river postcard #2: the what and the why
The river trip tradition pre-dates my existence.
It starts with my mom's dad, my grandpa Grover, my maternal aunts and uncles, and some thoroughly dinky 10- and 12-foot inflatable rafts on some very challenging rivers (Deschutes, Owyhee) in the 60's.
By the time I was of age to be strapped into a lifejacket, it was the early 80s. My first trip (when I was six or seven) was on the John Day River. I remember being very surprised by the inflatable boat: When I heard "raft," I was think a Huck-Finn-meets-Kon-tiki contraption of logs lashed together.
These days, the boats are serious business - 16-feet long with self-bailing floors, purpose-built for whitewater, with custom aluminum rowing frames holding a cooler and dry boxes to store food & water.
Everything else goes into a dry bag, and it comes on and off the boat each day. Dry bags come in many different shapes and sizes. They're made of waterproof material, and their tops roll down to create a seal.
The only two exceptions to the everything-in-a-dry-bag rule are the trash (which is definitely double-bagged), and the rocket box, also known as the Groover. This is leave-no-trace camping, so you pack out everything, including human waste.
The upside of camping this way is you get a unique wilderness experience that includes campsites that are generally clean and free from trash. Most Western rivers require a permit from the Bureau of Land Management. The BLM limits the number of groups that can launch each day, so you can be mostly alone with nature. Many rivers have soft, sandy beaches on their banks, so you're sleeping on a pleasantly flat and soft surface. It's pretty darn nice.
The scenery drifts by at a gentle pace with an ever-changing view of cliffs, mesas, canyons, desert, or forest depending on where you are. All sorts of animals and birds come to the river to drink. On this last trip, we saw families of mountain sheep and wild horses, plus a young male black bear, a Great Blue Heron, and a Thompson's toad.
Check back next Wednesday for a post on river wildlife!