River pilgrim

On the cusp of season change, when the rains are threatening to stop, the last calls go out for the Smith River.

The Smith River is the only fully free flowing river in California from it’s source to the sea. The north fork flows from the Kalmiopsis wilderness in southern Oregon and offers one of the best 14 miles of class IV whitewater in the State. The south and middle forks flow from the heart of the Siskiyou mountains east of Crescent City and have miles of fun boating from class I-V

It’s time for my annual pilgrimage to the Smith, a tradition that started 6 years ago. The cleanest, clearest, bluest water in the country. And some giant salmon and steelhead.

With my fearless friend Kyle at my side, we bid adieu to our regular third person, Timon. Timon, who’s stories of glory summer days with crystalline drops of water flying off his paddle inspired me to kayak, is still recovering from his medal winning performance at the Santa Cruz paddlefest surf kayak contest, thus he bowed out of this northward pilgrimage.

It’s not without some trepidation that I embark on this trip. We have plans that will push my limits as a boater and I have to decide if I’m ready for that or not.

Kyle spent a few weeks on the Colorado River going through Grand Canyon this past February. He paddles an inflatable kayak (IK) and glides down rivers as easily as a fish. He couldn’t get enough excitement in the canyon so he hauled his boat out and ran Crystal rapid twice and Lava falls rapid three times- two of the most challenging rapids on the 226 mile stretch of river. He not only runs them, he shoots for the meatiest waves and holes he can find and punches through them with gusto.

One of our desires for this trip is to paddle the wild and scenic 35 miles of the Illinois River in southern Oregon. I’m downright scared about it. It’s rated class IV, with one class IV that is a tough, but possible portage (walk around). The rapids look fairly continuous, but I’ll just have to wait and see how I do on the Smith first.

As Daniel Brasuell, my most recent kayak instructor, said, “just focus on the current move, don’t worry about what’s downstream.”

That easily applies to more than river running. Nothing is permanent and minds can change. I don’t have to do it if I’m not ready. That line dividing pushing yourself to do what you believe you can and being dangerous is thin and blurry and downright hard to find sometimes.

Our first stop after leaving Santa Cruz was on the north side of the Golden Gate. I came across a moth I’d never seen before. It was the furriest flying insect I have ever seen. I’m not superstitious, but I’ll just pretend it is setting the stage for new and wonderful things to come.

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