Monthly Archives: August 2014

Adjusting to Beijing

Picture of Katie.

Katie sucks in some fresh Beijing air.

July 31 - Aug. 1, 2014
Days 13-14

I was confused. Our plane was only a few thousand feet above one of the world's largest cities, yet I barely saw any lights. Beijing's international airport is located far from downtown, but I still was expecting the city to look brighter from above. As we neared the ground, a thick haze blanketed us. Visibility was less than half a mile in all directions. We landed at 10 p.m. and the pilot announced that the temperature was 85 degrees Fahrenheit (29C).

Luckily, the airport was nearly empty. Katie and I loaded our luggage onto two carts and breezed through customs. Ryan, a teacher from BIBA, where Katie will be working, met us at the entrance and led us outside to a taxi. As soon as we left the confines of the air-conditioned building, I was drenched in sweat.

“What is that haze?” I asked Ryan, even though I was pretty sure I already knew the answer.

“Pollution,” he answered. “Some days are better than this, but others are far worse.”

I could still breath normally, but the immediate issue with the pollution was a mental one – not being able to see more than a few hundred feet made me feel constricted, like I was locked in a giant cage. It would take me a while to adjust.

But the pollution wasn't the only reason the city looked so dark. As we drove away from the airport and into our neighborhood of Houshayu, I noted that there were few street lights, and the buildings were dimly lit. It brought back memories of Latin America, where many large cities are equally dark at night.

Picture of buildings.

The streets have separate lanes for bikes, and all other traffic.

There was little traffic, so we made it to the gate of our new home within fifteen minutes. We loaded our luggage onto a flatbed scooter, which a security guard drove toward our apartment while we walked. Ryan shined his flashlight on the dark buildings and noted that one was the high school, and another was the elementary school. At this point, Katie and I suddenly realized that we would be living on her school's campus – we had been expecting to live several miles away. We also noticed that the ground was quite muddy, and at least a dozen people were doing construction work. Apparently, the school was still being built.

We were relieved to see that our apartment was spacious, and nice. It had two large bedrooms, and the bathroom had a flush toilet and a tub. The television, couch and beds were new, and there was central air conditioning. In fact the entire building had just been completed. Katie wasn't sure if having a two-minute walking commute would be a good thing, but otherwise we had lucked out.

We said goodnight to Ryan, unpacked a few things and went to bed. After having stayed awake for most of the flight, I figured I would have no problem sleeping until late the following morning.

I was wrong. At about 4 a.m., I was wide awake. I had never traveled so far from home in a single day. This was my first real experience with jet lag. I also noticed how firm the mattress was. My hips were already sore, as if I had been sleeping on a tile floor all night. I blew up my air mattress and lay on it, still wide awake. A thought popped into my head: at China's equivalent of REI, the “camping mattresses” must be sheets of plywood. I tried in vain to fall asleep and was reminded of Bill Murry, lying awake in his hotel room in Lost in Translation.

When the sun came up, Katie and I took a walk around campus. It was already hot and humid; my fresh change of clothes quickly became soaked in sweat. Showering in this heat was pointless. The high school was a new five-story building, and its courtyard was full of mud and bricks. The rest of the grounds were similarly under construction. There were now at least fifty workers laying bricks, mixing cement, welding girders and preparing sod. The noise of their machinery and shouts followed us wherever we walked. A tarp was hanging next to a plot of mud the size of a tennis court. Underneath the tarp, mosquito nets and sleeping bags were set up – the workers were sleeping here. The first day of school was two weeks away. It looked like the construction would come down to the wire.

Picture of biker.

Many people wear futuristic garb while driving their scooters.

We met a teacher named Peter at the school's gate. The street leading up to the school was lined with willow trees, all of which had trunks painted white and leaves cut to an identical length. The sound of cicadas screeching in the trees was overwhelming. We took a taxi to an upscale shopping area called Pinnacle Plaza and ate lunch at a Thai restaurant. (I found out there were no Chinese restaurants in the area. Go figure.) While walking out of the restaurant, a red Ferrari drove past us.

