Today is New Year’s Eve, and I have been thinking about my year and what I want for next year. I don’t like resolutions, but I do plan to give more and run more. So I am starting right now in a way that I have been meaning to for a long time. I just mailed a bunch of race medals to Medals4Mettle.
From Medals4Mettle’s website:
“Medals4Mettle (M4M) is a non-profit organization that facilitates the gifting of marathon, half marathon, and triathlon finisher’s medals. Runners from around the world give their hard earned medals to Medals4Mettle. Our worldwide network of physicians and volunteers then award these medals attached to a Medals4Mettle ribbon to children and adults fighting debilitating illness who might not be able to run a race, but are in a race of their own just to continue to live their life. It is in honor of this mettle and courage in bravely facing these challenges that they are awarded a medal.”
I have been racing my whole life. I remember running my first 5k when I was in elementary school. As I grew older, I did not like keeping medals. I wanted to be sure I was running for the sake of running. So I would often turn them down at the finish or give them to my mother; it made her happy and proud. Then an interesting thing happened at the finish line of an Ironman. I gave my medal away to someone who came in 23 seconds too late to earn one. After racing for 17 hours and completing the course, she was just past the deadline to be an “official finisher.” She has a terrific backstory, telling of her amazing struggle with debilitating asthma. You can read about it here: http://bringiton23.com/2012/07/27/23-seconds-the-finish-line-and-so-much-more/ That got me thinking differently about medals. She deserved the medal more than I did.
Then my 70-year-old mother, who did not previously run, took up running and entered a local race. She won her age group! Then she sent me a letter, explaining that she has been getting my medals for years and she finally had a chance to send me a medal of her own. She also included a pile of my own previous medals that I have sent her over the years. My kids wore their “Grammy medal” around for a few days with pride, knowing that they would some day “run like Grammy.” So now I have packaged up all my medals and Grammy’s medal and sent them to M4M.
I know that what these kids go through is tougher than any race I have done. They are far more deserving of the medals than I.
I continue to slowly (VERY SLOWLY) build my running time since I was cleared from my labral tear. Today was my longest run since the Hagg Lake 50k last February. I am on a vacation from work for the holidays, and I have had the chance to spend a lot of time with my family and still get consistent runs in. The family adventure this morning was to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) for some educational playtime. The kids love the water play area and the sand pit and we saw some cool fossils too. We had the dog along, but she was not allowed in the museum. We left her in the car for about 20 minutes, and then I returned to take her out and sneak in a run while the rest of the family continued exploring the museum.
I used to work and live in Downtown Portland, and the waterfront loop used to be a regular route for a quick lunch jog or a part of something longer. I think it is about 2.5 miles long and goes up Tom McCall Waterfront Park on one side of the Willamette and down the East Bank Esplanade on the other crossing the Steel and Hawthorne bridges on the ends. It is a great way to experience Portland and has some fun features like a long section of floating walkway and two drawbridges (hopefully neither are lifted).
Today was a typical Portland winter day, overcast and cool, but not too cold. I would not say it was raining, just that the air was thick with water residue. My dog, Emma, has become my running partner, and I am enjoying my time with her. She is a 2-year-old Pit Bull and is so well-behaved that she makes a terrific steward to her breed. But while our run today would take me through my old kicks, it was all new to her. She showed some anxiety when we ran over the open grates showing water 50 feet below us; she was not a fan of running over the bridges either, nor the unsteady footing of the floating walkway.
We were out running for about 40 minutes through the waterfront and downtown and I enjoyed that there were lots of runners out and I felt a part of the community again. I am a lot slower than I used to be, but I am still a runner and it was good to be with like-minded souls (and soles).
Now I am doing some runs that are sufficient enough in length to warrant being called a training run and it is time to consider how I am going to build a program to get my mileage up and more importantly, make me a healthier and stronger runner. I had some time to think about that during my run and now this evening, I am on the couch and doing my research.
I have a lot of experience in training myself to be an athlete, but I am going to need more than periodization and a good diet. I need a different philosophy. So I started watching You Tube videos. I know, super scientific, but I needed ideas, not data. I came across this video and found myself nodding and smiling a lot, so I am going to start here.
Tony Krupicka has won some pretty amazing races, yet he seems to be in it for the fun of trail travel. He has backed off of the huge mileage weeks and switched to more hiking and mountaineering. He references Time On Feet (TOF) is more important than intervals and speed work. He looks at his route with the perspective of aesthetics not just drudgery of training on tarmac.
I long for my time back in the Columbia River Gorge or Portland’s Forest Park, but I don’t like driving for 30 minutes each way to run just for 30 minutes. But with permission to hike, I can extend my time in the mountains before stressing my body too much. I think I am going to work some of his philosophy into my training and justify a few trips to the trails for some hiking as I work my way back to running long.
