It was the third day, the longest and most challenging day, of our five day kayaking trip on the Lower Salmon River in Idaho. According to the river map, we would be paddling several class III rapids, culminating in a class IV called Snow Hole.
“If you think you can run it clean, you should do it,” advised our instructor Clay as we scouted the pounding waves of Snow Hole. “Just be confident.”
Oh confidence, you tricky beast, where had you gone? It was only a year before that I had taken my first kayaking lesson, a two day beginner course with Wet Planet. I had not spent much time in a boat thereafter, my fears and self-doubt eroding my desire to paddle and sense of direction in life. Gratefully, this lower Salmon trip, my first multi-day river adventure, reminded me why I fell in love with whitewater in the first place. It also returned a personal sense of self that had seemingly gone missing.
Like a waterfall, magic flowed continuously on the Salmon River. From its natural beauty to the people it brought together, this trip was amazing. I was captivated by the turquoise water, white sandy beaches, and night skies decorated with shooting stars. With five days to play in such sensory beauty, I felt awakened, relaxed, and more than a bit giddy.
The lower Salmon was ideal for kayak instruction. Most sections of whitewater were followed by pool drops and flat stretches, lessening anxiety before hitting rapids. I particularly loved the feel of the playful, big volume water. The flow was overwhelmingly fun, perfect for loosening the hips and blissfully riding the waves without overthinking – simply feeling the current and the moment. Contrary to the rivers of the Pacific Northwest, one of the Salmon’s biggest treats was the relatively warm water. I flipped several times, but the swims were refreshing on those hot August days. That certainly lessened the mockery of those squirrelly eddy lines!
While spending an extended amount of time on the river was certainly helpful, much credit also needs to be given to our awesome Wet Planet kayak instructors, Ryan Copenhagen and Clay Lucas. By offering advice, teaching us through drills, and working with the different skill levels of the group, they guided us for 53 miles and helped each of us improve our paddling along the way. Their ceaseless encouragement, patience, and enthusiasm undoubtedly helped me push myself kayaking while feeling secure and having fun. They are so good at what they do.
My trip mates were also a source of inspiration and interest. Representing different ages and varied places, each brought different experiences to the river while encouraging each other and enjoying each other’s company. Linda, a 63 year old from Ontario and my fellow lady on the trip, was learning how to kayak whitewater, having taken only one of Wet Planet’s beginner courses. Jan was stoked to get his roll in just a few days. Kevin, a diplomat with the U.S. State Department, brought two friends from the east coast, while a father and son duo from Missouri joined as well. I learned a lot by watching the others, their efforts, and their positive attitudes.
Conspiring together, these aspects of the Lower Salmon trip renewed my confidence, joy, and purpose, both on and off the river. I chose to run Snow Hole that day, punching through the blinding powder-white waves cleanly and upright. As I paddled aggressively through the final surge, I screamed triumphantly as Clay echoed with excited yells and pounded my boat in celebration. YEAHHHHHH!
But that pure moment of joy held a deeper meaning than just running a big rapid. It celebrated all that the lower Salmon had presented me – the thrill of being on the river and paddling whitewater, immersion within the world’s natural beauty, my ability to push myself beyond my comfort zone, and another chance to surround myself with quality people drawn to nature. Most importantly still, the river gave me the opportunity to rediscover and reignite the sense of magic within myself, and for that I am most grateful.