Next we went to the subway station and bought public transportation cards. The subway only costs thirty-three cents, and the bus is only seven cents. But even though transportation would be cheap, it wouldn't be fast. We learned that it takes over two hours to get downtown from our apartment. In fact, even though there are fifteen-story highrise apartments all over Houshayu, the neighborhood is still considered “the middle of nowhere.”

For our first supper in China, we returned to Pinnacle Plaza and met some of the other new teachers at a pizza restaurant. The teachers seemed like a really nice bunch, and I felt lucky to have gotten involved with such a cool community. It was a really long day, and I was exhausted by 10 p.m. I started to nod off during our taxi ride home.

I didn't experience any major culture shock on our first day. In fact, I found our neighborhood to be quiet and friendly. The biggest shock was that I made it through my first day in China without eating any Chinese food. Katie still had a lot of questions about the school, and with the construction, everything seemed up in the air. But after surviving our first day in the country, we figured everything would work itself out soon enough.

More photos from Houshayu

More photos from BIBA

One Last Stop

Picture of Rainier.

Nate's street had a great view of Rainier.

July 27-30
Days 9-12

In Seattle I stayed with Katie's friend Nate and his girlfriend Nadia. Katie flew to Seattle on my second night there. She and Nate have been friends for eighteen years, and they were excited to get caught up. Katie was giddy, having just taken third place in a national Ultimate Frisbee tournament. And we were about to fly to China.

Nate, Katie and I spent a day checking out the city. We crossed Puget Sound and went downtown, to the Pike Place Market. Hundreds of people were strolling about, shopping for fruit and seafood. I figured the large crowd would be a good preparation for China. We dined at Jack's Fish Spot, a famous seafood restaurant where I got a delicious fried trout. We also saw the Great Wheel, the bubble gum wall and some of Seattle's other quirky draws. It was a sunny day, and we caught several great views of the Olympic Mountains and Mount Rainier. On our last night we ate at Proletariat Pizza and foraged for blackberries for dessert. My last stop in the US was short, but sweet.

On the day of our departure, Katie and I took a shuttle to the airport and loaded two carts with our luggage. When I saw the immense pile, it finally sunk in that we really were moving to China. In deciding what to pack, my biggest concern was that I wouldn't find pants or shoes in my size. I ended up taking every pair I owned. We wheeled our luggage carts to the counter and checked in our five bags, each of which weighed nearly fifty pounds.

As we walked toward our terminal, we approached an escalator to a lower level. An older lady, draped in a colorful shawl, and her adult son were in front of us. They moved tentatively, and soon it became apparent that the lady was terrified of the moving staircase in front of her. She would put one foot on, then quickly retract it as her son clutched her elbow. The rest of their family waited for them at the bottom, cheering them on. Finally, she went for it, leaping onto the escalator and wobbling, only managing to remain upright because of her loyal son. It reminded me that some modern-world experiences that I take for granted are alien to others.

Our terminal afforded us one final look at Rainier, far in the distance. Every time I saw the mountain, I wished I was climbing it. When we boarded our plane, the sun was about an hour from setting. We took off and banked toward the sun, then turned northwest and flew over the Cascades. Many of the mountains were covered in snow, and it seemed as though we were only a few hundred feet above them. We flew around Vancouver, then continued over Alaska, where we saw an even bigger mountain range.

It stayed light outside as we flew toward the sun, suspended in the sky. Katie and I kept our window open, no only for the view, but to stay awake, attempting to minimize the effects of jet-lag. Soon we were over the Bering Strait, then Russia. It did eventually get dark, but not until we were flying south over China, ten hours into our flight. It was the most beautiful flight I had ever taken.

More Seattle photos

External Websites:
Jack's Fish Spot

Seattle Bound

Picture of open road.

July 26, 2014
Day 8
Selway River Trip Day 5

This was to be a long day, so we got an early start. Paradoxically, my kayak was more difficult to pack than it had been on our first day, despite the fact that I had eaten all of my food. We ran a few more small rapids, then started seeing some hikers and park rangers. When we reached the take-out at 11 a.m., we saw port-a-potty. We were officially back in civilization.

