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Riding a Wet Roller Coaster

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Riding a river with Lou Springer and Currents

Concentration, exhilaration, serenity can only ineptly describe the experience, because there is something nearly indefinable about riding a river. After a few raft trips, we fell under the spell of river love. This love seemed doomed; we were hopeless in a tandem canoe. On fast water, we dumped; on slow water, we conducted fierce fights. Fortunately, some really cool person created the inflatable kayak - marriage of the Inuit kayak and rubber raft - to accommodate the klutzy floater. 

Inflatable kayaks entered our lives about the same time as ioioy (injuries occurring in our youth, AKA arthritis) began to limit hiking. Curiosity has always led me to read the next page, to hike another mile, to ski a little further. I have to know what is around the next bend. Ice skating on a pond, riding in a ring, or boating on a lake has never appealed; I want to explore. Our kayaks are perfect off-the-road-vehicles.

Rivers are enchanting places to explore. Each twist of the boat, each bend holds a new mountain view. Hidden sloughs, secret wooded islands, cottonwood stands, deep mysterious holes, gleaming beaches appear with regularity. The floater glides quietly past wildlife. Moose, bear, and white tail have gazed quizzically at us while the kayaks slid down stream. We have seen a grizzly swim the Middle Fork of the Flathead, moose and her twin calves in the willows, goats at secret salt licks. Otters hiss, mergansers move downstream, and geese hold their ground. Spotted sandpipers run along sandbars on every river from the Rio Grande, winding through Texas canyons, to Skumkumchuck Creek in British Columbia. Ospreys, eagles, kingfishers, waxwings, redstarts, warblers, herons, swallows, dippers - hundreds of species of birds thrive in a riverside habitat.  

The motion of the water is spellbinding. The pull of gravity as it powers the flow is inexhaustible, and thus, nearly hypnotic. The rocking current can be as soothing as a cradle. Then the roar of falling water downstream jolts the floater into attention. 

Nothing so concentrates the mind as survival. Your eyes seek the route around the rocks, your body feels the pull of the current. Your back straightens; knees tighten. You search for the green, smooth tongues that slide safely between boulders. You judge whether the waves hide an un-submerged rock. Once into the whitewater, it takes total concentration on the immediate plus focus on downstream obstacles. It is a wet roller coaster ride, demanding the floater work with the river’s flow.

After a few trips with our new inflatable kayaks, we realized we also loved the exhilaration of waves, the thrill of rapids and the adrenaline rush of riding the green dragon. By our fourth trip, displaying poor judgment and total abandonment, we flew (and the water was so frothy, it seemed more oxygen than liquid) through the class III rapids of Alberton Gorge.

To ride the river through its many moods takes either a lot of skill or a very forgiving craft. We learned that these inflatable, self-bailing kayaks, combined with a little skill, some knowledge of river behavior, and a sense of adventure can propel the floater into a new dimension, (music please, Rod Sterling style), a dimension of increased awareness. 

All of us who live in this green paradise of North Idaho/Western Montana are blessed to have a vast array of running water. Thompson and Bull River, the Clark Fork and the Kootenai, Pack, Moiye and Priest River, are all close enough for a day trip. The smaller rivers are dropping in volume and becoming too rocky to float, but our big rivers provide gentle floats and hair-raising rapids. 

It is near heaven to spend a hot summer afternoon with cold splashing water, and pleasing scenery. Add the serenity that a gurgling current creates and the thrill of running rapids and the experience can become paradisiacal.

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Author info

Lou Springer Lou Springer lives in Heron when not out on a river somewhere.

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kayaking, Currents, Alberton Gorge

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