I have Reynaud’s disease. My hands do irrational things when they get cold. They turn strange colors, they lose strength and function, and alternate between pain and numbness. I know this sounds sort of normal, but if you saw it happen, you would understand. If you feel it happen you would really understand my obsession with gloves.
This is about my relationship with a devoted pair of gloves. Gloves that have been with me far longer than my wife. Gloves that have held my hands when nothing else would. Gloves that saw glory . . . and more importantly, failure. Gloves that brought me to the summits of mountains and that knew when to be my servants.
I am active outdoors in all weather, so my hands need special protection. In 1999, I purchased a set of expensive Marmot gloves for an ice-climbing trip to Alaska . . . in January. Yes, only very select people choose to vacation in Alaska in the winter. I am one, and I have “friends” who bring me to such “wise” life choices. There are many stories of my time climbing in Alaska that are worth penning to ink, but this is not a story of ice picks and avalanches and friends tied to ropes. This is to honor those gloves.
With only a light mention of Y2K, it was an especially cold winter in the north. So cold that ice no longer behaved like ice should. It became brittle, sharp, and villainous. The snow was soft, insecure, and treacherous, burdened by gravity and its desire to fall. The shards of ice were like knives on climbing ropes and the slabs of conglomerated snow were like wrecking balls to those I loved (and was tied to). I spent a couple of weeks negotiating the forces of gravity, cold, and water. I was partnered by deep friendship and the realities of living in such harsh conditions. There were several occasions where I thought my life was close to an end. Most of the time, I was sure I would give up fingers and toes to the cold and I was ready and willing to do so. I spent nights in snow caves. I spent days without knowing what my feet felt like. It was cold. Colder than you think it was. We kept climbing because it was what we do; and at some points, our lives depended on it.
I still use those gloves and will always own the many memories they helped forge. Now they serve a much lesser duty than climbing the columns of crystalized water in Canada. They now tour the torrential rains on the terrestrial tarmac of Portland on pedicycle. But those gloves are dying.
They have not been waterproof for years. The slits and tears and separating seams have cast an unbecoming toll. They have more shoe goo on them than fabric. It is time to say goodbye.
I have not decided when these gloves will retire. I must admit I have shopped for replacements and lusted after younger models for years. But I cannot forsake what is a part of me, my memories, my consciousness, myself. These gloves have been on my hands for nearly 20% of my life. How can I cast them away for a replacement? What ceremony do they deserve? They are just a pair of gloves. Fabric. Commercialism. A product.
They are more than that and they deserve more. They have held my hands when a warm grip was needed. More importantly, they have held the lives of my friends and partners. The many times when I have pledged that I was “on belay”; I did so committing my gloves to the same fate. Those gloves held the lives of my family and friends.
So much of this world is experienced through our hands. These gloves have so long been my second skin. This is a meager tribute to something that has extended myself into nature and beyond.
What will the future hold for phalanges or gauntlet? What will the future hold for me? What will my next gloves grasp? What will they let me feel? I don’t know; but that is what makes adventures fun and why I depend on a good pair of gloves to get me there.
This week brought the first real training ride on my bike since I was injured. I have been commuting 5 days per week, but it is not the same and I have fallen into the commuting style of riding where I conserve energy and try not to exert myself too much. I once read some great advice that I have neglected to follow, “schedule a 3–6 hour bike ride ever Saturday morning from now until you die.” I think this is a great idea. I think of it like going to church. That one ride per week means a rider is ready to go for any reasonable distance up to a century ride. It feels good to get back into the habit. It is my chance to know the world, to explore, to chase old memories, and to create new ones.
Before the ride, I unlocked the bike and we regarded each other. I accelerated hard and noticed the bike jump under me. Unencumbered from the gear of commuting and the personal conservation of energy. The bike was light and free and responded to my efforts with snap and life.
Once I was on the open road, I lowered into the aerobars and shifted into the big gears for some sustained effort. Commuting does not lend itself to long bouts in aero, so it took some time to get comfortable. Portland has done a great job protecting its high ground. There are several buttes and hills in the city that are parks and undeveloped. These are all remnants of old volcanoes and this ride would take me over Mount Tabor and Powell Butte.
After riding on Tabor for a bit, I tracked south to the Springwater Corridor, a Trails-to-Rails project that is a major feature in Portland’s 40-Mile Loop. The Loop itself makes for a great ride that is nearly car free, but today I was just using part of it to carry me to Powell Butte where I would head off road.
