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By Tom Pamperin


Friday April 6
Day 17

Today our run takes us from the aptly-named 158.7 Mile Camp on river right to Above Anvil Camp at mile 178. Mostly flat water punctuated with small read-and-run ripples. Huge red cliffs dropping directly into the river on each side.

And so begins again the endless cycle of loading heavy boxes and drybags and tables and chairs and silverware and shitboxes and paco pads and kitchen boxes and all of the acoutrements of river life, and boatmen strapping and lashing things down and restrapping them and moving them, and people climbing from boat to boat–the routine is to tie all five rafts together side by side, with the hard boats nestled in behind to preserve their colorful paint–and loading water jugs and lunch boxes and breakfast boxes and spice boxes and boxes that I'm not even sure have been opened on this trip, and then we're off down the river.

And near disaster–I accidentally half-fill my hot cocoa mug with coffee instead of hot water. Some quick thinking, and two cocoa packets instead of my normal one, and I transform near disaster into an exquisite pre-breakfast super-mocha. Life on the river is a hard life, and only quick thinking and cat-like reflexes prevent disaster at every turn.

Then finally the boats are untied and the lines are cast off and the boats spin off one by one into the rapid below camp and we're off. Twenty easy miles. By the time I'm untied I'm barely ahead of Norm and Ian in the sweep boat, with Pam Mortenson riding shotgun in my raft Georgie–aka Fat George. We coast along for a while and then it dawns on me that Cece Mortenson, our new crew replacement, doesn't have a boat to row. She doesn't seem like someone who'd suffer the utter passivity of being a mere passenger very well–she's a mountain guide, climber, and Antarctic survival specialist among other things–so I decide I'll catch up to her and offer to let her row my raft.

The fact that by the time I catch up to her will probably be at the height of the usual afternoon headwinds has nothing to do with my decision.

An hour of hard rowing and I've caught up to the five wooden boats, leaving the other rafts far behind. And Cece is already rowing, having taken over the Susie R for the moment. All that effort wasted. Fortunately I arranged this morning's load in a configuration of optimal comfort, with four dry bags tied down in a heap behind the rowing station, forming a perfect backrest. And the headwinds have failed to materialize with any strength, so I lean back and let Fat George float at the speed of the sluggish current.

At Fern Glen's sandy beach we stop for lunch. Far up the beach there's a line of driftwood logs, the perfect height, I theorize, to form a headrest for anyone lying on the sand. Greg Hatten, Ian McCluskey, and I submit the theory to rigorous empirical testing. Theory proved.

Then after lunch it's back to the boats. I wrangle Cece onto Fat George and in the guise of a generous offer, convince her to row. I'm on bow watch. Bow watch involves sitting on the bow, reclining langorously, with my new pre-seasoned river hat pulled low over my eyes.

And then we're in camp where it's time for the evening entertainment. First, there's Greg Hatten's demonstration of removing a cork from inside a wine bottle (we've generated our share of empty wine bottles). Then card tricks–sadly, my famous Canadian Mounties trick goes awry when the three of diamonds shows up inauspiciously in the wrong place. Then it's on to logic puzzles: how old is the bus driver? How much time did Bob spend walking? And then supper. Another tough day on the river.

Tomorrow we hit Lava Falls, just two miles downstream from camp. I've loaned my drysuit to Cece in the theory that if I do anything special to prepare for immersion, I'll get what I've prepared for. I'll be sailing through in shorts, my new Patagonia jacket, and my river-worn hat.

It's a big rapid; one out of eight boats flipped last year. We'll see what happens.


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