Thursday, September 17, 2009

BiRaftathon: Bicycling and Rafting as One Event. Could this be YOU next year?!

Here's DarteDame (my wife Pramila) and me (CurioRando) in kayaks letting the Snake River carry us down into Hell's Canyon and into time and into geology and into beauty.

Sometimes I just have to pinch myself. How did I get here?

Back in 2000, DarteDame (aka Pramila Jayapal) published her book Pilgramage, One Woman's Return to a Changing India, and the then-Director of Fishtrap, a writers' retreat just a few mountains West of the Snake River, asked her to come teach writing.

Long story short, she ended up teaching writing in the Wallowa Mountains of Oregon at several Fishtrap workshops over the years. When Dartre and I started dating she took me to the Wallowas, a place she had guarded as her special getaway. It was a sure sign my charms were having their intended effect.

We all fell in love: Dartre, me, mountains, rivers, Steelhead Trout, family, bicycles. Out of that first trip of mine to the Wallowas, Dartre wrote a piece for Gray's Sporting Journal (available only by purchasing the magazine) about her first flyfishing adventure, the mountains and the Nez Perce Indians who were forced from this amazing valley.

As if that wasn't grand enough, we've been exploring the high valley by bicycle for a few years, and this year we went up and over the mountains into the next high valley (see previous ride report here). Fabulous.

But I got onto the Snake River this August in that yellow kayak purely by virtue of my utility as an enticement, or bait if you will. Fishtrap was inaugurating a new writers' workshop as a five day rafting trip down Hell's Canyon on the Snake River, and they told Dartre that if she would participate as one of the teachers that she could bring me along as her sidekick. WOWSER!

But before we get too far along in describing this trip of a lifetime, you need to know something that ties this all into bicycling. The rafting company that guided, protected, feasted, pampered, and challenged us has plans for a BiRaftathon (the name is my invention, so if it's too corny don't blame them!). A couple of the partners of Winding Waters River Expeditions, Paul and Penny, are bicyclists, and Paul asked right away, before we'd even begun this adventure, what Dartre and I thought about a future trip that combined rafting and cycling (Paul and Penny are cycling down the entire Oregon coast as I write this!).

The idea of the BiRaftathon is that cyclo-rafters would ride--perhaps the very route Dartre and I rode in the above mentioned post--to a spot where they would be met by the river guides to begin rafting. The bicycles would either be put on a raft as cargo or transported by truck to the rafting takeout. After rafting for several days, the cyclo-rafters would peel their butts from the raft tubes and ease them back onto their saddles for the last leg of cycling to finish off the trip. All the scenery would be first rate: as in some of the best rafting and cycling territory in the country.

The folks at Winding Rivers are friendly, hospitable and really tuned in to what makes a trip perfect for the clients. Our food was outstanding. All the gear was shipshape. The staff were casual and fun-loving, but not intrusive. We felt we were in excellent hands. And the partners of Winding Waters really seem to be into this notion of combining.

For our trip they combined writing and rafting. They organized a trip earlier this summer where they practiced Yoga each day with a Yoga instructor as they floated down the river. And of course this novel idea: the BiRaftathon.

So mull over the BiRaftathon idea as you check out our photos from our five days on the Snake River. And if you're only into rafting and writing (without the cycling), Fishtrap already has the dates for next year's writing/rafting adventure: August 18 - 23, 2010.

One additonal notion about place. There are many fine places to have fun, write, cycle, raft or stand on your head. But the Wallowa Valley and environs were, until 1877, Nez Perce country. It is a special place that deserves protection, respect and appreciation. If you aren't familiar with the Nez Perce story, here's a link to get you started. But do know that this is a special and poignant place.

I find it achey. Achingly beautiful and achingly painful to imagine the loss thrust upon the Nez Perce. That doesn't at all diminish the experience; it enhances it, and it clearly calls us to a higher, human place. That is the power of special geographic places. I may not attain that higher human place, but I do like to be reminded that I ought to strive for it.

And when you ponder place, you're coming awfully close to writing about place. Fishtrap, the writer's retreat and the other sponsor of our writing/rafting escapade, is a wondrous place for writing. The setting is the American West, and whether you join them for any of their periodic several days-long workshops (Summer and Winter Fishtraps) or Children's Lit Workshops or other programs you'll be changed. Place and the act of writing are transformative.

With that more than adequate preamble, check out the fun we had!

On river, I expected only wilderness or artifacts from the Nez Perce. Not so. Settlers tried to homestead the canyon, most without much success, but signs of their struggles are present. This photo is of a gate at the Kirkwood Ranch which is a fascinating museum about what that hard scrabbling life was like. Many settlers were driven into the harsh valley by the harsher Great Depression when they couldn't eke out a living among the rest of those above the canyon. So down canyon they went to give it a try.

There are sizeable trout, but I only caught Smallmouth Bass. They are a hoot. Very agressive and great fighters.

Columnar Basalt formations.

A settler's cabin. Fascinating tales of fighting over a sack of rice and such. Conflict and hard times galore.

This foundation wall is all that's left to mark the spot where over 30 Chinese gold miners were massacred in 1887. Though local folks were indicted, the jury of their peers convicted no one as the Chinese were not valued fully as humans. Sad spot as there was nothing to commemorate it. As if it hadn't ever happened.

Jon, one of our two intrepid guides.

Pictograph from ancient peoples. Plant dyes remain; understanding eludes us.

Morgan, our other intrepid guide and Winding Rivers partner.

Hell's Canyon Dam. Damn those Dams!

Patrick and John, captain and first mate respectively, of our gear boat. Heavy and tough to row. Thanks, men.

On river, we spotted a Black Bear cub, very reddish in color. Also Eagles, Osprey, Canyon Wrens, Deer, a couple of Western Rattlesnakes.

I scoured, and I mean scoured, the mountains for Big Horn Sheep or Mountain Goats. None. None.

On the drive back to Seattle, Dartre and I saw over 80 Big Horns along the Yakima River Canyon Road! And I captured this doe and her fawn eating the succulent shoots along the Yakima River. The fawn is belly deep. I'll bet she dreams about that day this Winter!

If rafting or cycling or writing or standing on your head entices you, we can't recommend Winding Waters River Expeditions enough. Of course they also do just rafting: on the Snake, the Salmon and the Grande Ronde Rivers (Steelhead fishing here also).

There are many adventures out there from which to choose.

Personally, as much as I love Steelhead fishing on the fly and boy do I love that, I think I dig the BiRaftathon idea the most right now.

Keep it afloat,


1 comment:

  1. thank you so much for this account. i loved reading about it...