The bike I am riding these days is a cylcocross bike that I have tweaked into my go-fast/go-anywhere steed. The front end has traditional road style drop handlebars slammed as low and possible and has clip-on aerobars. I especially like the disc brakes that have amazing stopping power even when wet and dirty. The drive train is the first Sram gruppo that I have ever ridden and it has been very nice on the road, but now the mud and steep trails put it to the test.
The 40 Mile Loop is nice and all, but the magic of riding a CX bike is that I can leave the pavement and hit the trails. Powell Butte is open to cyclists and the trails are not too technical, so I can ride them without a dedicated mountain bike. I started hammering up the dirt, mud, and rocks toward the summit of the second volcano for the day. Powell Butte shares Tabor’s geological history as the core remnant of an ancient volcano. I like to ride single track on occasion, as it is a great training ground to hone bike-handling skills. But today, near the summit the trail was muddy and steep and nearly every pedal stroke made my back tire slip. I had fallen a couple of times when the grade and lack of traction proved too much. I pressed the pedal and gained painfully minimal distance and elevation. I pressed again; would this be another fall? I pressed again and the rotation went slack with a loud bang. I slid back down the trail and fell.
I picked myself up and smeared the mud caked on my leg and hands. I picked up my bike and discovered the small chain ring tied up in a pretzel around my bottom bracket. I am pretty sure I am the only person on the planet who breaks chain rings regularly. I think that might have been my 6th. All the others have been on fixed gear bikes. This was my first with derailleurs.
All but one of the bolts had fallen out of the chain ring assembly; I was stuck. I had finally freed myself from the confines of injury; the shackles of weakness; the siren song of the couch. This should not happen on any bike or ride, especially one as new as this. After considering my options, I bent the small ring as best as I could to free up the pedals. I forced the chain onto the large ring so I could at least coast, then I headed downhill and out of the park. Thankfully, it was descent the entire way. Once back on the Springwater Corridor, I found that I could pedal VERY lightly with one leg. It took a while to get home going about 5 mph.
Was I disappointed that my ride was cut short? Not really, because that is the fun part of long rides. They are often full of adventure. Whether it is the places you go, the things you see, the people you are with, or in this case, adapting to broken equipment on the side of a volcano.
Church is worship and worship is not always easy. I wish I could bow down to an all-knowing power. Accept what is given to me. And see the world as shown. But that is not my nature. Worship is not easy. It is a way to build a person stronger. And stronger I will become. . .after I ride again. . . and again. . . and again.
I run shod and bare and everything in-between. The ideas and philosophy in Born to Run by Christopher McDougall ring true with me, and I was far ahead of the barefooting trend. But it is a tool, not an end all. I love being barefoot, but shoes have a very real place and use; they allow me to run farther and faster and over more varied terrain. I swap out shoes all the time and rarely run in the same shoes consecutively. I use heavy, extra-padded shoes for those really rocky trail descents and I love my light racing flats that I use on a daily basis. My Vibram Five Finger “toe shoes” keep me from being kicked out of stores as a chronically barefoot person and running in them is a dream.
What I really want is a second skin molded to my feet specifically that allows me to feel the earth, but adapts to add more protection instantly if I need it on those nasty streets made of sharp chip-seal. I want a shoe that keeps my feet from being burned on hot sunny days, and warm on the icy runs. I need a shoe that protects my feet from the cuts of broken glass. Then a shoe that regenerates itself as it wears out.
Yeah right; that would be awesome. Oh yeah, that IS awesome! It is not part human, part machine. It is technology mimicking nature and it is real.
Geeks that are smarter than I am have made shoes out of Protocells. The creepiest part of this can be summed up from the report that the shoes “. . .aren’t technically alive, but they can behave like living cells.”
I hope I am still running in 2050 for the release of what might be deemed the Nike Squoosh, but then again, if I have to take care of my shoes like I take care of my house plants, then they will just be one more dying thing in my house. I guess the good thing is that dying or not, I doubt they could smell worse than some of the current running shoes I own.
I have biked a lot of miles and most have been fun and free. But I am not the only one on the road and there have been some scary moments where car and bike come too close to each other. The sad reality is that if you spend enough time riding, you will be hit.
The most important thing you can do to ride safely is to use your head: choose good routes, ride where there are bike lanes or on low traffic streets, and follow the laws (yes, that means you need to stop at that stop sign).
Once you have made good decisions with your actions, it is time to make good decisions on how to use technology. Dress brightly, use reflective gear, have a bright, white light shining forward, and a red blinky shining aft. Oh, and don’t forget that helmet/skid lid/brain bucket, or whatever you want to call the thing that protects your brain.
A new product to the market that is exciting comes from my brethren right here in Portland, Oregon. The ORP bike light does more than helping you “see and be seen.” It is loud, a horn for your bike that rivals the cars you share space with. With the flip of a thumb switch, it gives you the power to emit a loud warning to those around you.