After packing our vehicles and taking a look at the class VI (“unrunnable”) Selway Falls, we drove one final time through the Bitterroot National Forest to Missoula, Montana. I could not have planned a better trip to end my stay in the United States. Beijing is a huge city, and the Selway gave me one last taste of exactly the opposite. I've had some amazing adventures in my five years as a member of the Hoofer Outing Club, and the Selway River was one of my favorites.

My next stop was to be Seattle, and I had come on this trip without any flights or hotel rooms booked. My lack of planning came in handy: Cathi Jo, one of the rafters in our group, was driving to Seattle that afternoon. We loaded our stuff into her car, said goodbye to the Madison contingent and made our way to I-90 for the last leg of my cross-country road trip.

Forested hills gave way to desolate flatland as we drove across Montana, Idaho and Washington. It was amazing how quickly the landscape changed. After making our way over a mountain pass, we headed downhill and were in Seattle at around midnight. It was my first time in the city, where my focus would shift to getting ready for China.

More photos from the Selway:
My photos
Dan York's photos

External Websites:
Hoofer Outing Club's Website

Paradise Camp

Picture of Selway.

July 25, 2014
Day 7
Selway River Trip Day 4

The advantage of the previous day's marathon was that today would be short. In fact, we only had about three miles to paddle until our next campsite. Nevertheless, because we were now aware of the other rafting groups, we got an early start to ensure that we would have first dibs on the Selway's best campsite.

After paddling for 200 yards, we reached the biggest rapid of our trip: Wolf Creek. We scouted it, and there appeared to be several runnable lines, but none would be easy. I was especially concerned about a hole near the top that looked sticky. After thinking about it for a long time, I decided to walk it. I figured I had a good chance of running it clean, and indeed, absent the previous day's swim, I would have tried it without much thought, but mentally, I just didn't have it in me. Better safe than sorry.

Most of our group ran Wolf Creek, and we got through it without any major issues. The river then became narrower and deeper. It was still crystal-clear – we could easily see the bottom, about twenty feet down. Less than an hour later, we reached Tee Kem Falls, our final rapid of the day. All of us ran it and stopped at our campsite, one hundred yards downstream.

It was only noon, so we had the rest of the day to relax, cliff jump, fish and watch the looks of disappointment as the other rafters passed us (the happy campers actually existed, and they were hung over). Several of us also passed around the Cosmo and Crystal finished her book, 1000 Days Between (I heard it was pretty good). At one point we decided to figure out how many people we could fit in the ducky. We started with eight, but capsized about ten feet from shore. We took five on our second attempt, and we actually made it all the way to the rapid before getting thrown off. It was about seventy-five degrees and sunny all afternoon. Despite the name of the Selway's put-in, this campsite was truly paradise.

For our final night on the Selway, we played bocce ball using rocks (no Brahman cattle were on the beach), played cards and drank our remaining alcohol. I woke up in the middle of the night, and the stars of the Milky Way were so bright, I almost thought it was morning.

The Longest Day

Picture of raft.

July 24, 2014
Day 6
Selway River Trip Day 3

This was to be our most difficult day on the river, and it didn't disappoint.

Shortly after we put in, we hit several class III drops. We scouted a couple of them (notably “Ladle”), but still moved quickly, considering our group's large size. Things were going smoothly when we stopped for lunch. We basked in the warm sunshine and had a chat with the Forest Service volunteers. It was shaping up to be another great day on the river.

Near the end of the day, with all of the large rapids supposedly behind us, our group pulled up to a surprise rapid. We didn't have time to scout everything, so most of our day was spent “reading and running,” which gave us the opportunity to improvise our lines, a style of kayaking that I normally enjoy.

I ran the first part of this rapid, hit an eddy and looked at what lay ahead. Just above the last drop, the river banked left and skirted the edge of a rocky wall that jutted from the shore. If I stayed too far right, I could get pinned against the wall, one of the greatest hazards on this river. It was the end of the day and I was fatigued, so I decided to try and stay out of the meatiest part of the current by running the rapid's left side. If successful, I would avoid the final drop, which looked big and sticky.

