outboards for the first time of the season putt-putted amiably past us, waving lazily in the heat. One was a mother-daughter pair, mom smoking a filter-tip cigarette in leisurely fashion as grown-up daughter handled the throttles.

Cormorants overhead, all headed upriver, at altitude, too. Must be a bunch of new smolts released from a hatchery somewhere. On reaching the main stem, we spied two terns, foraging upriver some 20 miles from their nesting zone, perhaps displaced by a project to move the tern colony away from down-river-bound smolts.

Out in the main stem, from a mile away, we spot a tent and what looks like a yellow raft on our prized campsite on Dead Wild Pig Island. Oh, no! Our favorite spot, taken over by power boaters in the off season! Babble ensues between stern and bow boaters about alternatives. Yeah, next to that big cottonwood on the channel side would be good, unless it gets windy. Paddle paddle discuss discuss.

As we get closer, we see the tent is a shaggy dome occupied by a solid, round shape and the yellow raft is really an inflatable yak. Looks vaguely familiar … oh, yeah, that guy John from Longview we saw out here three years ago. Wonder if it’s him?

When we pull ashore, the guy hollers out, “Is that you, Dave?” Yup, it’s John, and all is well. Sure, he would welcome some company, and so would Max, his dad’s ankle-height Shi-tzu, all of 10 years old and as friendly as they come.

The sun bakes us as the wind drops to zero and we sweat, sweat, sweat. Lolling and eating commence in earnest, interspersed with obligatory tent-pitching on the best viewpoint for freighters and tugs (several show, sending monster surges over the flats below the tent). Later, the wind picks up, eventually hitting a solid twenty knots with gusts to 25, and we are grateful the cottonwood on the other side was not our shelter, because an afternoon walk shows it roots-up, another casualty of high water this winter (thank you, La Nina).

Hiding behind a diminishing grove of cottonwoods, dinner gets cooked and eaten, complete with a Max and John visit. John paddled some 150 plus miles of the River from Umatilla to Longview seven years ago, in his inflatable, but job and school have kept him off the river except for weekends since then.

Rain comes and goes all night, with moderate wind and a bright half-moon. Morning shows mist and breeze, cut by hot Sumatran coffee and hearty oatmeal. Max and John pack up to catch residual flood tide back to the WA side as we move slowly to gather gear and spy on chickadees and white-crowned sparrows dodging each other in the brambles. Becky is the packer today — her compulsive SO having barked at her yesterday about differences in packing styles. Old guys should be smarter than that.

The wind rises again, sending a steady stream of whitecaps past our launch point and we debate the best timing. Before the front? Or is it past? There’s a clear spot. Now? Yes! Hustle hustle bustle stuff back into the Folbot, slide into the slimy wet suit and paddle jacket, push into the water, and struggle with the damn spraydeck. Curse Folbot’s half-ass engineering! Why couldn’t they make a real spraydeck! Two waves wash into the cockpit before we are reasonably wave-tight and head across the whitecaps. Half an hour later, we ease into the backwater and munch on goodies and clean our glasses, sheltered from the wind.

A few miles of wind-aided slow paddling later, and we are back at the float, no pleasure boaters in sight, as winter returns to the Columbia again.

Thank you, Ma Nature, for another embrace!

Dave Kruger
Astoria, OR

Copyright 1999 by Dave Kruger.
May not be reproduced or redistributed without author’s permission.
Originally posted on Paddlewise mailing list on 4/25/1999. Republished with permission.