Gearboat Chronicles

Winding Waters River Expeditions runs the Snake River in Hells Canyon, the lower Salmon in Idaho and the Grande Ronde River in northeast Oregon. The guests tell me it's very luxurious, floating through all this wilderness in style. I row the gearboat, so I wouldn't know. These dispatches are a behind-the-oars view of life in the cargo barge.

Salmon flies and bighorns on the Grande Ronde Monday, April 29, 2013

Todd Kruger and I just got back from the shakedown trip for the season. First packout from the new mothership boathouse was a breeze.

Kruges and I were along for a float with our pals from Wet Planet, over in the Columbia Gorge land. Always a pleasure to see those folks and we had a great weather window that even caused us to dig for a strange substance called sunscreen.

We did encounter a spell of howling wind on the last night. Three tents did not take kindly to this development. Todd's was one, pictured here:

And my tent didn't fare too well either. I had every point staked down and all my gear stashed inside. Mr. Wind laughed at these precautions and pasted my belongings up against the hillside. Thanks to Todd and Tall John from Wet Planet for helping peel my temporary home out of the bushes.

Tried to get a picture of ugly ducklings, but best I could do was cute goslings. Scientific name: baby gooses.

Every bighorn sheep in the greater Grande Ronde River basin region came out to say hello. We saw them all down the canyon. Here's one band of boys, seen downstream from Rondowa.

Todd's faithful companion Little Bear got along great on the river. He's a strong candidate for employee of the year if he keeps it up with being cute.

Trout season is a ways off, but I sure got in the mood after seeing a few big ol' salmon flies out and about, ten miles or so below Troy.

Here's a pic taken at camp in the evening shortly after someone noticed a transformation happening right before our eyes. That finger on the left is pointing down to the recently shed husk on the rock.

And here's a bunch of adults circled around taking pictures of bugs. All high school biology teachers would be proud.

Floating the river isn't all biology seminars and watching bighorn rams or baby gooses. It can be hard work too. As seen here, with Todd and Little Bear during a grueling rowing session.

See you on the river.

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Springtime in the Wallowas Monday, April 22, 2013

Now, let me explain. Yes, this appears to be a drunk dog. It is not. She's only buzzed. No, no. Not true. The only thing this husky was drinking was the pure waters of the Imnaha River. But she did lay down all pie-eyed next to a bottle of Wallowa County-distilled Stein bourbon. A gift from Ed and Jean at the boathouse birthday bash. And it makes a fine photo, does it not?

The vet says to lay off the sauce, but he don't know the troubles I got.

The pooch seen here is Szia, a chukchi husky. In Wallowa County, that can translate to "wolf." Hence the pink flagging on her collar to discourage a case of mistaken identity. It's already worked once, though the plastic flagging was mistaken for a radio collar and the husky was still believed to be a wolf.

Mike Midlo took that picture. He and Kristy Athens stopped out here to breathe some air cooled by snowy mountains, though the snow was also whirling down in the sky so we boogied down to the banana belt of the Imnaha Canyon and found sun.

What? You've never seen Crayola camouflage?

And a rainbow. Behold that vest on Kristy. Don't pretend you don't want one just like it. Nobody is believing that.

I took them to a favorite place where the fishing has been good to me. Mike approached the old chunk of concrete from a bridge that is no more the same way I approach it. Intent. Sizing it up.

I take this approach because fish will hold near the top of the run. Mike saw other promise, crawled up and had a snooze. Mike got was he was after. I do not find fish there every time. There's probably some kind of lesson or moral or whatever in there, but I just turned 40 so I'm done with learning.

Driving out, we shared the road with a bighorn ram. Two, in fact. Other guy was down the slope. They weren't too concerned with our presence.

Then we racked them up for a game of cutthroat at the Imnaha Tavern. Mike won, even though I tried to cheat, but Kristy still had that vest on, so she won on the technicality of having superior fashion sense.

And that's how you have fun in Wallowa County when it's snowy up on top.

Meanwhile, back at the boathouse Penny and Linden were hard at work staining boards for the new Winding Waters headquarters. Linden is using a water-based finish. 100-percent water, in fact. She's quite good at applying it for an even finish but the nature of that stain requires frequent coats.

Paul and Todd just finished a new awning overhang thingy for the entrance to the boathouse store. Portico? Call it whatever you want, it looks super cool.

First trip of the season for me this week, going down the Grande Ronde. Weather outlook is sunshiney and I'm jazzed. Be good to get on the oars again.

Let's go rafting. Give Paul a jingle and line it up. Hells Canyon wildflowers are getting ready as we speak.

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Boathouse bash, Amos Burg and Ben the boatbuilder Tuesday, April 16, 2013

How 'bout this sunrise on the Wallowas, eh? Snowed most of yesterday, but made for a downright pleasant scene this morning while I was out merrily chopping wood and cursing the white spring weather.

