|The little 6-Man Udisco. Here, it’s beached high and dry in Hells Canyon, with Happy Birthday balloons attached. On the back is the first “frame” I built, a wooden affair to make loading gear easier.
story starts years ago, in the mid ‘70s when a friend invited me
to go rafting with him. He had a “6-man” Udisco, a little
10½’ - 11’ boat. With 4-5 of us paddling, we took a
couple of day trips in it on local rivers. The intensity of the rapids,
the rhythm and beauty of the river, the camaraderie – for me it
was love at first trip.
the two day trips under our belt, we decided to take-on an overnight trip…
well sort of an overnight. We planned to have a buddy meet us with most
of the camping gear at a place reachable by road, after the first day
of floating. Transportation was arranged, people were invited and off
showed up at the put-in expecting to go with my friend in his little Udisco,
but lo and behold there were others with more horsepower, and I didn’t
make the cut. I got stuck in a raft borrowed for the trip, a boat that
made the Udisco look like a Ferrari. It was bigger, maybe 13’-14’
long, but it was made out of some yellow, coated canvas-like material
and had no thwarts. You couldn’t put much air pressure in it, so
each section wobbled and moved independently over the waves. (By modern
standards, “Ol’ Yeller” was a dog, but it made many
a trip down the Snake and Salmon rivers and served well when paddled by
a good crew.)
I got left-front paddle position. To my right was a young college student
whose drug of choice was marijuana and favorite expression was “Oh
Wow”. Behind me was a coworker and right-rear was his 12-year old
|Ol' Yeller in Hells Canyon; you can see how flexible it is. Paul, the owner of the boat, is in left front, wearing his full-head Creature of the Black Lagoon mask. Yeah, no PFD, way too old school. |
the first day of the trip was pretty mellow: not much rapid action
and we made it to the campsite okay. I have memories of the evening
being fun and of a picture we took the next morning of our friend
who drove in the camp gear. He’d managed to find his sleeping
bag, but hadn’t mastered the intricacy of getting into it.
Sitting up on it that next morning, he looked like he’d gone
to war and lost.
loaded into the rafts and headed out. Lots of rapids and what-the-hey,
we were not doing well. There was none of that coordinated teamwork I’d
experienced on my first two trips. The raft was wobbling and we were missing
our line in every rapid. Oh Wow was just happy to be alive and didn’t
seem to notice we were out of control. My coworker started drinking beer
early and often and he was real happy too.. In one of the rapids, I tore
my eyes away from the holes and rocks and looked back. When we got into
the rapid, they were just pulling in their paddles and holding on. No
wonder we were out of control!
in one of the melees I lost a lens out of my glasses. In those days, before
eye surgery got me out of the nearly blind category, I had to have my
glasses to find my glasses. So there I was – couldn’t see,
couldn’t get the crew together, oh and none of us had been down
this stretch of river before, so we didn’t know what to expect.
I’m mad, I’m terrified. Yeah.
got to Snowhole Rapid and managed to stop and scout. Little good
it does me, I can’t see, so the terror factor just goes up.
I yell and curse at the crew; we dig in and somehow get through
it. Everyone else is happy, I’m sullen. We go around a left
hand bend and are suddenly in China Rapid, a wide rock garden. We
managed to dumb our way through but the Udisco goes into a big hole
and gets totally maytaged. One girl got her PFD ripped partially
off, hats, sunglasses and other miscellaneous materials disappeared,
and everyone was shaken up. Thank goodness the take-out wasn’t
that far away and the ordeal was over.
The Campways River Rider 13, on the Main Salmon. I’m in the right rear; all you can see of me is the yellow PFD.
result of a trip like this would be to say, “I’m never doing
this again!” Fortunately I’d had a couple of good trips and
knew what it could be like. My response was, “I’m never doing
this again unless I’m the captain!” As luck would have it,
my friend purchased a larger boat that winter and I bought his 6-man.
|The NRS Sport II 15-footer on the Middle Fork of the Salmon. |
a ton of fun with that little boat, lots of day trips and multiday
trips on the Main and Lower Salmon and the Snake in Hells Canyon.
Later on, I decided I needed a larger boat, so I got a 12-½
footer from NRS and paddled it for a while. Eventually, the task
of putting together a good paddle crew for each trip got to be too
much of a hassle so I put a frame on the boat, started rowing and
added the Selway and Middle Fork of the Salmon to the repertoire.
My kids got old enough to go and my first Grand Canyon trip loomed,
so I added an NRS 15 footer to the fleet.
many wonderful days spent floating down our great western rivers! My two
sons grew up rafting. Ben mastered the double-oar turn long before he
really had the strength to control the boat. Matt was so young when he
did his first multiday trip that we packed a new toy for each night so
he wouldn’t get bored in camp. Since I have a summer birthday, I’ve
spent a number of them floating; I’ll be celebrating 2006 in the
Matt and Ben grooving on a calm stretch of some river. Matt’s holding up one of his favorite river foods…string cheese. Ben’s wearing a river booty hat we found in an eddy.
been a great ride - I highly recommend it. I guess I’ll be doing
it as long as I can handle the sticks. When I get too decrepit to do my
own rowing, I’ll have to decide whether I can give up control to
safe, boat often and hopefully, I’ll meet you on the water someday.
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