Running the river wild

Personal Journeys

My favorite placeI sit in my kayak...

October 11, 1998|By Bryan MacKay | Bryan MacKay,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Running the river wild; My favorite place

I sit in my kayak in the calm water just above the rapid, craning my neck to see over the horizon line. Only the flat water at the bottom is visible; the rapid is too steep to see a safe route. Cliffs rise directly from the water on both sides, so there's no possibility of portaging or getting out to look. Standard advice for kayakers in this situation: paddle hard and, to use the well-worn cliche that originated with whitewater paddlers, "Go for it." I head down the middle, find a sloping ramp of smooth water that splits a pair of giant holes, and power through the head-high waves at the bottom.

We've come to Idaho for two weeks of gypsy kayaking, nine guys from Baltimore in search of the ultimate whitewater river. We end up staying for a week in the valley of the South Fork of the Payette River, convinced we have found our own personal nirvanas of crystal clear, shockingly cold water with 80 miles of nonstop rapids and incredible Western scenery.

The days quickly become reduced to essentials: eat, sleep and paddle. It's 95 degrees in the afternoon, but the river keeps us cool. In the evening, after dinner, the temperature drops into the 40s, but each of our three Forest Service campgrounds has its own natural hot spring. We soak until our skin is pruney, pouring pots of hot water over our heads to keep warm in the chilly dusk. Later, we throw our sleeping bags down on a tarp with only the high desert stars overhead, and sleep like the children we have briefly become. Life, we all agree, does not get any better than this.

Bryan MacKay lives in Catonsville.

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Pub Date: 10/11/98

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