Anything Worth Doing is Worth Overdoing. . . or is it?
I originally wrote and published this piece in January of 2015. Recently I've been spending a lot of time thinking about risk and reward, and how our perception of it changes as we age. I have chosen not to add to this original piece, and instead may write more about this in an upcoming post. However, I feel that much of this still rings true for me.
All photos have been added since original publication.
Clancy Reece is name that resonates with every Idaho boatman, and even boatmen further away. He was a pioneer in the sport of whitewater rafting and an avid lover of rivers everywhere but mostly of his home river, the Salmon, and the river that would eventually take his life. Clancy Reece was known for the saying "Anything Worth Doing is Worth Overdoing" and that saying led him on some crazy river adventures including rowing the Salmon river from its headwaters to the pacific ocean in an handmade dory (a wooden boat favored by old time river runners.) It was in this same boat that he, along with a few friends decided to set a time record on the flooding Salmon river in 1996. And it was on this adventure that Clancy Reece met his demise.
The spot where Clancy Reece and his 2 companions found themselves in the water was just mere miles upstream from where, in May of last year, I faced the reality of the risks I choose to take. House Rock, is just that, a big rock, at most flows. Above 30,000 cfs (cubic feet per second) it becomes a hole big enough to swallow a greyhound bus. If you know the river this hole is easy to miss, there are crisp green highways of clear, smooth water on either side. But the hole is nearly invisible from above.
In May of 2014 the Salmon River was running 56,000 cfs. Still nearly half of what it had been when Clancy Reece set out to set a time record, and not a particularly concerning level for a group of experienced river guides out for their yearly all staff trip. In fact, the mood was one of excitement for the coming trip. Big water and warm weather sat on the horizon to dust off the winter and get ready for yet another summer living the dream.
The morning of the second day dawned warm and clear. I was regretting not bringing my neoprene wet suit because while the day was hot, the water still held the frigid reminder of winter. I knew I would be ungodly hot in my dry suit and we wouldn't hit the big rapids until the next day so I opted for running pants and a long sleeve t-shirt. The shirt I had jokingly referred to as my "visibility in the water shirt" because of its bright pink color.
We were encouraged to have a mix of more and less experienced guides on each raft and to let the guides with less oar experience row. They day was uneventful as we caught up with each other about winter jobs and hopes and dreams for the coming season. The water was high, so it was pushy and, especially for the less experienced oarsman, the eddies were a constant fight to avoid. Its a natural part of any high water trip so we weren't all that concerned when our boat got well behind the boat in front of it.
Most of the group guided on the Salmon, but the stretch we were on was not one our company ran commercially very often and many of us had only seen it once, or maybe never at all. I had only been down the "Riggins stretch" once previously, the year before during the staff trip when the rookie guides, me included (having previously only guided on low volume rivers,) had balked at the "high water" (it was 25,000 cfs)
Even as we approached what looked like some sort of obstacle in the river, I felt little fear. I was the second most experienced river guide on the boat, but I let my superior take the task of guiding the newer rower on the oars. I have always felt that to many voices is just confusing and frustrating. In the days and months that followed I came to find from my conversations that no one really had any idea what was coming. As we encouraged the woman on the oars to avoid the obstacle, the power of the river began to take hold the only though in my mind was "well, we are going to hit it, I've been in sticky situations a hundred times the only thing to do now is to see what this river has in store for us."
Later the other guides would ask us what things had been said on the boat, was there screaming? Had I thought of jumping and swimming for shore? After all, a body is safer swimming that kind of thing away from a boat full of metal and wood and numerous other things that could hurt a person. Maybe, if I had known what was about to happen I would have felt any of these things. But I didn't. All I felt was determination. I would will this boat through what was to come. The people on the boat were dead silent and the oarsman had stopped rowing. Looking back, it wouldn't have mattered one bit.
As our boat floated, slow and sideways, over the lip of what I would later discover was called House Rock Hole, I suddenly realize that we were in deep shit. I, having grown up on rivers, threw myself at what river guides call the "high side" of the boat, knowing with all my heart that my 140 pound frame was not going to change a damn thing.
I have flipped boats, I have fallen out of boats. I once had a swim in a remote river well above the arctic circle where I was in the river for 10 minutes and swam two class 3 rapids, I thought that was a bad swim. When the force of that hole hit our boat I realized that I have never, not in 4 years of professionally guiding or 15 years of running rivers, known with complete honesty what a river could feel like. Unlike my previous swims, I never felt my hat or sunglasses get ripped off my face, I never felt the rope I was clinging to get ripped from my hand. I just knew I was in the water.
I don't know how long