Story continued from ~ Tour de Powerhouse on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River – Part 2
…By this point, the bike should have been happy because it was currently the only passenger able to enjoy the ride and stay fairly dry at the same time. The others on board at this point were not as fortunate fore all the while on their Tour de Powerhouse, the ongoing rotation process succeeded in filling the boat to the brim with water.
It was about now that some of the other disgruntled passengers decided to abandon ship.
The bailing bucket quit first.
How unfortunate. More good news though, they didn’t have to fear slamming against the wall at the end of the rapid because they were already there. Finally released from their Death Spiral, the boat and crew cruised through the brief calm at the tail end of therapid, satisfied with the fact that the worst seemed to be over and that all had survived. For most on the river, it is assumed that Powerhouse has two sections, for some, like those on the Biker Boat, Part 3 was about to reveal its true self.
Typically at this water level, you simply stay river right, avoiding the horrific rock down stream on river left. Unfortunately for the crew of the Biker Boat, the captain attempted to pull the boat in on river left. Now, I know that it is assumed that Superman can’t row one of these boats full of water but I got to witness firsthand, that for sure, a trainee cannot stand on land and hold onto a rope tied to one of these boats and keep it from continuing on his merry way. You can almost see the smoke rising out of the young man’s hands as he tightens his grip on the ever elusive boat rope. More good news, he at least held on long enough so as to change the course of the boat as to avoid a near miss of the horrific rock. The boat was now aligned perfectly with it. It also seemed that the captains at this point got tired of Rule Number-1 and changed it up a bit by parking her there perfectly broadside. I could really sense some separation anxiety brewing with the biker clinging for dear life on one end of the boat and the bike doing the same on the other. Fortunately the boat got bored with just hanging out on the rock in the middle river and let go. Even more fortunate was that they were still river left, which also is the side of the river with the trail. I haven’t mentioned it yet but Ron’s 13-year-old stepson Cortney was also a passenger of the Biker Boat and I can’t remember when he made his big move but he also made a gallant attempt to pull the boat ashore and ended up with the same smoking palms. The bank on river left however didn’t seem to treat them any better than the wall had on river right. The one positive thing I might add is that at least now they were spinning in an opposite direction. I made the assumption that now being beyond the rapids and the fact that they were to shore, at least hitting it periodically, that it would be a good time for me to go chase down the deserters, i.e. the bucket.
History tells us that really bad things rarely happen as a result of one error. It is usually the result of a series of unfortunate events that create true calamity. With my total focus on chasing down the bucket and subsequent success, I allowed myself to swing out wide right on a blind left curve, big no no. As I raised my five gallon trophy in the air, only to see Ron standing chest deep water soaking wet, no cowboy hat, screaming for me to get river left. Just ahead of me was a cable at water level or just or just above, coming from a tree on river right to a another on river left. One of the trees had obviously gotten tired of holding up the cable all those years and fell into the river. I will note here that in all Ron’s concern about me and the cable, he failed to noticed the Biker Boat delightfully pirouetting down the bank behind him. With a few pulls of the oars and a whole lot of luck, I got just enough of the boat around the end of the cable that was disappearing into the river, river left, Ron’s end.
After a pirouette of my own around the cable, a quick look around yielded the following seen; the Biker Boat was burning the palms of its last wet passenger, Ron looked wet and pissed, but safe, Cowboy was clinging to the cliff down downstream river right, Grizz was was eddied out river right above Cowboy, and Paul was rowing the Ron/Cowboy boat. Wait! Who the $&#? is Paul? A few quick words with Grizz and it was clear that he would go for Cowboy and Paul was mine.
Paul’s abilities to row had the boat looking a lot like the Biker Boat along the Powerhouse wall only he was in the middle of the river. The current was very quick but with me rowing downstream and Paul spinning like a top, I was gaining ground nicely. There was one itsy bitsy concern. Paul was now rowing a raft that Superman couldn’t row and he has taken over the helm at almost exactly the same place on the river that Hollywood had only days before. The wall was in sight and the log was just around the corner. Good news, bad news. Paul seemed to be one of those guys that “got it”. The boat stopped spinning, suddenly the oars working in unison. He had control of the boat. Sort of. I could see his effort and quick learning paying off. If only we were in fact having a race down the river. All his efforts were now straight away and down stream, preventing me from catching him.
