Traveling on Highway 26, with the peaks of Mt. Hood in the rearview mirror, I was headed to Maupin, Oregon for a half day rafting trip down the Deschutes River. I received the invitation from Jeremiah, who I met when he was my waiter just a few weeks earlier. I wasn’t sure exactly how the day would unfold, but as we arrived in the small town of Maupin, I realized we were taking a guided rafting trip down the river. We would be with several other people and a guide to float from Harpham Flats to Sandy Beach. With time to kill before the float, we went to a picnic area to eat our lunch and play some volleyball. The volleyball courts were surrounded by grass as green as the trees and the Deschutes flowing in the background. Errant shots would send the volleyball into the river in need of being chased down with a quick jump downstream. Check-in time came quick, and we quickly gathered all our belongings and headed over to the rafting companies headquarters. But since I had just met Jeremiah and his wife, I felt the need to acclimate them how I do things. This usually involves losing something, and in this case, I had left my phone on top of his car back at the picnic area. Jeremiah quickly drove me back, and I searched under the tables and in the parking lot for my phone before accepting my loss and realizing it couldn’t ruin a day as perfect as this. As we were driving off, a car cut us off and stuck a hand out the driver’s side window holding my phone. There is not a better feeling than accepting you’ve lost something only for it to be found. We hustled back over so we wouldn't miss our rafting instructions.
The day was perfect for rafting. The sun was directly overhead and there were no clouds. All week, everyone had been saying how hot it was, but coming from Vegas made the weather seem as nice as being inside a casino. We were strapped into life vests and then piled into a couple busses headed up river. After everyone hopped out, we were split into groups of 8, including our guide, and hopped into our rafts. Our guide requested two strong rowers up front, so Jeremiah and I decided to show off our skills and hop in the hot seat. The water felt perfect with the sun as its accomplice, enticing me to jump in, which our guide quickly told me was a no-no since it was very shallow here. Plus I volunteered to be upfront so I would have to follow directions and listen carefully, my expertise!
The scenery on the Deschutes is truly astonishing to me. It’s only a couple hours from Portland, less than an hour from Mt. Hood, yet suddenly you’re dropped into this desert climate that resembles more of the Grand Canyon then the Columbia River Gorge. The hills running on both sides are edged by burnt orange boulders and patches of green careening up to the view on the horizon. Trees pepper the banks, providing shade during the heat of the day for trout, and also good spots to relax during a rafting trip. Unfortunately as I was taking all of this in, I had temporarily forgotten my duties as a strong rower. I tried to start rowing, but my guide said that it was too late now and I would have to start paying better attention because there were some large rapids coming up. I wasn’t sure if this was just a scare tactic to get me to pay better attention or if there was actually some dangerous water coming up, so I decided to listen more astutely.
“Forward left. Forward right. Back Left! Back Left! Quit Lilly Dipping Steve!” The guide said.
The water turned out to not be all that dangerous, and I turned out not ready for all the pressure that came with being in front of the boat. After all, I didn’t want to be responsible for a stroke that got everyone wet in a raft going down a river! Jeremiah and I agreed to move back a seat and let the people behind us get up front. As we continued down the river we passed by a white line running above the water, which our guide alerted me was for squirrels to cross safely. This area, known as Squirrel Bridge, allowed for one person from the boat to ‘ride the bull.’ This meant that someone could hold onto the ropes up front and dangle their legs off the boat for a raucous ride down some large waves. None of the water in the upper region was very dangerous, although there were a couple of class II rapids, it would seem that anyone who wanted to have a fun time rafting could do this trip safely.
As we progressed down the river, we were allowed to hop off the raft and free float the river for short bursts. This allowed us to cool down before hopping back in the boat to finish our float. As we neared the end of the trip we were alerted to a class IV rapid that laid just above the next bend in the river. We had to have more instructions as to how we would attack this section. Apparently if we went left, we would miss the rapid, kind of counterproductive on a rafting trip. If we went right, we would hit the rapid but would have to be prepared in the case that someone actually went over, which could result in being held under water for 19 seconds. I remember that number because our guide made sure to say it 19 times. We pulled over and went over what to do again. It was very important for the people in front to listen (which was no longer me, good bye pressure).
We took off for the rapid, known as Oak Fork Rapid, where there was supposedly an 8-foot drop. We rowed left, we rowed right, and then we hit what must have been the 8-foot drop, only it felt quite smaller than that. We got a little wet and had a little excitement but the buildup didn’t quite live up to the real thing. The float was almost over and everyone on the boat laughed at how uneventful the main event turned out to be. Once we got off the river, our guide told us that the people in the front didn’t do exactly as they were told, which was technically why we missed the best part of the rapid. Although I can’t verify this, the guide probably told them the same thing about us. Luckily, rafting isn’t about who hit which rapid or who the best rower was. Rafting is about sharing stories in the slow sections. It’s about learning about the river you’re floating from a knowledgeable guide, which we did. It’s about making new friends and enjoying whatever rapids you do hit. Maybe I wasn’t meant to be in the front seat. Maybe the guide didn’t think I was the best listener. Maybe we didn’t hit the best rapid. But one thing that was undebatable is that I had a great time, and next time I float that section of river I’ll be ready to hold my breath for 19 seconds, just in case.
I like running water but only over my fishing line, I let the thrill seekers have all the excitement. Beautiful river though, bet theres some lunkers in their.