Last Friday we gave the new boathouse a shakedown cruise with a birthday gathering. Paul and I needed some time to ease into being 40 so the party was postponed. Mike and Kathie Baird had birthdays in the meantime and my mom had recently gotten younger, so there was lots of toasting to be done.

Here's a snapshot from outside looking in at a bunch of friends gathered. My dad and I were out on the porch beholding Mount Joseph in the moonlight.

I took this picture and then we heard some commotion inside. Turns out that was the cake and candle moment. Paul had to muster enough wind for two, which is no small feat at our age.

To give you an idea of how many candles are involved, here's my birthday card from niece Claire, who risked carpal tunnel from all the crayon work required to fit so many candles in there. Way to be a trooper, Claire.

 Speaking of cute kids, here's Linden at the boathouse party wondering why all these tall people are making so much noise. 

For those of you within striking distance of The Bookloft, our great local bookstore on Main Street in Enterprise, get on down there Wednesday April 17 at 7 pm for a presentation by Vince Welch, author of the new book The Last Voyageur: Amos Burg and the Rivers of the West.

Burg was a badass riverman and this should be good. This Welch fella was one of the authors of The Doing of the Thing: The Brief, Brilliant Whitewater Career of Buzz Holmstrom, which has made the Winding Waters recommended reading list. 

Speaking of river voyageurs, check out the recent story in the La Grande Observer featuring boat builder Ben Hayes, whose shop is in the Winding Waters brick building in Joseph.

Want another Observer story? Perhaps something about the new Winding Waters boathouse? OK. Here you go.

Rivers are starting to be run. First trip going out next week on the Grande Ronde. The GR is always fun, but I especially like the spring trips when the water is high enough that you can zip down the 30-some miles from Minam through the roadless section in one day. Call Paul to get in on some of that action.

But one day is just an appetizer. Our springtime main courses include overnight expeditions in both Hells Canyon and on the Grande Ronde, served with a side of abundant wildlife viewing and garnished with wildflowers galore and green, green landscapes. Highly recommended. 

Also reserve your tables for summertime dining in Hells, on the Lower Salmon and GR. This is making me hungry for rafting.

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2013 Fergifest Lawnchair Race - Turf Edition Monday, April 8, 2013

Ah, Fergi.

Where 2 inches feels like 6. Where kids learn to ski, grownups can act like kids and even bare dirt on the hillside can't slow down the end-of-season festivities.

On the bright side, not checking for avalanche danger was a real time saver.

Minor adjustments were made to the schedule of events. The downhill race was less speed-oriented and more a matter of adapting to the conditions. Whoever managed to get the furthest down the hill won. I do believe that was Rock Thies, who has been on something of a tear lately, what with a string of snowboard race victories and prying the lawnchair race trophy from Paul Arentsen's sled last year.

To recap: last year we had snow. I reverse-engineered Paul's championship design and Paul was out of town, signing Ben Hayes as backup lawnchair driver. Ben and I met on the hill. It did not go great. Here's footage of that.

So I bent my chair back into shape, added some reinforcements and should have added wheels too.

The field went from probably too many last year, down to four. Defending champ Rock. Timm Turrentine. Dave Carpenter in some contraption on loan from the Muppet Show, and me.

The most exciting part was probably the ride up the hill on the snow cat, when I was precariously attached to Rock's sled, which was in turn precariously attached to the snow cat. Here's a picture of Rock and Timm laughing about how I'm about to fall off and get crushed.

Reaaaaal funny.

Timm sort of won. If deciding to take off whenever you feel like it counts as an official start. But the rest of us were marshaling our energy to drag our sleds through the mud, so I'm OK with it.

Nice job, Turrentine.

As always, the Fergi faithful arrived to tip their hat once again to a beloved little community ski hill.

Melting snow means rafting season, so I look forward to my first sunset on the river in Hells Canyon or along the banks of the Salmon or Grande Ronde, reclining in a camp chair that isn't bolted to skis and/or strapped to a snowcat.

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Winding Waters barnwood recycling Monday, April 1, 2013

We pack a lot of stuff on river trips, making sure all the comfort bases are covered. And we pack it all out. Aside from the usual recycling, last year Winding Waters even started putting food leftovers to good use by bringing them back to Arentsen Farm to be enjoyed by the pigs. That little act of recycling is repaid in the form of the finest homegrown bacon ever to grace a breakfast plate. That's the circle of life right there. 

Refitting the new Winding Waters headquarters building in Joseph kicked in a whole new level of reusing materials, with barnwood and metal salvaged from local buildings set to be torn down. I'll get some photos up soon of the sweet finish job Paul and Todd did with those boards.

The WWRE crew dismantled another small barn last week, taking that bad boy down in one day. Here's it is early that day.

And here it isn't, later that day.

That was the laziest attempt at time lapse photography ever. But, hey, I was busy. Doing things like throwing boards down that almost clubbed Todd. And then the hammer flew out of my hand, ricocheted off another board and was coming right for Paul. I'm a menace, I tell you.

