Full speed ahead
boating the North Fork Nehalem at maximum floodstage

With a howling wind ripping important pieces off my house and rain coming down in buckets I talked to Brandon on the phone, 

"...I just soloed the whole thing with the water coming up flipped twice and had to do a crazy difficult scout and then I was running parallel with this massive old growth stump it was insane you gotta come out..."

All the words pouring out at once I often sound like a five-year old when I'm excited about whitewater.   A giant band of rain had already dumped four inches on the coast with more still coming down.    The river behind my house was rapidly rising into a muddy brown torrent of the likes that,  even in this rainforest,  we only see once every few years.   Normally a beautiful coastal run with a 70 foot per mile steeper section up top that tapers gradually out to tidewater over the course of 10 miles.   It offers a great selection of continuous intermediate rapids with some occasional harder stuff thrown in if you want to take those lines.    Draining over shallow jagged basalt,  it's never a good place to spend much time upside down or swimming,  but other than that,  it's a very high reward run that should probably be written up for a guidebook.    The lower four miles are a hallway of waterfalls pouring into the river from the mossy,  cedar draped cliffs on both sides.   I run it low most of the time,  fishing for steelhead,  practicing my boofs on the ledges and my flatspins in the holes on perhaps sixty runs a year.  It's a cool feeling to know something so well and reminds me that the best things in life come from going slower and looking deeper.   Today we had deep,  but slow was off the menu.

Brandon knocked on my door around one and we cruised over to the barn to grab boats and gear up.    Last nights windstorm had scattered a bucket of beer bottles all over the lawn along with anything else that wasn't nailed down.    Derelict kayak frames were tossed everywhere.    We moved the boats from Brandons silver GMC spaceship over to big blue, aka The Global Warmer.    Pushing rain gear,  scuba masks,  coffee cups and other miscellaneous crap aside to clear a space,  Brandon commented "um, this truck has issues."   Noted.

We drove up past the Hatchery and then onto the logging road and through the gate,  which was thankfully open for hunting season,  scouting as we went and getting progressively more nervous at the roaring torrent carrening downstream.    There was not even a shred of actual doubt in my mind,  provided neither of us swam,  this was going to be nothing but fun.   Still,  that much rushing water creates an instinctual fear,  especially knowing that certain options,  such as stopping,  were no longer available.

We scouted the falls from the fish ladder which normally provides a nice right side boof at medium flows,  but today was a pit of certain doom with water feeding back into a cliffed out corner from fifteen feet downstream.      The left was the money line today,  a fast tongue slamming into a wave-hole at the bottom.    Despite all the roaring water this is probably the safest I've ever seen this line.    We climbed into our boats on a grassy landing about a mile upstream.   I looked over at Brandon,  "No matter what happens,  do not swim."    I was talking to myself as much as to him.    We pushed off and instantly swept downstream bouncing merrily along in four foot waves and punching holes in a section that even at high flows is usually pretty mellow.    We flew past a series of three meaty hydraulics that are perfect playholes at normal high water.   I caught one of those in a Jive a few years back and it took me a while time to get out.

It takes a while to get comfortable in flood,  your boat responds feebly,  you can't predict if a drive will connect with a line in the way you want,  you make your choices a hundred yards in advance and then line up and take whatever comes.   You need to make good choices.    I'd run the Grand Canyon with Brandon this spring and whether you fight the entire time or you have a 21 day party,  you develop a bond with people you run the Canyon with.   I trusted Brandon to make good choices.   I also felt a little silly being so nervous,  here I was in a creek boat on a coastal tributary on a run I solo all the time,  this spring I ran Lava Falls in a playboat at 20,000 cfs,  twice!

We blasted around a corner and the concrete fish ladder marking the falls came into view.    I was riveted on the moment,  lining up in the center,  taking good strokes,  keeping exactly where I wanted to be,  riding the tongue down and hitting the hole at the bottom so hard that it pushed about a cup of water into my nose.    Coughing, I looked back at Brandon who had noseplugs on,  not a bad idea.    He blew through the hole upright and we swung around the next corner and into a the beginning of a two mile long continuous class III section.   So much water,  waves,  holes,  refracting laterals.    My body responded as though it were it's own entity,  bracing,  driving,  leaning forward, pulling the bow around with a draw,  and I remember thinking,  "hey,  I can actually boat!"    I don't know why this always surprises me,  but it does.  

I worked my way toward the right bank,  cutting through the waves and small holes sideways,  trying to get on a line that was mostly in the overhanging brush that whipped me in the face.   Spinning the boat at the last second I hit the giant roostertail of class IV Screwtrap rapid straight on,  blowing up and over and down into the meat of the hole,  reaching out and grabbing the pile as it hit me,  I pulled up and through,  spinning the boat to catch Brandon in a massive tailstand,  then upside down,  then rolling up, then turning the boat to hit the next wave.    Basically our whole plan was to crane our necks looking for wood in the distance, and then scratch back and forth as the river swept around blind corner,  trying to stay on the inside of the corners as we blazed through the steep section.    Logs I hadn't seen move in 4 years were gone,  and I became increasingly more paranoid about where they might have ended up.    When we arrived at the fish hatchery the water was level with the tops of the benches that disabled anglers normally sit on to fish!

I won't go on to describe our whole run,   I feel like that is the job of photos and taking photos wasn't really possible this time.  Suffice to say that it continued to rip and roar,  but all in good fun and not scary like bigger rivers can get at flood.   Halfway down we encountered a 3/4 river wide massive terminal hole that would keep a paddler until christmas.   I knew it was there,  but I thought I'd mention it because it would be easy to stumble into it if you didn't know the run.    All of the dangerous wood had been blown out and by the end it was clear that there was little actual danger aside from swimming.  We got back to my place,  8 river miles later,  in about an hour and a half,  and that included one very long scout.   

Standing there with the boats on our shoulders and the drainplugs drizzling out,  with about an hour and a half of daylight left,   Brandon said,  "I think we should run it again."  we threw the boats in the Toyota and headed up for a second lap.   I started a stopwatch and we pushed off...

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