Me, I’ve got a lot to be thankful for: family, friends, good health… and that I discovered boating many years ago (thanks, Rich). And I’m grateful for boating buddies who’re crazy enough to want to spend Thanksgiving on the river in northern Idaho!
Zach Miller, NRS Customer Service Rep, started talking about “Thanksgiving on the River” back before Labor Day. At one point we had 13-14 people on the list who’d expressed an interest in going. Ten days out, the weatherman was predicting four days of sunshine. Five days out, it looked like 3-4 days of rain. As Thursday approached, it looked like one day of rain, three days of cold and only four of us who could make the trip.
Zach, of course, his brother Tim, on holiday leave from the Air Force Academy and Tyler Harris, NRS Mountain West Wholesale Rep. I took Wednesday off to get ready for the trip. Mid-morning, Ty called to tell me that Zach and Tim’s grandfather was ill and there was a chance they might not be able to make the trip. Hmm, we chatted awhile about going it alone or cancelling the trip. We were both gung ho to make it happen and decided not to cross that bridge until we had to. Fortunately, a couple of hours later he called back to report that Zach and Tim were in and the trip was on!
|Ty predicted they’d be down to pick up me and my gear around 4:30, but as often happens with boaters, that was optimistic and it was after 7:00 before we rolled out of Lewiston and headed for the Salmon River. An hour and a half later we were unloading gear and rigging boats by the light of our headlamps. The boats were on the inclined ramp at Pine Bar and as the rigging progressed, we began to slip and fall in the boats. “What tha…?” Then, we realized that the dew and water we were tracking into the boats was freezing and the boats were skating rinks. Serious injury was avoided and by 11:30 the job was done and we were tucked into our tents for a short night’s rest.
Sunrise was at 7:00 and sunset at 4:00. Combined with the half hour of twilight on either end of the day, that gave us 10 hours of natural light to work in. We wanted to take a layover day, so doing over 60 miles in three days with this reduced daylight was pretty aggressive planning.
|“"Red sky at morning, sailors take warning." Weather be a comin'. © Tyler Harris
There were only four of us but we were boat-heavy. Tyler had a 13.5’ Osprey raft, a model in the new NRS Revolution boat series. The Revolution boats, coming out in 2010, are made from a polyurethane coated 1680-denier nylon material. Polyurethane is an excellent, lightweight air-holding coating and very abrasion and puncture resistant. The boats are very rigid and the slick coating slides over rocks and other obstacles with ease.
Left to Right: Osprey 13.5, Expedition 140 and Expedition 150. © Zach Miller |Zach and Tim were in an Expedition 140 raft and I had my trusty E-150 boat. Tyler announced that since he was packing the Cleanwaste Portable Toilet System and the rocket box for used WAG bags, he was naming his boat “Shizza Minnelli”. Not wanting to be outdone, I thereby christened my boat “Lady Fryaa Godiva”. More on that later.
In spite of all our work the night before, it was still 9:00 before we pulled away from the ramp. The day was clear and cold, so there was plenty of incentive to keep up a steady rowing pace.
We stopped for a 45-minute lunch break at Whitehouse Bar. Zach and Ty pulled out backpacking stoves and heated up soup and my trusty old stainless thermos still kept the morning’s coffee hot.
|We stopped to scout Snow Hole Rapid, the main “pucker-factor rapid” on this stretch of river. We all styled it, then pushed on through the three miles of slow water to Maloney Creek Campsite, 22 miles from the put-in, arriving at 3:00 p.m. In spite of the persistent upstream wind during the day, we averaged ~4.5 miles per hour while we were on the sticks; not bad at the lower flows this time of year.
We all pitched in and quickly got camp set up. The weatherman and the morning’s “red sky” was predicting rain for Friday, so we put up two joined River Wings, one for the kitchen and one for a “living room”.
Tyler cranking up his stove to heat up soup and tea water. © Clyde Nicely
View from the groover, "hear the babbling brook, feel the cold seat." © Clyde Nicely |I scouted out a spot for the toilet, chuckling at the memory of Tyler’s description of the “Three Ps of Groover Placement” on an earlier trip. “The first P is for Proximity; you want it close to camp but not too close. The second P is Privacy, both for you and for your fellow trip members; other boating parties passing by are on their own. The third P is for Pan-o-rama; a great view is essential to the waste elimination experience.” So, I set ours up by the gurgling creek, for a great auditory, as well as visual panorama.
