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Randy Does Not Get to Frankfort

Randy Does Not Get to Frankfort


Thirteen of us congregated on a small pocket beach on the Washington shore of the Columbia a few miles below Skamokawa Saturday night for a wonderful saturnalia of food, laughter, companionship, rain, wind, and water. Some braved the eddies and current rips running off points on the WA shore as they paddle-drifted five miles downstream from Skamokawa, and others pumped their way upstream five miles from Harrington Point, during the small mid-afternoon window of slack current.


This endeavor began as a four-person retreat, and blossomed uncontrollably as friends told others about the plan. Eventually it included my long-time friend and oatmeal-expert Randy (and his sweet SO Beth), who brought along Debbie the bar pilot and Mary the Alaska PA. Mary (different one) and spouse Link (of the Pitt River Band) putt-putted across the eddies with a whole chinook and more damn potatoes than any fifteen natives could eat. Our contribution was a trademark stir fry, Gary contented himself with fresh strawberries over shortcake and french toast, while Beth noodled along to the tune of chocolate chip macaroons (to use up those otherwise-wasted extra egg whites).


Oh, yeah, this was a paddle trip — mainly, to test out the late spring showers, and for Randy, a chance to see Frankfort.


Frankfort is an abandoned town platted in the 1890’s as the western terminus of a speculator’s grand railroad scheme (failed, naturally). Never amounted to much, past a hotel, grocery, post office, two-three dozen houses, and a few thousand tons of upriver brights landed in the heyday of the Columbia River salmon fishery. My colleague Pat delivered fish, mail, and supplies in the ’60’s, near the end of Frankfort’s isolation from a land access. As loggers penetrated closer to Frankfort, eventually roads connected it to modern highways, eliminating the river focus which had been its charm and economic mainstay for seventy years.


It is almost a mythical spot, swallowed up in maples and conifers, with patches of domesticated-gone-wild botanicals revealing moss-covered homesites. Here and there is a ramshackle, rotten framework, engulfed in alder, brambles, and green slime. A monster hanging-tree maple (four people’s outstretched wingspans around) must have been at the town “square,” but now is just the upland locus for fallen-down hippie-houses nearer the river. A year ago the sheriff had to come out and collar a squatter who had been scaring people off by firing a rifle over their heads. Neighbors still own homesites there, anticipating a land boom in the 22nd century, I guess.


And Randy had never been there, in twenty years of trying! Some trips overland, and at least three on the water. So, on Sunday, Randy and Beth set off with mongo 270 cm paddles flying from the upper deck of their Easy Rider double, skirting lagoons and dodging freighters in the channel, determined fire in the stern paddler’s eye. Eight miles out of camp, ebb humping us all quickly past double-crested, croaking(!) cormorants on nests to upper Rice Island, the VHF crackled with George’s (remember him?) query: are we going to Frankfort? Sure, we’ll meet you there.


Off they went (I guess — I couldn’t see them), directed to a point on the WA shore by Gary, long-time oceanographer, and frequent-Frankfort-visitor. We rounded the upper end of the island, expecting a lateral parade of paddlers, strung out across our path across the Bay, heading to mythical Frankfort … ahhhh, nope, no paddlers there … maybe to our right or left? Nope. Oh, well, Gary knows this area, and Debbie is a bar pilot — they can navigate!


Paddle, paddle, look, look. Man! They must be way ahead of us — wish I could raise George on the radio — he only turns it on to talk (initials are GAB, comprende?). Ah, there’s Gary and fiance’ Roberta — and NO ONE else, right at Frankfort. The others? Gary misdirected them to the wrong point, some three miles east of us! Half an hour and a few terse radio exchanges later, Frankfort-less Randy and company are on their way down to us, as we all hustle against the building afternoon breeze, fighting adverse wind to the takeout, some three-four miles downriver from Frankfort. No time to go ashore.


Randy is pissed! He even went into the blackberries at the wrong point, sniffing around for houses! We decide to have T-shirts made: “I’ve been to Frankfort — but Randy hasn’t!” Or, to put a sign in Randy’s garden: “Frankfort” so he can say he’s been there. Or, maybe it’s like Brigadoon, just a state of mind, and Randy can’t see it … we don’t know.


But, we had fun, Randy still has Frankfort in his future, and everyone got suntanned and tired (some more than others!).


Never go to Frankfort — just enjoy the journey!

Dave Kruger
Astoria, OR


Copyright 1999 by Dave Kruger.
May not be reproduced or redistributed without author’s permission.
Republished with permission.

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