More Dangerous than a Rattlesnake

Picture of Dan in kayak.

Getting my groove on.

July 23, 2014
Day 5
Selway River Trip Day 2

Water dribbled onto my head, waking me up in the middle of the night. Startled, I looked around and quickly realized that it was raining. I rolled over and wrapped my tarp around my body, figuring I could tough it out. Then a flash of lightning lit up the sky, followed by a loud thunderclap. Several other tents glowed as their occupants scrambled to put on their flys while wearing their headlamps. I gathered my belongings and walked over to Caitlyn's 1.5-person tent. Caitlyn and I had agreed that we would share her tent in case of rain, so she probably wasn't startled when I shoved my sleeping bag and mattress inside, inches from her head. She did give me a strange look when she saw my Cosmo, though. I struggled to fall back asleep under the pitter-patter of the impending storm.

The rain was gone by morning, though the sky was still cloudy. Caitlyn commandeered my Cosmo and intensely absorbed article after article while we ate a leisurely breakfast on the Selway's rocky shore. Our group's permit only listed a start date, so we could take as much time on the river as we needed. Soaking in the beautiful wilderness was as important as running the rapids on this trip, so we weren't in a hurry.

It was another easy day on the water. A couple of rapids were listed as class IV, but they were only III's at this level. The river became shallow and rocky at times, making it a more technical run, but after having run “Boy Scout” on the Wolf River in Wisconsin, I was prepared.

Picture of group on shore.

Our lunch break.

Contrary to what I had expected, we saw some other people on the water. They were volunteering with the US Forest Service, and they were running the river on rafts. It was probably the best way to get on the Selway, absent a permit, and with so much wilderness surrounding us, there was plenty of space for both of our groups.

The post-storm weather was chilly, but the frigid glacial runoff water was a bigger issue. I regretted not bringing a dry top and paddled as often as possible to stay warm. As for staying dry...that would defeat the purpose of whitewater kayaking, wouldn't it?

We camped at a site called “Rattlesnake Bar.” I assumed this moniker was an exaggeration, but then we saw a rattlesnake nestled up against a tree. We nicknamed it “Jake” and gave it plenty of space. It seemed docile, but I still had irrational thoughts of dozens of snakes crawling on my face and into my sleeping bag as I slept outside the confines of a tent.

When we sat on the trunk of a fallen tree and ate our supper, the wind suddenly picked up. Much of the forest on the opposite side of the river had been burned in a recent wildfire, yet most of the coniferous trees were still standing. The bare trunks and branches swayed as the howling wind grew stronger. Soon we heard a thunderous crack and watched as a tree snapped in half and slid down the hill, only stopping when it reached the muddy, eroded shoreline. Another tree broke, then another – we were witnessing the collapse of the forest as we ate. I looked around our campsite and noticed that more than half of the trees had been scarred in the fire. There was nowhere we could go that would be out of their striking distance, other than the middle of the river. I was no longer afraid of Jake the Snake – the charred remains of the forest posed a far greater threat.

As darkness ascended upon the Rattlesnake Bar, Cosmo's “Which Type of Feminist Are You?” quiz distracted us from the thought of being crushed by a tree in the middle of the night.

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