It has been a while since StaggerForwardRejoicing has been active. It has been awhile since I have been active. As I mentioned before, I suffered an injury that stopped my running. The diagnosis was a torn labrum and according to the doctors, it would require surgery to heal.
I was disappointed and I let my activities slip. Running stopped completely, cycling was reduced to commuting; I stopped going to the gym entirely. My restrictions became an excuse and my attitude was not helping my motivation. I became lazy and obstinate. If I could not train my way, I did not want to train at all. I had slid into the worst shape of my adult life.
Surgery time had come. The scheduler called to set the date and time and it suddenly became very real. In just over two months I would be fixed, but facing a very long recovery. I was nervous, nervous of giving up control. I was scared, scared to reduce my ability even further. I was terrified to depend on other people. So I handled my fear in the only way I know how. I went running.
I needed to feel the pain. I needed to completely understand that I could not run without surgery. I wanted the crippling nerves firing in my hip screaming at me to climb on the surgical table. Some people won’t understand this thinking. But it is my way and I understand it and need this process to know what I feel.
I ran around the block. That is it. I was weak. It was awkward. But it worked.
The next morning I woke up sore, but I wanted more. The lactic acid that steeped in my muscles was not the pain that I sought. That night, I ran around the block twice. The next day, I made three laps.
I continued this easy and simple-slow build for a couple of weeks when the family got a dog. Emma is a beautiful rescued pit bull that is easy-tempered and eager to please. She also likes to run. Our first run together, we cleared a single mile . . . in 8 minutes. This was way faster than I had been training, but it felt ok. The next night we ran a mile again . . . in 7 minutes. My speed was still there, my endurance was building, a foundation of hope was laid.
The time had come to meet the surgeon again to prep for surgery two weeks away. I had become increasingly nervous about the procedure, and having discovered that I could run, and run quickly, I deeply doubted the need to go under the knife. The night before the surgeon meeting, I leashed Emma, and we headed out into the darkness with a single goal: to run my hip into submission. We clocked 5k off in just over 20 minutes, with the middle mile around a 6 minute pace. It was really fun. I was free and moving well for the first time in months. Would I really be willing to give up my newly rediscovered ability for a long-term fix?
I met with the surgeon and the first thing she asked was if I was in the same pain I was in the last time we had met. I said, “no.”
She looked surprised and I told her about my running. I think she rolled her eyes a few times and most of my talking was met by her shaking head. But this is a woman who understands athletes and understands runners. She knew what I was doing. She also very confidently said, “I am not doing this surgery.”
The deep and sudden relief was followed by confusion and a hollow feeling of loss. I used to know what my future was. Now it was uncertain. I asked the obvious question: if a torn labrum cannot heal on its own, what happened? She shrugged and said she did not know. Athletes are aliens to the medical world. We are expert compensators. Her theory was that enough scar tissue had built up to perform the duties of the torn cartilage. I was unsure how to proceed. Am I a weakened version of my old self? Was I healthy? Was I stronger?
After a lot of lecturing and warnings, she cleared me to run. Slowly. Not far. But I could run. I have followed many different training regimens in the past. I have learned what my body can adapt to. I have known what rules of training I must follow and which guidelines I can break. But I am suddenly in new territory. I need to proceed with caution and respect to my running. I need to listen to my body with more honesty.
So I am back to running and hopefully some more writing. Keep following as I am back to StaggerForwardRejoicing.
There was some discussion over how many times we had rafted Hells Canyon. My brother has been running this stretch since the 80s. I think my first trip was in the mid 90s. We seem to get back to the deepest river gorge in North America every couple of years or so. This year was a simple trip with just four of us floating in a 14-foot raft and a tandem inflatable kayak.
Adventures used to come easy in a life before children. They are more rare now and far more cherished. I also miss sharing in adventures with those I love the most, but I think that time is coming to an end. I am pretty sure this is the last big adventure I am going on without my wife and kids. We were on the river for 5 days and I was out of the house for 7 with travel time. I have learned that is far too long to be away so I am taking measures to share this wonderful canyon float with my family next time.
One of the great pleasures this trip was getting to watch my nephew as an adult. He is now 17 and this was his second trip down the canyon. He has become a very competent boater and his confidence has grown with these experiences. I could not help but imagine my own kids in the future.
