If you ever played the game Oregon Trail while struggling to get through math or typing class in 4th grade, you remember the moment towards the end when you get the option to caulk the wagon and raft down the river to the promised land, aka the Willamette Valley. Well today was my lucky day, as I had my first lunch at a little riverside park just down from The Dalles, where in the game you get to make that fateful choice. I didn't get to dodge any rocks, however. "Thomas has dysentary. Annie has been bitten by a wind-blown snake. You have shot 978 pounds of buffalo meat- you can carry 41." You get the idea.
I am in the city of The Dalles at the public library, enjoying a chair and some climate control. Public libraries are such wonderful things- even in the smallest town you find one, and it is usually the only place there where you can sit down without any pressue to buy anything. Also, free internet is nice.
The launch went well, a little champagne and a Pabst Tall Boy marked the occasion, along with a few friends and a homeless man that kept asking questions about my kayak. Not a kayak, hombre. With a deep breath and a few hard pulls I was in the current, going upstream. Oh, and I just checked on this- the Columbia is flowing at 200,000 cfs right now. And I'm going upstream- perfectly logical.
The wind and current has been interesting, to say the least. It can be totally calm, softly pissing rain and 50 degrees out, and then you come around a 60 foot rocky headland and all of a sudden you are in the land of the giants. Safe harbors are plentiful, but the giants still peak at you from out in the two-mile wide river, knowing you will have to face them again soon.
The Columbia River Gorge has been unreal- huge, jagged peaks densely forested and always the damp, dark green of moss and pine. Salmon fishermen, some Nez Perce among them, line the banks in the hundreds, hoping for the odd salmon so show itself to them and their line. I portaged once when the winds were blowing- they get to about 15-20 knots every afternoon- downstream instead of their customary easterly direction. I gained 2000 ft on the portage and made 9 miles, finally to an overlook of the entire gorge and the Cascades through which the river cuts. Both tires on the portage cart had long since given out, so I sat there, painstaking stuffing an old bedsheet into the tire to give it some loft. None of the patches had held, but the bedsheet, un-poppable, stood the test of distance and weight.
Yesterday I reached the confluence of the Hood River and the Columbia, and ended up carrying over the huge sandbar at the Hood's mouth. The town there is famous for its wind and kit surfing, and there were dozens of folks out, zipping back and forth around me in the howling wind. As I was finishing the carry, a rather attractive woman came over with her dog and starting asking me about my trip. I hadn't talked to anyone in a few days, not more than a few words anyway, and I obviously couldn't really string coherent sentances together. Turns out she's a boater, and yes, that gorgeous golden retriever is hers. So she completes the pretty girl/dog/boater trifecta, and I'm fumbling to snap my spray deck back on. She asks for the blog (its 2009, of course an expedition has to have a blog...) and then to me, blinded by the power of the trifecta, she bids me aideu and nods towards the river, smiling: "Your boat is floating away."
Wading in, I catch up with the boat in mid current, myself thigh (crotch) deep in the glacial meltwater rushing down from Mt. Hood. Classic. I can handle huge waves, pissing rain, 10 mile portages and 200,000 cfs, but I'm undone by a girl and her puppy.
Oh, and if anyone says "Nice kayak" to me again, I'm going to have an aneurysm. Also, to the four people that have asked "Where's Clark?": he fell off, and thank you for speaking to my Lewis-like qualities.