Linden worked harder than any of us, seen here picking up nails with her custom magnet device.
We'll see where these boards end up in their next life. Probably somewheres around the boathouse, but you never know. Paul has been creating designer ski chairs for years from old boards and skis. Todd makes all manner of cool stuff, furniture, picture frames, you name it, from cool vintage wood.

I got inspired by those guys and made some picnic tables a couple years ago with recycled barnwood. These here are wee versions for little tykes.

Be sure to stop by the new WWRE boathouse in Joseph this season. It's the quonset hut a couple blocks down from the Chevron. You'll see it. And take a look at those old boards inside the new digs.

Now's a great time to reserve your trip for the 2013 whitewater rafting season in Hells Canyon, the Lower Salmon River and Grande Ronde. Looking forward to floating with you.

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Imnaha steelhead and hot tub camp Thursday, March 28, 2013

It was 40 years in the making, but well worth the wait to get down on the Imnaha last weekend with a pile of friends to fish all day and then feel old afterwards.

Paul and I both boosted the birthday candle industry this year. He's about 24 hours older than I am. I'll be darned.

Here's Paul at work on the river.

And here's what he had to show for it. Nice wild male that very well could be the same fish he hooked in the same run the day prior.

I was having a dry spell until Neal Espinoza unveiled the secrets of a particular run. Neal landed a handsome boy steelhead, then I turned this lovely lady up. Also lost one not long after that, which made me throw a tantrum. It was a quiet tantrum, mostly internal. It's still going on actually. I'm still furious.

Look. Matching coats. How cute.

My brudder-in-law, Chad "Crawdaddy" Crawford, came over from Eugene with posse members Bill Rhodes and Dave Morrison. They also have nicknames but we won't get into that now. Dave is a handy fellow and likes pancakes, though. I can reveal that much.

With a name like Crawdaddy you can wear a hat like that.

Chad has created not so much a camping trailer as a triumph of art and utility. Behold this glorious contraption allowing him to store and transport all of his outdoor luxury items, which fold out into the very essence of convenience. Seriously. Love that trailer and kitchen setup.

Their tent, in the background, had a boiler of a woodstove setup and I'm not sure if the snow went away because of a pressure system or Chad's stove.

On the subject of stoves, we carted the ol' watering trough/wood-fired hot tub down to the scene. Ain't nothin' like soaking in the hot tub after tromping around in waders all day. Here's before.

Here's after. With some nice steelhead water right handy. We all took turns fishing that water and got nothing, until Stirling Webb showed up and, bam, in fifteen minutes caught his first steelhead. Nicely done, chap.

Breeze and Joanne showed up in the Scooby Doo van and solved the Mystery of the Imnaha Monster while they were down there.

Great time with a bunch of pals. Thanks everybody for coming down. Jacey, Hannah, Mike Baird and his future son-in-law Matt . . . Dave Rooper and Kate Frenyea, Justin, Quinn, Claire, high school pal Jeremy Hill . . . Jake and Edie . . . this here is Tony Tranquilli, buddy from Portland.

I don't know who-all I'm forgetting, but it was a fine hoedown.

Except I'm so old I was snoozing every night pretty early after hiking, hot tubbing and being old.

Here's one last shot of Paul, right before a running of the bull. Good times. Good times.

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Statistics, fly fishing and magic Thursday, March 21, 2013

Al Josephy has a perfect background to start fly fishing. He manages water for the state of Washington, so he knows all about stream dynamics and such. He also teaches statistics at Evergreen State College.

I figured the statistics would be especially handy in the event we had to discuss hours-per-fish based on various criteria if his first outing didn't get positive results.

But in Al's case the data was skewed. He got the hang of casting right off the bat and landed his first fish with no trouble at all. Caught it on the swing, no less.

I tried to explain that he was doing it wrong. Traditionally you suffer long periods of frustration, then catch fish. He wouldn't listen.

Al and I were on the Imnaha, which took some swings in level of flow recently with some warm weather runoff, but stabilized.

The Wallowa is in good shape and fishing well. Last I saw, the Wallowa was clocking in at 8 hours per steelhead.

Reports I've heard for the Grande Ronde say that Washington water below the acclimation site is fishing well, but the Oregon fish are moving up, so the Wallowa is the better bet over the GR right now.

Big view overlooking Imnaha Canyon.

Here's the latest photo for my fine art collection of power lines getting in the way of sweet views.

Al also has a background with engineering projects, including power line installation via helichopter. Pretty fascinating stuff, really. I would need to have Al explain the ins-and-outs, but basically the tension of the lines is supported by . . . wait, no . . . it's the angle, or . . . hypotenuse or something. The easiest way to explain it is magic. The helicopters help string up these massive lines and then a wizard comes in and does some magic.

There's your science lesson for the day.

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