I had forgotten that as I was taking my tent down that morning, one of the pole sections split, right where the female end joined a ferrule. So, there I was fumbling around with the headlamp doing a repair. After two failed attempts, Zach helped me lash two green willow twigs across the joint with duct tape. Ah, the joys of duct tape, where would boaters be without it?
Tyler was on tap for our Thanksgiving Day meal. He’d brought along several salmon fillets given to him by Jim McAllister, one of our Wholesale Coordinators. Jim, a longtime fishing guide, had taken a leave from NRS for the extended summer months to run a remote fly-in fishing camp in Alaska. Ty placed each fillet in its own foil packet, with various condiments, from garlic to lemon to pesto. Fresh asparagus went into its own packet, as well as some cheese stuffed hot peppers. All this went on the firepan grill over a nice bed of coals, to be turned and roasted to perfection. It was yummy stuff and there were no leftovers! I thought I was supposed to pick up the pumpkin pie and so did Tyler, so of course we finished the meal with big slabs of pumpkin pie.
The Miller bros brought along a couple of bundles of firewood and I’d gathered up driftwood at Whitehouse Bar, so we had a nice blaze in the Firepan
. I hung out for a while, but I was tired so I crawled in the tent about 9:30; seems I never get a lot of sleep before a trip.
|Speaking of sleep, it was almost 10:00 before I crawled back out of the tent! Can’t remember when I’ve slept that long, on a river trip or at home. I awoke at 4:00 when it started to rain and it was still raining when I roused a couple of other times during the night.
We spent the morning making breakfast, drinking coffee and gathering firewood. Zach and Tim had a leak in their tent that dampened sleeping bags, so they were in bag-drying mode. Then, around 1:30 we started preparation for our more traditional Thanksgiving meal.
What’s Thanksgiving without turkey? So, I’d brought along a turkey “fryaa”. We dried off our little almost 10-pound bird and slowly lowered him/her into three gallons of 350º peanut oil. We built a windbreak around the pot, using an old wildland firefighter emergency shelter, commonly called a “shake and bake.” (Anybody know a surplus source for these?) The rain largely cooperated, only flinging a few drops to sizzle and pop in the hot oil.
Tim keeping warm while drying out his sleeping bag. © Zach Miller
Voila, in 30 minutes we had moist fried turkey goodness! We washed and sanitized the firepan lid to serve as our carving tray. Accompanying the turkey were foil roasted fresh broccoli and carrots, garlic mashed potatoes I’d made ahead, Zatarain’s Creole-Style Cornbread Stuffing mix, cranberries, black olives, a nice boxed Chardonnay… and pumpkin pie. Ah, and Mama Miller had made up a batch of yeast rolls, from their grandma’s recipe, pulled them hot out of the oven and FedEx-ed them down from Alaska! For the recipe, graciously supplied by Zach and Tim’s mom, Shelly, click on Never Fail Rolls Recipe.
Clockwise from top left: Tim and Zach watching the pot boil; The turkey bubbling away; Cooked to golden fried perfection! A proper Thanksgiving meal plate. © Zach Miller, Clyde Nicely
As darkness settled in, we circled around the firepan to enjoy all the wood Ty, Zach and Tim had gathered. I’d brought along the breakdown Tiki Torches I made for the Two River Bag Boogie trip. We fired them up and spent a great evening watching the flames in the firepan and on the torches. Conversation ebbed and flowed, punctuated by silence, laughter and stories. Early in the evening, the over half-full moon was a gauzy glow beyond the clouds. As time passed, it appeared and vanished as the clouds thinned, until it shown bright and unobstructed. The clear sky sucked the day’s warmth away and a wintery chill settled along the river. It was probably 10:00 when I hit the sleeping bag, not sure when the others crashed.
© Tyler Harris, Zach Miller
We awoke to a frozen, frost covered world; it felt funny walking on solid sand. Even though we had miles to make we were pretty lazy about leaving camp. Breakfast, coffee, packing up the layover day scattered gear. A bald eagle flew up the river. We finally pulled away from the beach at 11:00.
The bag of ice we got out for Turkey Dinner prep cocktail hour was still frozen the next morning! © Tyler Harris |Zach and Tim saw three river otters. We ran China Rapid without scouting; river looked higher than I thought it would be. Down in the slow water by Eagle Creek we hooked up our little electric motor and linked the three boats together. Tim took over motor duties and was a natural. Guess it shouldn’t be surprising, he is a certified glider pilot. Hmm, wait a minute, gliders don’t have motors.|
Running with an electric motor is kinda cool. It’s green, no smell and it’s totally quiet. You can chat, hear all the river sounds; we decided it’s great for getting close to wildlife and for ninja assassin work. We didn’t see any ninjas but there were quite a few power boaters, fishing for steelhead. We were the only rafts on the river and the reactions of the power boaters was a hoot: “You guys fishin’?” “Nope” “You huntin’?” “Nope, just messing around.” Then, “You got your seasons mixed up, don’t you?” or “Damn, you’re tougher than I am” or shaken heads and funny stares.