I navigated around a few rocks, fighting hard against the current, trying to stay left. This effort proved futile as the current dragged my boat to the right, turning me perpendicular to the river. I slammed against a rock and water rushed over me. I tried the counter-intuitive method of leaning into the rock so that the current would safely flow under my boat and shove me free. The hydraulic was too strong, though, and I got “window-shaded” – thrown upside-down as the current grabbed my upstream edge.

Picture of Selway.

Taking in the scenery during the flats.

Not only was I upside-down, but my paddle was in an awkward position, perpendicular to my boat. I tried to drag my paddle to the left and set up for a roll. This took a monumental effort – the river was thrashing me like a gazelle in a lion's mouth and slamming my head into several rocks. I finally managed to get my paddle out of the water, but before I could sweep to initiate my roll, I felt a huge force crash down on me from above as I went over a pillow drop. I clenched my paddle tight, but it was forced to the other side of my boat. I scraped my head along the rocky bottom and realized two things: I still hadn't gone over the rapid's final drop, and I was out of air. It was time to swim.

I let go of my paddle, pulled the grab-loop on my skirt and struggled to escape from my kayak. As my boat flooded with water, I hit the final drop and was ejected to the bottom of the river. My PFD lifted me to the surface and I gulped several breaths of air. I noticed my kayak bobbing next to me and grabbed it, but I couldn't see my paddle. And I wasn't free from harm yet.

I grabbed a rocky cliff with my free hand and took in my surroundings. I was stuck in a “room of doom,” where water from the rapid slammed into the cliff that jutted out from the river's right side. This formed a powerful vortex, and it had a solid hold on me. I finally located my paddle; it was still bobbing in the last drop. I was more concerned about my boat, though – our group carried two spare paddles, but no spare kayaks. I clenched my boat's handle tight and worked my way to the upstream side of the eddy, where I managed to scoot onto a rock, slightly above the water.

Two people were shouting at me from the opposite side of the river. I couldn't hear them over the water's roar, but I could see that they were getting ready to throw a rope to me. I figured I was too far away for the plan to work, but it would also be difficult for them to paddle across the powerful current and join me in the eddy. Then I saw another boat approach from above and remembered that Dan C had been behind me when I had run the rapid. He dropped into the eddy, grabbing my paddle along the way. Then he hooked up my boat to his “cow tail” and towed it across the river.

Picture of Dan.

I get submerged in a hole.

The only realistic way for me to escape the room of doom was to swim. I got into a protective stance with my forearms in front of my face, but now that the initial adrenaline had worn off, I felt pain on my left temple. I reached up to touch it and blood dripped down my hand. I just wanted to get out of there, so I dove in and swam. The current swept me downstream and pushed me into the rocky cliff, but luckily I got tossed around it, and not sucked underneath. I was free.

Rebecca did a great job of keeping me calm while she looked at my eye. Luckily, I just had a small cut near my eyelid. I relaxed for several minutes, trying to calm my nerves after the scary swim. Now that I was out of the water, I focused my gaze at the rocks near my feet, then at the distant mountains, hopeful that I wouldn't experience the dizzying symptoms of a concussion. I decided that even though I had gotten my bell rung, I was OK. But either way I didn't have much choice in the matter. It was getting late, and we had to continue.

We paddled through some smaller rapids, then passed the Forest Service volunteers as they were setting up camp. During our discussion at lunch, we had noted that we would be camping a bit downstream of them, so I figured we were almost done with our day. But then I noticed the rest of our group relaxing in an eddy. A few of us had fallen behind because of my swim, but if our campsite was coming up, why was everyone else waiting for us here?

It turned out that our campsite was taken. I didn't think this was possible, given that no other groups had launched on the same day as us. But the answer soon became clear – the group that had launched the day before us had decided to take a rest day. In our intended campsite. We were annoyed, but we couldn't get that mad at them – with enough time and food, we might have done the same thing. The next campsite was four miles downstream. We pushed ahead.

