EPIC Group Travel Writers: Down the river of no return

Enjoying the rafting adventure.
Enjoying the rafting adventure.

This is the first in a series of monthly stories by travel writers from EPIC Group Writers, an Edmonds non-profit organization whose mission is to support those who create, communicate and connect through cultural and artistic endeavors, especially the literary arts.

In 1994, the Middle Fork Whitewater Rafting Company offered an excursion down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho for half price. This was rated as one of the premium rafting rivers in the U.S. Joey, my wife, insisted I go on it to celebrate my 68th birthday. How could I refuse? It also coincided with my 50th year Salmon High School reunion.

Over the mountain I flew east for 45 minutes into the deep Middle Fork canyon to a gravel runway operated by the U.S. Forest Service. Within an hour I joined the rafting flotilla to experience the most exciting three days of my life. Rapids after rapids (all rated as IVs) pulled, pushed and splashed us. It was difficult to keep my video camera in focus. My seatmate, a teacher from Kansas, was not only traumatized by the rapids but by her fear of her two children drowning. I needed sound for videos and suggested she scream at every set of rapids. She enjoyed the rest of the trip much more after this and was more relaxed. Our oarsman, called “Catfish,” delighted us with his stories and knowledge of the river, naming each set of the 23 rapids along the way. I talked him out of his old felt brim hat to get better shade on my easily burned face.

downtheriver4
A map shows the Salmon River highlighted in red.

 

My seatmate finally allowed her 12-year-old boy to paddle himself in an inflatable canoe. He tipped over once before he learned to manipulate the craft skillfully. His mother was petrified. He had great instructions from the guides and learned quickly.

Food was amazing, served by the crew. Nights were gorgeous in the deep, dark canyons, with the stars shining so brightly they seemed like little LED lights up close.

We beached near a petroglyph-covered cliff. Stepping off the inflated raft, I slipped on a round rock and pitched forward. To protect my camera, I landed on my elbow and rolled. Fortunately, neither of us was seriously injured, other than bruises and a couple of dents on my tin cup, which landed 15 feet from me. There was a painful pulled muscle in my back. One of the oarsmen, a woman, also a physical therapist, applied pressure in the right place. I suggested I might heal better with a back massage, but it didn’t happen. Sympathy was mine for awhile. I was the oldest rafter and had survived such trauma.

The Salmon and Middle Fork rivers held stories that I had heard since childhood in Salmon. The Indians named the Salmon as the “River of No Return.” In 1805 Lewis and Clark attempted to float down the main Salmon but had to turn back. The turbulent water and perpendicular cliffs were impregnable. Even the Civilian Conservation Corps in the ’30s attempted to build a road down the Salmon and found it too difficult. The Middle Fork, with its vertical rock walls, would have been worse but was perfect for rafting. For me, this was an exciting and isolated place in the world to return to again and again.

— By Bill Morton

As an offshoot of EPIC’s Monday morning writing sessions held at the Edmonds library, the EPIC Group Travel Writers meet at Savvy Traveler once a month. Participants of this fluid group love to travel and write stories about their journeys. You are invited to attend on the second Wednesday of the month from 3:30-5 p.m. Free to members and non-members of EPIC Group Writers. 

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