One surprise that kept me connected to my family came in the form of a hidden toy. The days before I left, I had pulled out my gear to pack. Included in this inventory was my rescue life jacket. I played games with the kids in the house to explain what I was going to do and share with the rafting experience. We traded turns wearing the PFD and rescuing each other. At some point in this process, my son must have hidden his favorite Bumblebee Transformer in the pocket of the vest. I discovered it at the river put-in as we were about to launch. I relished the moment when I found the toy. It had only been a few days since I had seen my kids, but it was a very tangible connection to them. I started to play with the toy myself and chronicled our experience in the river. I assembled the video into a format that I knew my kids could identify with. I tried to show how we lived on the river, where we slept, how we ate, and even where we poop. I saw this project as more than just a way to explain where I went but to prepare them for when they are big enough to join me.
Here is the video of Bumblee’s rafting adventure.
For a bit more detail and more mature representation of the trip, check out this admittedly too-long video broken into two parts, whitewater and everything else. The written story is below the videos (it is also too long).
I left Portland early on Saturday morning. I needed to get to my brother’s home in Lewiston, Idaho before noon. We have often gone on this trip with a large group, but this year was different. Being such a small contingent meant that planning was really easy. My sister-in-law had done a lot of food preparation, so we just needed to pack up gear and go. The ability to be so lax lead to some silly mistakes and some things left behind, but it was nothing of consequence. We left Lewiston in the mid-afternoon and traveled to Enterprise, Oregon for dinner and, we finally set up camp for the night on the shores of the Imnaha river. The next morning was cold and we were unprepared for the chill. After a period of alternating sitting in the truck to get warm and repacking, we were back on the road to finish our trip with a mandatory stop at Scotty’s (link) and then to the put-in at Hells Canyon Dam.
Hells Canyon is a permit only river during the summer. The permits are won in a lottery and it is nice to have such a restricted number of people on the river. Even better for us this year was that we lucked out to be on the river during a “motorless period” that restricted jet boats from rumbling up the river and disturbing the wilderness.
We checked in early and made it through inspection (they need to check our toilet system as packing out solid waste is required). The loading ramp had only one guided outfitter setting up and we even seized the opportunity to borrow their super powerful electric pump to inflate our boats. That saved us a ton of time and energy. In less than an hour we were floating down stream.
Having such an early start left us a lot of options for the day. The first was a great option to navigate the largest two rapids of the trip, Wild Sheep and Granite. After a brief stop to explore Barton Cabin one of several remnants from early white settlers, we came to the first big rapids, Wild Sheep.
Wild Sheep is rated class IV but is relatively straight forward, especially at the low flow we experienced, around 8,000 cfs. There are a few rocks at the top of the rapid that create holes or waves best avoided. The next obstacle to respect is a large set of lateral waves and a hole low in the rapid on the Oregon side. We scouted the rapid from the Oregon shore and made the decision that my nephew would row the gear boat with me riding along while my brother piloted the inflatable kayak (IK) with my nephew’s friend in the front. Both boats made it through the rapid with no incident, but everyone was very wet from the lower standing waves that easily washed over the boats.
Granite Rapid was next up an also rated class IV. This rapid is very dependent on river levels. Lower water can make a set of huge holes that are very difficult to float through successfully. The water had thankfully been rising all morning and the middle wave was huge and vertical, but not a hole. We scouted the rapid from the Idaho side and made the decision to have the boys run the rapid through the center in the IK and we would try to sneak between the big wave and a hole on river left. Flipping a gear boat on the first day was just not a risk we wanted to assume. We did not expect the IK to make it through the rapid upright, but it is a relatively safe swim after they get tipped over.
We lined up a bit to the left of center and the IK went too far left too. I guessed the lateral action of the wave would be a sure flip for them, but it turned out they had luck on their side and as soon as they were smashed from the right, a left pillow bolstered them and kept them upright. From our viewpoint just behind them in the raft, we were flabbergasted that they made it through. It was a great ride.
.Having the big rapids behind us, it was time to focus on fishing. We had been slaying the small mouth bass since we started. Most of the fish were released immediately, but a few unlucky ones were kept for sturgeon bait. We stopped at a sturgeon hole that has proved successful for us in the past. My brother has gotten pretty good at catching these huge fish and today would be no exception. Out of the years of doing this, I have always helped others land fish that they would never get a chance to catch again. I knew I would be back, so it has been easy to give the rod over to others less fortunate than I. This year was different, the first fish was mine and it happened quickly. Ok, so it was not huge at just around 4 feet in length, but I was no longer a sturgeon virgin. The next fish the hole produced was fought by my nephew and came in at a much more respectable 6 feet and change. It was a beautiful fish and produced a long fight with a lot of chasing.