We hit two class III's and many II's over the next hour. Still shaken from my swim, I played it as safe as possible, and luckily I remained upright the whole time. As we rounded the final bend before our campsite, we noticed rafts. Rafts! I didn't understand how this was possible. We floated past the site, discussing what to do next, when the campers gathered 'round the shore to watch us. One was dressed like the Pope, another like a cow, and the rest in equally absurd costumes. I thought I was hallucinating – how hard had I hit my head? The campers shouted at us, offering whiskey and beer, but all I wanted was food, water and sleep. A few people in our group stopped to imbibe while the rest of us ignored the happy campers and continued downstream.

Shortly before sunset, we finally pulled into an empty campsite. This site was far nicer than the one occupied by the happy campers, so seeing (or imagining?) them was a blessing in disguise. I ate a quick supper, read a bit more Cosmo after Caitlyn relinquished it and passed out while it was still light outside.

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.

Launching on the Selway

Picture of Selway.

Paradise: the put-in for the Selway.

July 22, 2014
Day 4
Selway River Trip Day 1

We left camp at 8 a.m. and drove south, into Idaho. We did a quick check-in at the ranger's station at the entrance of the Bitterroot National Forest, then continued on a gravel road. The hills surrounding us were blanketed with spruce trees, many of which were dead. Perhaps an invasive beetle had eaten their bark? We continued to rumble along the narrow track, shrouded in a cloud of dust, for the next hour. When the road ended, we knew we were in Paradise: the put-in to the Selway.

We slid our group's twelve kayaks, one ducky and one raft down to the river and did a meticulous final check of our gear. I had been debating whether to take my camera with me on the river, and I finally decided against it. The risk of losing or destroying my camera was simply too high, especially considering that I was about to move to China, where many great photo opportunities awaited. Luckily, many others in our group took their cameras. All photos from the Selway that I post are courtesy of Dan York (Thanks!).

The river's crystal-clear water trickled gently next to us, not betraying the massive hydraulics that lurked a few miles downstream. I understood that the dusty road above us would be the last one we would see for the next several days. In fact, there would be no towns, or even houses, along the way. The Selway is one of the most pristine rivers remaining in the United States. Each year, only sixty-one groups are granted permits to run it, and this year we were lucky enough to get one. When we were sure that we were ready, Dan gave a short river talk, mainly letting us know that safety was our top priority, and we were off.

As expected, we had an easy day of paddling, with just a few class III's and many II's.. The river's level had been far higher than normal a few weeks prior, but it had been dropping rapidly. At 2300 cfs (cubic feet per second), it was higher than the 1000 cfs we had been expecting, but this still proved to be an easy level to run most of the rapids. It was also a great confidence builder, which was important for me. Having never paddled a multi-day whitewater trip, I was still getting used to the decreased maneuverability of my fully-loaded kayak.

We set up camp next to the river, just upstream from a footbridge. This task was easy for me, considering that I just had to blow up my mattress and unravel my sleeping bag. I added water to my dehydrated chili, heated the concoction and relaxed with the others in the group. Late at night, when I slid into my sleeping bag, I felt something hard at my feet. I reached into the bag and pulled out a Cosmopolitan magazine. Someone was probably messing with me, but the joke was on them – I was happy to have something to read while on the river. I looked at a couple of raunchy articles, then passed out, ecstatic that after six months of planning, the greatest whitewater trip of my life was finally underway.

More Selway photos

Preparing for the Selway

Picture of Dan.

Dan Y goes through our group gear.

July 19-21, 2014
Days 1-3

Sleep in the Shitty Van came in fits, but it was more substantial than anything I had gotten in the past week. In fact, between the multiple all-nighters of my final weekend in Madison and the all-nighter I had pulled while moving out, my body desperately needed a good night's rest. The three or four hours I got felt like twelve.

