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The Gearboat Chronicles

Outfitted Sledding Trips?

From Christmas Eve Sledding
From Christmas Eve Sledding

Winding Waters might just have to revolutionalize the outfitting world and become the first rafting-sledding combination adventure company in the world. Look at one of the postcard photos showing Wallowa Lake and the Wallowa Mountains, and right between the two is where headquarters for Winding Waters River Expeditions is located. The boathouse is tucked right between the west moraine and sits on a perfectly sloped and very long gravel road. Ideal for sledding.

Morgan’s house is just up the road from the boathouse and he owns a rather impressive collection of runner sleds. Those flexi-fliers we rode as kids with the steering bar up front.

I got my introduction to the sledding run last week with a bright moon lighting up the mountains, the snow, and the extremely slick road surface with barbed-wire fence running next to it, which I was dearly hoping to avoid.

There was mention of helmets. And how it would be a good idea to be wearing one. We didn’t have helmets, as this was a spur of the moment sled mission. But we did have an emergency room doctor sledding with us, which is the next best thing. My plan was to stay just in front of Doctor Tingelstad so he could be first on the scene if my flexi-flier and I piled up.

Morgan gave us a safety talk, warning us to avoid the bare patches where gravel was showing, and pointed out the best route for getting around the metal cattle guard. I asked if maybe we should go find the helmets, but the good doctor patted me on the shoulder and told me it would be all right.

It was better than all right. These sleds fly. They’re flexi and they fly, so whoever named these things knew what they were doing. The sparks are the best part. No, the speed is the best part. Maybe it is the sparks. I can’t decide. You’re flying along in the moonlight, trees and fenceposts whizzing by, then flicks of light start kicking up in front of you from someone else’s sled runners hitting stray pieces of gravel in the snow. Look back and there’s sparks coming off your sled and the folks behind you.

It’s almost embarrassing to admit to being that easily amused, but runner sledding is the biggest blast I’ve had since getting off the river at the end of the season. Morgan and Paul spend their snowy season up in the Wallowas guiding backcountry skiers. I spend mine next to the woodstove. But I may have to expand the rafting operation to include sledding trips so I can spend all year on the water, even if it’s frozen.

If I can just find a fifty or sixty-mile sledding run, we can send a gear sled ahead to set up camp and do overnight trips. It’ll be just like whitewater rafting in summer, but with more clothes. And think of the money we’ll save on sunscreen.