There is nothing standing between me and an amazing trip down the remote, wild and scenic Illinois River in Southern Oregon, except a major case of jitters. Oh, and there happens to be a major hail storm going on outside here in Cave Junction, just a few miles from where we’ll start our three day paddle
The Illy is quickly effected by precipitation events because there are no dams holding it back and runoff is swift. Parties of boaters have been stranded, rescued and some drowned because the river has swollen while they were traveling down the canyon. There is no walking out of this one. Roads are miles and miles away through thickets of poison oak and steep forest mountainsides.
Needless to say we are watching the weather closely. The forecast is clear of rain, and right now the flows are perfect fun levels.
Not only will the whitewater test my skills to the max, there is no turning back once we’ve started. This isn’t mountain climbing where you can back down at any time, it’s not like rock climbing either where bailing might mean you have to leave some gear behind. There is no paddling up stream. This is the liquid equivalent to sky diving; the only way out is down.
Luckily the water doesn’t come at you as fast as the ground when jumping out of a plane, though sometimes it feels like it.
Our party of paddlers has been reduced to three: Kyle, master of the inflatable kayak who’s most recent accomplishment was descending the south fork gorge of the Smith River (IV+) and master lunch maker. Grant, lifelong master of whitewater and director of Smith River Alliance. And me, one year into my kayaking experience in a boat too small to carry all I need for an overnight trip, and which is currently covered in hail.
Regardless, we keep packing, planning and keeping our fingers crossed that the weather holds. If all goes right we will put in tomorrow morning and take out on Thursday afternoon. All I’ve heard from other paddlers is encouragement, now I just have to keep reminding myself that I can do it. Which I know I can.