The last five miles of the Salmon is in Blue Canyon, a favorite part of the trip. A narrow, steep walled gorge, with the lower blue/black rock polished smooth by eons of silt laden high water. There are some dandy rapids there. Sluice Box had some huge, chaotic rollers in it and Eye of the Needle is always a fun ride. We grouped up at the confluence and Tyler described a possible campsite he’d seen on a previous trip, just downstream on the Snake. We pulled in amongst big rocks and found a nice “tailgater” landing with some level tent sites.
Ty went wandering down the beach looking for a groover spot and almost blundered into a couple of bighorn sheep rams. He came back pretty wide eyed and we located the toilet closer to camp. There were many signs of wildlife in the camp area: bobcat tracks, a mangled rodent and other small animal tracks. Clear sky, no need for the River Wing, so we set up a pretty minimalist kitchen.
Setting up my tent, the patch on the tent pole broke. It pissed me off; it’s a pretty new tent. I was storming around, cussing up a storm. Tyler was impressed, though not favorably, don’t think he’d ever seen what my mom called “that Nicely Temper” before. I broke a stick off the firewood Tim had gathered and wound duct tape around it and the previous repair. Looked like a gray growth, but it held.
Zach had made chili at home and I had pre-baked cornbread, so we ate pretty quickly. He followed up the excellent spicy chili with these amazing chocolate chunk (not chip) cookies, of which I ate several. Tyler seemed determined to have warm cookies; he kept experimenting with laying them directly on the grill and also first wrapping them in foil.
The clear sky brought plummeting temperatures. In spite of the nice fire Tim built, I was cold. Tyler was falling asleep in his chair. Conversation had lagged. I gave it up; varmint proofed leftover cornbread and butter and went to bed.
Sunday morning dawned clear and cold. At least this time I had remembered to bring my ATB booties into the tent with me, so they weren’t frozen solid and hard to put on. The sheep had come back; there were fresh tracks within 25 feet of my tent and right by the groover.
We got out of the tents pretty early but moved slowly until the sun reached the beach. Tyler made a startling discovery as he shook out his sleeping bag. A small black spider with a bulbous abdomen flipped out on the ground. It didn’t have the characteristic red hourglass marking of the black widow spider, rather some mottled russet coloring underneath.
|Research after the trip indicates it was some type of “false black widow”, some of whom do have venom that humans react to, though not as seriously as to the real thing. The question remains, had the spider accompanied Tyler the whole trip or had it crawled across a frozen beach to enter an unzipped tent door? Mysteries of nature.|
The day was spent largely linked together and motoring silently in ninja mode. Splitting apart to row through rapids was a welcome warm up exercise. We got to the takeout by 3:00, quickly broke down the boats and gear and changed out of drywear into civvies.
Motoring on the Snake - on the lookout for ninjas, with thoughts of the hot showers beyond the takeout. © Clyde Nicely
Back in Lewiston, after dropping off my gear, we gathered at a Mexican restaurant for lots of gooey goodness. What was the chief conversation topic around the table? “Next Thanksgiving, we need to…”
Thank goodness for crazy boaters!! My kinda people.
Boat Often, Boat Safe, Live Life to the Fullest!
I continue to really like the eVent Mission Drysuit. The supple material is utterly non-restrictive and so breathable you never have to “burp” the suit.
Merino wool rocks! For those of you unfamiliar with this fine wool from the Merino breed of sheep, it has revolutionized wool base layer technology. It’s truly non-itchy, doesn’t hold odor and has great wicking properties. We carry a nice range of Ibex Merino tops, bottoms and hats. I wore two lightweight and one mid-weight tops under my Mission and was comfortable when it was warmer, colder and when rowing hard.
Two exciting products I got to try this trip were samples of the new Maverick and Rogue waterproof gloves. No, you won’t find them online or in a catalog, they are a 2010 product. We should be seeing them early in the New Year and I’ll be writing about them in the e-News after they arrive. For now, I’ll just say they worked great and it’s gear I think you’re gonna love.