It was really too bad that this sturgeon hole was not a good campsite. We would have loved to fish all night, but the shore was littered with large slippery boulders and any route to a suitable place to sleep was covered in poison ivy. Amazingly, we still discussed trying to sleep there. It was getting late and we chose to set up a kitchen and eat dinner there while we fished. I grilled up steaks and heated mashed potatoes (premade with bacon and cheese in vacuum packed bags that just need to be heated in boiling water). A side salad and cold beers rounded out the meal. As darkness started to become eminent, we pulled our lines and headed for the next decent campsite (Dry Gulch) and settled in for the night.
We only covered about 10 miles the first day and we needed to put some miles under our boats on day two. After a good night of sleep under the stars, we woke to a herd of big horn sheep descending a steep couloir on the far side of the river. Breakfast was scrambled egg “omelets.” Through the day we worked our way down river fishing for bass and sturgeon along the way. The river flows easily through this part of the canyon and is dotted by many small rapids that are fun and simple. But there are a couple that remain a challenge.
We stopped at Bernard Cabin for a quick look around. This homestead is small but totally livable. Every time I come here I think that I could set up a pretty good life in this location, which is actually saying a lot as I think most of the settlers in this canyon must have been totally off their rockers. Shortly downstream from the cabin is a set of rapids that deserve a bit of respect. Upper and Lower Bernard are a couple of drops with some pretty big waves and a couple of holes that are not likely to keep you, but certainly can take you out of a boat. I had a good time filming the Transformer toy as we went through these rapids. As I panned upstream, I noticed that the kayak had flipped and the boys were in the water. Both were still holding on to the boat and when they noticed lower Bernard (the much meatier of the two drops) was coming up, they were extremely motivated to get back in the boat and did so only moments before the next wave hit them. They may have lucked out of a swim in Granite, and Bernard bit them lightly, but the big dousing would happen in Waterspout Rapid.
With my brother on the oars, we entered Waterspout in front of the boys in the IK. The rapid is one of many confused waves from multiple directions. Even the raft got stopped by a steep wave and nearly flipped and that same wave easily devoured the IK to leave the boys in the water for the second time that day. This swim was much longer. My nephew managed to keep hold of his paddle, but lost the boat and ended up swimming through a hole on the lower stretch. His friend was still with the boat, but lost his paddle. After a few minutes in the water, all parties and pieces were reunited and ready to continue boating.
Rush Creek is the last of the big rapids in the canyon. It is also a random and tricky stretch with a huge hole at the top. All craft made it through successfully and all that remained below us would be splash and giggles and a long stretch of flat water called “The Great Snake Lake” to any boater without an engine.
Just before reaching our camp for the night, we stopped by Sturgeon Rock located in the middle of the river by Pine Bar. We enjoyed some time jumping into the river and swimming. Our camp was just down stream at Quartz Creek.
This is a camp we have used before because of great sturgeon fishing. It is not the best sleeping beach with more rocks than sand, but it works. This trip we found that Shelob’s whole family had taken up residence. Every weed and rock was covered in spider webs and HUGE spiders. They were beautiful, but a tad creepy in that dense of a population. The boys actually decided not to sleep on land at all and figured out a great way to make the boat work out for them. I have to admit to waking many times through the night thinking I had spiders crawling on me and wishing I was sleeping on the boat too.
Dinner that night consisted of grilled pizzas that were nothing short of amazing. The sun tracked its last path up the canyon walls and the stars began their reign. The boys were comfy in their beds on the boat and we still had three sturgeon lines set. It was late and my brother and I headed to our respective sleeping bags. As we all said our good nights and headlamps turned off, the clicking and squeal of the reel split the dark canyon and I hear one of the boys yell “fish on!” After a long fight, my nephew’s friend landed a huge sturgeon in excess of 8 feet long. Not bad for his first sturgeon. We all decided we had a long enough day and we did not reset the lines for any more fish this evening. Sleep came easily, even while surrounded by giant arachnids.
The day broke and breakfast of bacon and potato hash was devoured. The third day on the river would be a long one with anticipated 25 or more miles to cover. We stopped at several places to fish and had a couple of fun excursions too.
We stopped at the requisite established camps along the river like the Kirkwood Ranch, but mostly to use a toilet that does not require us to pack out our own shit (literally). One such stop was at Temperance Creek where I wanted to search for a geocache (link) that had been hidden back in 2010 and never found. We worked our way up to the ranch that is leased from the forest service by a company that is taking great care of the place (link). As I talked with the manager it was apparent that she was aware of the treasure we sought. We eventually found an old cabin and discovered the cache that had been hidden. It has been there for 3 years with no visitors and I was happy to be the first to find it.
The first possible take-out is at Pittsburg landing, but our rig had been shuttled an additional 50 miles downstream. We still had a lot of river to cover. We stopped at the Pittsburg boat ramp to use the bathroom and my brother used his charm to convince another boater to haul our trash out with him. We have done this before and it is really nice to be able to get ride of rubbish half way through the float. The only thing better is to find someone willing to give up any remaining ice they have, but we would not be lucky on that particular front this trip. It was nice to have an empty trash load though.
