The Rogue River is about 215 miles long, connecting the Cascade Range to the Pacific Ocean. It was one of the original eight rivers designated Wild and Scenic in 1968, with 84 miles protected from development and motorized boats and regulated by permit. Out on these waters there is no cell service, no power lines, no passing cars or circling jet skis — just the rush and burble of water, the rallying cry of osprey, the humming summer buzz of insects.

It has always been the perfect place to unplug and slow down, and now more than ever its remoteness offers a true escape from the rest of the world.

Years ago John and I stood on the trail that parallels the river and made a pledge to ourselves: we would find a way to move from the Seattle area to Eugene, to be closer to the cabin and family but maybe most of all to be closer to the Rogue. I always think of this promise when we’re there, and how that river changed the flow of our own lives.

We were at the Rogue for Father’s Day weekend, enjoying our annual family stay at Indian Mary campground before bringing the trailer home and doing an epic unpack and re-pack to turn right around and head south again. John’s parents met us on the road to take the boys to Coos Bay, and John and I stayed the night in Galice before getting on the water Tuesday morning.

From our put-in spot at Argo, we floated to Grave Creek falls, the first major rapid (class III) of the day. John was in his raft with all of the gear, I was in an inflatable kayak, which I’d tried for the first time last year on the river and fell in love with.

I sailed through Grave Creek and successfully navigated the next tricky spot, the fish ladder that offers a bumpy but far less terrifying alternative to class V Rainy Falls (although I completely biffed the part where I was supposed to wait for John’s whistle before going through, I never heard it and thus stayed for far too long which prompted John to start hiking around to rescue me before I finally just went for it). (“You’ll start to second guess hearing it, but it’s unmistakable,” John had told me, which turned out to be only partially true.)

Now, I wouldn’t say I was getting cocky at this point, but I definitely felt confident in my paddling skills. The plan all along was for me to ride with John through the two most dangerous sections but I started thinking how amazing it would be to say I’d run the entire thing on my own. That was about the point I started coming out of the kayak, not once but four times throughout the day.

“What is going wrong?” John asked at one point, to which I angrily replied, “I KEEP FALLING OUT OF THE FUCKING BOAT.”

Eventually we determined that there were a few factors at play: the oar for my kayak was slightly shorter than I was used to, there were no footholds in the boat to dig myself into, and my paddling technique needed to be more aggressive. I learned that when a big wave came at me at an angle, I had to help myself out by really leaning into it and digging into the water rather than assuming/hoping the boat would right itself before tipping me out sideways.

These lessons were learned from multiple unwanted swimming outings, each which happened so fast there wasn’t really time to be super scared. I was lucky enough not to hit any rocks when I was in the water, but I can tell you it is quite the experience to come up from a dunking and be rushing along at what feels like eight trillion miles per hour while somehow hanging onto the oar. At one point the kayak was actually on top of my head while I was submerged, which I registered just long enough to realize with a strange calmness that I was trapped and would have to fight my way out before things shifted.

The third and fourth time I came out was in Upper and Lower Black Bar Falls, once at the start of the drop and once more at the end. It was enormously humbling, and reminded me of the time years ago when Riley was a toddler; he kept climbing up a slide backwards before falling all the way back down, only to repeat the exact same action moments later while wailing with pure frustration, “Not AGAIN!

It was a steep learning curve but I think I did gain some valuable insight that served me through the rest of the trip, because I didn’t flip again. John added a temporary strap near the front of the kayak which offered a stabilizing foothold, and I worked harder at paddling, mentally chanting NOT TODAY SATAN (along with my normal whitewater earworm, the ridin’ the gravy traaaaaaaaaaiiiinnnn line from Pink Floyd’s “Have a Cigar”) whenever I was tossed around.

I’ve been down the river multiple times in a raft or catamaran while someone else paddles, but being in a kayak is a whole different feeling. You have more freedom, you’re more nimble, it’s more vulnerable but also more immersive; it’s somehow like being part of the water. It is like dancing, or what I as a non-dancer imagine dancing to be like, a joyous movement that celebrates life with every breath. It is like surrendering yourself to the world and feeling your boundaries blur in some deliciously indescribable way, like tapping into a greatness that is beyond human understanding.

It makes me think of the lyrics from Fiona Apple’s “I Want You To Love Me”:

I move with the trees
In the breeze
I know that time is elastic
And I know when I go
All my particles disband and disperse
And I’ll be back in the pulse

I felt this wondrous sense of being rolled back in time, on the river and at camp. Squatting near a creek washing my clothes on a rock, feeling my hips settle into that age-old stance; gazing at the mesmerizing licks of flame in our campfire and the glorious wash of ancient stars overhead.

As though the world was untouched and uncomplicated, a place of raw beauty in which basic needs take priority over everything else. A vacation like no other, a respite and a reminder and a practice in gratitude for everything I am lucky enough to have in my life.

Comments

5 Responses to “Rogue trip 2020, part one: back in the pulse”

  1. Donna on June 29th, 2020 5:21 am

    You guys are just so badass I can’t hardly stand it. I’m so insane from cabin fever here but things have just not been conducive to getting away. This year has been exhausting.

  2. sara on June 29th, 2020 7:09 am

    Seriousy, you guys are so much cooler than me.

  3. Liz on June 29th, 2020 9:53 am

    Your trip looks amazing and also I highly recommend the book The River by Peter Heller. It’s really good on audiobook too, which isn’t always the case for every good book.

  4. Amy on June 30th, 2020 9:33 am

    Beautiful! I followed your blog years ago after my mom stumbled onto it. The first time was a post about being at Home Depot with your son. I’d lost track of you, but today, while going through saved links, I found this and it was absolutely what I needed today. Glad you’re still writing. Thank you for sharing. Although I will never be as adventurous as you, I needed a reminder that we all have our own things to tackle and conquer.

  5. Shawna on June 30th, 2020 10:00 am

    We are not “outdoorsy” people, but I do like to at least hike more than we actually do. Going out on the river like that is totally beyond my comfort zone though – I’m so impressed!

    As an aside, are those all cell phone pics? If so, do you mind sharing what phone and whether you’re posting them straight up as shot or processing them? The colour and definition are lovely!

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