I woke at dawn. We were driving across the flat landscape of western South Dakota, and the sky was still shrouded in a thick haze. We had originally planned to drive through North Dakota, but the others in the van had changed their minds at the last minute, opting instead for the southern route. I smiled, aware of their deception – North Dakota doesn't really exist. Every time I have made plans to go there, something has always come up that has kept me away. Perhaps someday I will stand at the border of this phantom state, gaze into the void and learn its true secrets.

When we entered Wyoming (which I can confirm is real), we stopped at an invasive species check (Wyoming is one of the only states that has yet to get zebra mussels). We took down our kayaks and the woman working there looked for standing water. When we told her that we were from Wisconsin, she said, “Wisconsin is extremely high risk.” It wasn't clear if she was referring to zebra mussels, us or Wisconsin itself.

We turned north as we continued through Wyoming, taking in the vast, expansive scenery. We talked about the different roads we had encountered around the world, some of which were in deplorable condition. I felt lucky to live in a country where you could drive for thousands of miles and only stop for gas, though I wouldn't be living in the US for much longer. At around noon we crossed into Montana but we didn't see any mountains until the end of the day.

We got to Missoula at about 9 p.m., hoping to spend the night in relative comfort. We made a few turns through a suburb full of tract housing, and a KOA entered our vision. If you've never camped at a KOA, it is a site to behold. With its named roads, the campground felt like a village located within the heart of the city. It came complete with a swimming pool, two hot tubs and several stand-up arcade games. Sadly, Tekken 3 was out-of-order. We snagged the final “tenting” site and passed out, surrounded by the gentle hum of RV air-conditioners.

The next morning we left the city, drove about twenty minutes northeast and found a nice campsite with plenty of open space. The big advantage of this new site was that it was located next to the Blackfoot River. Some of us did a couple of runs down the class II river as a warmup. I was glad to have had the practice – I had only gone kayaking twice this year, and I had almost no experience with the tank-like Jackson Zen I had borrowed for this trip. Before one run I filled my dry bags with water to simulate the effect of paddling a fully-loaded boat. The Zen became significantly less responsive, and I realized that I wouldn't be able to avoid the meatier parts of some large rapids on the Selway. I would simply have to plow through them, hopefully with enough momentum to clear their turbulent hydraulics.

Our Selway group was sixteen strong, a mishmash of current and former Hoofers. Everyone in our group who was already in Missoula met at the Montgomery Distillery. Most of us dressed up, and as I sipped my “Go Gingerly” cocktail, I had a hard time picturing the group in our element, kayaking down a whitewater river, eating dehydrated meals out bags and going a week without showering.

When Rebecca, whom I had just met, asked if I was nervous, I told her the truth: yes. “You'll see in the next few days that you're better than you think,” she said, calming my fears a bit. But then she stated the obvious: “The consequences of a swim will be far greater on the Selway than on the day-trips you're used to paddling.” I really didn't want to think about it. Whitewater boats can sink when filled with water. Losing my boat, food and camping gear, dozens of miles from the nearest ranger's station, would be bad news, indeed. Getting hurt while in the back-country would mean even greater consequences.

The night before our paddling adventure was to begin, we sorted through our group gear. Out of necessity, we had to take minimal stoves, pots, first-aid kits, throw-ropes and spare paddles, though their would be one raft on our trip, affording us a bit of extra packing space. I decided not to take a tent, even though I probably had enough room for one. After my clumsy trial run with water-filled dry bags, I wanted to play it safe by carrying as light a load as possible. And, I rationalized, sleeping under the stars would be pleasant during summer in Idaho.

Our first big problem emerged as we were making a final inspection of our gear. Dan C discovered a crack, about four inches long, in the bottom of his boat. Tadhg, our group's de facto handyman, went to work, melting the boat with a camp stove and sealing it with plastic. I was a bit apprehensive about taking a cracked boat, but Dan didn't seem to mind. While this trip would be a challenge to me, for several people in our group, Dan included, it would be a relative walk in the park, compared with the monstrous class IV's and V's they typically paddled. And our permit was only good for the following day; a single cracked boat wouldn't keep us off of the river.

More Selway photos