Downstream from Pittsburg the canyon closes up again and becomes a really fun ride for a few miles. We were hoping to stay at the Tryon beach that night, but we found boats there already. We decided to stop at the top of the huge Tyron eddy and sturgeon hole for a makeshift camp. There was hardly enough room for my sleeping bag. By brother slept in the IK and the boys slept on the boat. It was not ideal. Dinner that night was pulled Kahlua pork with coleslaw and applesauce. No big fish for the night but we did get a good sleep without spiders.
The next morning had a breakfast of bacon and eggs that were much needed to power through another long marathon day. We really wanted to get below the confluence with the Salmon river, but that was over 20 miles away and there was a fair amount of flat water in between. We continued to try for another sturgeon and had some decent nibbles but no real hookups.
We saw some research boats on the river that were setting trotlines for sturgeon. My brother is a fish biologist in this region and was familiar with the people and research that was happening. We stopped at one boat that had a big fish on board and watched them work. They had the fish in a sling that ran water through the fishes gills, they measured and took DNA samples, bit did not stop at just that. They did minor surgery on the fish to check its development of reproductive organs and sewed him back up. Then he got an x-ray to determine if he had any fishing tackle in him that he swallowed. Indeed, there was a large hook inside and they are using this research to determine the ability for fish to pass gear like this or have it corrode away. It was particularly amazing to see huge fishing hooks that were straightened out from large fish hooked on the set research lines. Proof that there are some really big fish still in the river, perhaps as big as 18 feet in length.
We eventually passed the confluence of the Imnaha River that we had camped on days prior, then the Salmon came in from the east, and we finally settled on a campsite with a nice spit of sand and some really cool rocks that were varnished and looked coated in metal.
We set our sturgeon lines like we did every night and dinner was prepared; lasagna, garlic bread heated on the grill, and the last of our salad supplies. The lasagna was homemade and precooked. We reheated with the same method as the mashed potatoes; just drop the vacuum packed servings into boiling water to warm up. After such a long day on the river, a calorie dense meal was devoured and enjoyed.
This camp was in a very tight section of canyon and the steep rock walls towered above us leaving only a sliver of night sky. I usually take note of the stars as the sun is going down so I can determine time through the night (I don’t have a watch). I woke around midnight to the water levels rising and our raft had floated off shore. I had tied it down, but didn’t like it making its own choices. I pulled it further up the beach. I repeated this ritual 3 more times when finally my brother woke up. His bed had been overtaken by the waterline and he nearly lost his life jacket. After he relocated higher on the beach, he stood sentinel over me as I slept and finally alerted me to move when the river was only about 4 inches from my head. That night the river rose nearly 5 vertical feet and receded by morning.
Hells Canyon Dam controls the river levels heavily. They fluctuate depending on need for electricity. When people need power for air conditioners or TVs the dam is opened up and more water is allowed to pass. At night, the dam is closed off and the river drops. But at this camp we were 60 miles downstream, so the flood of water comes in the middle of the night. This constantly changing river flow is something that is an annoyance to boaters, but can greatly disrupt fish behavior. The power companies work closely with fish and wildlife manager to compromise on what can be done to mitigate damage to native animal populations. Think about that the next time you turn on a light bulb: somewhere someone makes a river rise to light your house.
It rained lightly in the morning and we quickly set up a fly over camp to protect us for a few more hours of sleep. The wonderful meals we had been enjoying were a thing of the past and on the last day we scrounged up whatever we wanted to eat that was left over in the coolers. Shortly after putting on the water we stopped at Cherry Falls.
Cherry Falls is a cute little cove that is often passed entirely and is rarely visited to its full extent. There is a nice waterfall on the river’s edge, but if you are willing to hike up a steep section of rock, you will find a beautiful twin falls cascading into a little pool. The brave can climb into the pool and stand under the water. The cold pummels into the top of your head in a way that makes you forget about everything in the world and cleans your soul.
We made a quick stop at Geneva bar just down stream from Cherry Falls. There was a new geocache hidden there that had never been found and I was anxious to nab it before anyone else did. We found the cache pretty quickly and we were happy to discover it was full of really nice swag. We signed the log, left an offering, and took some prizes and moved on to paddle the Great Snake Lake.
There were about 17 miles of river left to the take-out at Heller Bar. The problem is that the river slows to a crawl for most of it. To compound the issue, the wind picks up through the day and howls upstream. If we didn’t get most of it covered before the afternoon, we might not be able to row against the wind. Inflatable whitewater rafts are not known for their ease of rowing. My brother and I took turns on the sticks and we covered the worst five miles of flat water in about an hour. In between the small rapids we often struggled just to keep making headway. If we stopped rowing, we would be blown upriver. Eventually we made it to Heller Bar just as the sky was darkening with a possible storm.
