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The Gearboat Chronicles


Just got back from a great trip on the Salmon. Kayak school with Wet Planet. Winding Waters set up camp and had the big boats . . . great folks, great time, great everything.

Not great weather, however, on day four out of five. And with the rain drizzling down, like it had since the night before . . . we were eating breakfast . . . it’s raining . . .still . .. and somebody said, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just stay here.”

And so we did. Took a vote. Figured the river miles for the last day and it all made sense. Everyone was in favor and so we stayed right there below Wapshilla Rapid. And it was great.

Layovers are so nice.

Clouds eventually burned out. Sun showed itself. There was leisurely coffee. Epic yoga session. Dance class led by Shannon, one of our guides who works as a ballet and dance instructor . . . one-on-one kayak lessons from Andy and Joanne from Wet Planet. I went for a big long hike up toward Rattlesnake Ridge – that’s a picture there of camp from up high.

Other folks took a similar hike. Andy put on a swiftwater rescue lesson. There was napping, reading, geology lessons from Barbara, a college geology instructor on the trip who interpreted rocks we all brought back from our wanderings. Lots of laughing. Layover days are great. We get them once in a while. Depends on the trip. The times I’ve been along when there’s a layover day and we don’t move camp, things still get done – exploring, rock-skipping, reading, eating, kicking back, story-telling, sand castle building, etc. — and you’re still on the river, we’re just not moving downstream that day and the relaxing picks up the pace.

Yeah. It’s nice.

On this same trip we kept running into a group that had this crazy, small, sweep boat. Instead of oars, sweeps boats have rudders both fore and aft. That was the norm on the Salmon back in the day. I’ve seen them before, but not like this. This was the genuine article. And I caught up with them at the scout for Snowhole Rapid.

Patrick and I were running gear. Pulled into the scout and there was the sweep boat. We took a peek at the run, then headed back to our rafts and ran into the older guy who was running the sweep boat.

Mr. Hatch. Bought this raft in the 1950s for 50 bucks. It’s a 1940s war surplus model he came across. The sweeps are made from two-by-fours and plywood. Not self-bailing. He built the spray skirts to keep water out. I asked how it handled, if it was easy enough to eddy out and get to camp, or pull over. No, he said. It doesn’t handle all that well. But, hell, it still works, and if it ever gives out he guesses he’ll buy a boat with oars, but until then this works fine. He’s a badass, that Mr. Hatch, and I wish I’d had more time talking with that guy.

So I met an old-school river guy running a World War II surplus raft, then hit camp and spent some time talking with Andy, the lead kayak instructor for Wet Planet, who’s on the other end of things. This guy kayaks all over the place. He’s very reserved, very modest. But reading between the lines of the things he’s done in whitewater will make your hair turn white.

I watched Mr. Hatch in his sweep boat pass by our camp after having my hair turn white talking to Andy, and realized they’re not at all different. Old guy, young guy. Antique boat, other end of the spectrum. But talking with both, they’ve got the same reasons. Same attachment to water.

Let me just say this: I like my job. It’s good folks, good times, good stuff.