They survived Hollywood’s Wall but what about the log? As the rock island came into view I could see the log was gone. Paul had obviously trained for the sprint event and not the distance, fore he soon played out and I was able to catch up, tie on, and bring them sure. A short while later the other boats arrived. I got to hear how as Cowboy had rounded the corner and had no warning or chance to miss the cable. As it caught the boat dead center broadside, held them there momentarily, and as the upstream tubes began to fall below the water line and take on water, the boat spun in a way that the cable peeled Ron off the boat and trapped Cowboy between the cable and the boat rigging. Fortunately Cowboy was one of the toughest guys on the planet and he weathered the storm until something gave and the boat floated free.
About what became of the biker and the bike, I never heard. He was not seen or heard from again. Nor was he ever spoken of. It was as if he’d never existed. Bike, what bike?
I do have images of him riding off down the trail on two oblong tires, a pair of shaky hands on the handle bars, muttering something about bad turkey. If Ron was correct, imagine how bad the trail must have been!
Several days later we were camped at Grassy 1.
An interesting camp on river left. It has the feel of a giant half stadium with the camp as the stage centered at the bottom with steep hillsides that rise up in a semi circle where the river isn’t. You can walk out of the camp, get on the ridge at its low point near the river and then climb very steeply to the top, circle the stadium, then descend on the other side back to the river. The hillsides are so steep that when you are on top of the ridge you cannot see the hillside below you. It seems to disappear below you until it bottoms out at stage level and tapers out towards the camp.
On this particular afternoon Cowboy and I decided to make the climb. As we are enjoying the view from the ridge, we spotted Paul, just below us, almost to the top. He had not taken the easy ridge route but instead had come straight up the face. Being part of the “greatest crew ever” we considered that the right thing to do would be to yell some words of encouragement to Paul to help him reach the summit. Instead the quick plan was to get down in the tall grass and when we saw the whites of his eyes, scare the bejesus out of him. At the precise moment we would let loose with our best bull elk calls.
Like crouching tigers we waited for Paul to nearly step upon us. First, we cut loose with our with our best bugles and grunts. Followed by a few seconds of tee-heeing. It was now time to offer those friendly, professional words of encouragement. Where’s Paul? A bit of dust hung in the air where we had last seen him standing but no Paul. We could only assume that Paul was now being the prankster. As it turns out, Paul learned to sprint down vertical mountainsides quicker than he learned to row a boat. Kind of rude I thought, him not sticking around for the end of our little prank. As we watched from above, we saw nothing for a while. But then we noticed that the folks in camp were becoming interested in our direction, well, below us really. Finally we saw Paul break into view, still running all the way to the centerstage. Several of the other guests seemed interested enough to converge upon him. Paul’s arms flapped a few times, then a gesture or two, some pointing, more flapping, then suddenly turning straight towards us, Paul gives a double bird in our direction. We later learned that the conversation went something like;
“Paul, Paul, what’s wrong?
Mmmm mmm-mmmountain lion up there. Ttrr tttrri-ttrried to eat me!
No no Paul, there isn’t one mountain lion, there are two.
Yes, one named Steve and one named Cowboy.”
We all survived that season, and most of our guests did as well. It was without a doubt my best summer ever. Between the time spent being a rookie on the river, down time in Stanley Idaho and hangin with the other members of “The best Crew Ever”, How could it not be?
Working for and learning from Ron has certainly left a lifetime “impression” on me. The attitude and skills that Ron gave us stand tall on the personality of my company, my crew and myself. No Pussification of the wilderness here. (more on that some other time). When the river is huge you’ll find us out there. When the river is low, you’ll find us still floating when the rest have gone. Regardless of weather, effort, work load or time of day, you will always see myself and my crew smiling and attentive.
The rowing and other skills that Ron taught me are beaten into my own crew daily in an effort to make them “the best crew ever”.