We found our truck and worked quickly to disassemble the boats and gear, then loaded it into the back of the rig. We were in the protection of the cab the moment rain started to fall.
The drive back to town is always something that is a real clash of lives for me. The blast of air-conditioning on my sun-baked skin is insulting. I turn on my cell phone and start to feel the buzz and hear the beeps in a way that is really unwelcoming to civilization. However, the running clean water over my body in the shower is refreshing and rejuvenating. Eating pizza from the store is really easy. Doing dishes in the washer is speedy. Pouring a glass of clean water without having to carry it in jugs is convenient. Flushing a toilet to make that mess someone else’s problem.
And I guess that is the whole point of going to the wilderness, to remind you of the ease of living we experience on a daily basis and that floating in a raft at 2 miles per hour is far preferable over a car on the highway at 60 mph.
Being injured means no running. No running means I have a whole lot more time on my hands. I don’t sit still well, so I found something to do.
Geocaching started right here in Portland and now there are millions of caches hidden all over the world. I have been curious about it for a long time and now I have finally given it a go. It is fun, in a silly childish way. Best of all, the kids love going on “treasure hunts.”
To those muggles (term stolen from Harry Potter and applied to non geocachers), geocaching is a game where you use GPS or a smart phone to find things that are hidden by other geocachers. A cache may be as big as a large bucket and filled with toys, or can be extremely small with barely enough room to contain a tightly packed slip of paper to initial. If you find something in a cache you can take it as long as you replace it with something of equal or greater value. Most of the time there are cheap toys, but sometimes it is filled with fun items that are “trackables” with a goal, like to travel west, or get into as many caches as possible. You can take the trackable if can help it achieve what it is trying to do. Then you leave it in a different cache somewhere for the next person.
But the hunt and find are what I think are really fun. The GPS can only get you close, but you still have to hunt for the cache. Most are hidden very well and the cache description is needed as a clue to make the find. Here is a particularly devious example that told me to look for a “magnetic key box.” I assumed that the box would be stuck on a piece of metal. But assumptions are usually trouble.
Toys found in a big geocache
Once it is found, you sign the log, trade any items you wish, then rehide it and move on. Be careful not to be seen by muggles, they may get curious, find the cache, then steal it not knowing how the game is played.
There are thousands of caches in my area and I have enjoyed how the game takes me to parks and places that I normally would not go. I have found some real cool niches of Portland that were right under my nose.
Geocaching by bike is a natural combination. After I get the kids are in bed at the end of a stressful day, I have been getting on my bike for a spin around town traveling from cache to cache. It takes my mind off of everything and I get some exercise too. I can’t wait to get back into running long, geocaching would be a great way to make the miles go by.
This final video is not my find, but amazing. Some people have too much time and money. But if I had too much time and money, I hope I would be this creative.
I know I had been neglecting you. It was really my fault. Ever since I have been injured, we just didn’t get out as much. You and I still got to spend time together commuting every day, but I know things changed. Those long weekend rides in the mountains were a thing of the past. We made such great memories together. I could hear you crying and creaking. I knew you really were beginning to show your age. Those dings and scuffs were beautiful. I should have told you more often how much I cared for you. I know I should have bought you more bling. I know I was negligent on maintenance. Yes, I was aware when your right pedal broke off I could have bought a whole new set, but instead I just replaced one pedal with a mismatched used part. Your bar tape had needed rewrapping for months. I had not cleaned you in a over a year.
I guess when I put that old fat mountain bike tire on last week because I was too cheap to buy a new road tire, it just just the last straw. I know I could have shown my love better. I am sure that when I left you unattended without a lock it was a real insult and you just gave up and left me. But I did care. I really loved you. I hope that you will come back some day.
I know you have probably found a new rider by now. I wonder what he or she is like. Did they coax you away with a pretty story or sweep you off your feet racing to some new home or did you put up a fight, looking back at my house with a tear in your eye as you were dragged away? Did you go off with a local crack head and now spend your time slumming around town? Are you being outfitted with a pair of colored Deep Vs and now are hanging out with the hipsters on Hawthorne? Did you find a new guy in spandex who likes to ride you fast with the wind in your face? Did you get wrapped up with someone to take you south and sell you on the black market? Whomever you are with, I hope the two of you are happy.
If you ever want to come home, I will welcome you with open arms (and ready to have you between my legs again). If I do find you on Craigslist, I hope it is in the bike for sale section and not in personal services looking for a quick ride.