Why Are They Called Life Jackets?

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It would seem like the answer to this question is quite obvious, but apparently there are a lot of people who fail to understand the gravity of what it means to wear them or not.  As prima facie evidence for such, two recent drownings on the Salmon River near Riggins, on separate days (June 8 and June 10) bare this point out. In both cases, neither victim was wearing a life jacket.  The flows and water temps for those respective dates were – June 8 –  9am: 43400 noon: 43100 4pm: 42500 (11.5c=53f) and June 10– 9am: 41200  noon: 41100 4pm: 40400 (12.3c=54f).

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While I suspect alcohol may have contributed to the poor decision not to wear a life jacket, I don’t know that for sure. In either case, it was a costly decision for each person involved.  When this kind of news gets out, it sometimes scares people away from the river or running it when flows are high.  In reality, it high lights the fact that wearing life jackets is a crucial decision, that too many people ignore.

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I don’t know all the details to each accident, but heard that the first one occurred at Black Rock rapid, when one person fell into the water without a jacket on and lost contact with the raft.  But, what I do know for sure is that the hydraulics on the wall at the foot of the rapid are tremendously turbulent and powerful.  It reminds me of a huge coffee pot with boils and giant whirlpools, and even in a lifejacket would be a nervy swim. But, without one, a fatal consequence.

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The day before, I was in my dory boat and a violent eddy line grabbed my boat and pulled us into a whirlpool. The stern was sucked down with-in two inches of the gunnels (hand-rails) on both sides (on a boat with 28inch sides at the stern end) before spitting us out back into the main current.  Often the chaos water is as challenging as the big waves and dynamics of the rapids themselves. All parts of the river become plenty of good reason for keeping alert and paying attention.

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The second drowning I know a little more about, due to the fact, that my party was the one who rescued the body and performed CPR, but too late to bring the person back to life. The other person is still missing from the first drowning, but at least this second incident will offer some sense (sad as is it is) of closure to the family in at least not knowing where their loved one ended up. Closure is a relative term, as no one ever really gets over losing someone dear to them.

This person did not have a life jacket on, nor did any in their party of four guys, whom all tipped over in Lake Creek Rapid (at least is what the paper said) as opposed to Ruby Rapids which normally flips more boats, and apparently they luckily made it through right side up.  Correction (just learned it was indeed Ruby Rapid where they tipped, and that now makes more sense). Three in the party were able to keep a hold of the raft, while the one who drowned didn’t. Also, when he was found by the gal running a safety cat for my group and dragged to shore by a jetboat she flagged down for help in the process, he was in his underwear,  tee shirt and tennis shoes only. The river hydraulics had pulled his pants off his body.  With no wetsuit, his body was turning blue in places from the cold water and is precisely why we always where wetsuits in high water, even if it is over 90 degrees in air temps.

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It is also why we cinch life jackets on all our guests good and snug, sometimes to a little dis-pleasure to some, thinking they are too tight. But, better that than getting sucked off your body, which can happen if not secured properly.  High water trips are not for the timid, but plenty reasonable for those who like adrenalin and are properly equipped and prepared. So as intimidating as it is to hear about, or actually see the aftermath  of what poor decisions leave in their wake, it is no reason to not go boating.  Nature plays by harsh rules, but by paying attention to those rules with proper respect, your chances of having a safe, fun trip, are far higher when engaged in any adventure that comes with some degree of risk.

Another aspect to how people sometimes find themselves in trouble with the river is due to perception. Often, as an observer on the land watching the many guides and experienced river people running the river and making it look easy, can be quite misleading to them.  More than once I have salvaged a sunken drift boat that did not have enough floatation in them, or inexperienced  oarsman to negotiate simple water that experienced people have little problem with. Or helped rescue people who jumped on the river in their own gear but over their head in expertise and found themselves without a boat and in a precarious situation.

This is part of the reason I offer driftboat lessons for those whom have their own boat and want to improve their skill level, or wish to get a boat and learn how to read water and maneuver their boat through troubled current.  Using a mentoring service is a good way to improve on one’s learning curve.  It takes a lot of time to learn about the nuances of fluid hydrology and how to apply small tricks that make the big differenced in keeping a boat right side up and good stories as a conclusion to your trip.

As a commercial outfitter, we often get people who tell us they were thinking of doing a river trip, but in seeing the rapids from the highway, they thought they were too small and would not be much fun. When we convince these folks not to be deceived by the sense of scale (big rivers and canyons have a tendency to dwarf reality) and that they will enjoy it, (and if  we actually get them on the water), they will invariably ask: “is this the same river we saw from the highway?”  We have to bite our tongues and not make them feel like this is a stupid question, but common sense isn’t that common.

While we in the outfitting community would like to avoid bad publicity in the media and say it is perfectly safe to run the river when it is high, or at any other time, that would be a farcical claim.  In nature, nothing is free or without risk.  To us ecologist types who appreciate the reality of evolution, we call the consequences of choice and behavior  in the wilds, “natural selection.” That is how the real world works.

The moral of the story: there is no such thing as a risk free river trip, anymore than you can walk across the street without getting run over by a car 100% of the time.  Bottomline: pay attention. It increases your odds. But, don’t stay home. Two old saying I  I always liked are:  “those who do not do things because of their fear of dying, never  really live,” and “man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.”

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Gary Lane
Wapiti River Guides
http://www.doryfun.com
208:628-3523  (if calling us by cell)
or

800-488-9872

 

 

 

Tribute to Jack Kappas (1946-2013) – Jack’s Last Run

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Unlike a straight line, defined as the shortest distance between two points, a circle continues on forever. Like some folks description of God, no beginning, no end, just always was, always is.

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Many things in nature are round and cyclic. The shape of our planet, all celestial satellites, billions of suns and zillions of galaxies, all spin forever re-looping back upon their trajectories, over and over like a natural perpetual motion machine.

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Such is the way of life and death on our home in a restless universe, as we whirl about the immensity of space. When those of the living lose a loved one, through all the terrible grief of the untimely moment, comfort can also be had in the realization that nothing really is ever lost.  Chief Seattle once said, “There is no death, just a change of worlds.”

So, though none of us know for sure what the Great Mystery will tell us, if anything, when we pass on to be recycled cosmically, the spirit trail we leave behind will still fill the hearts of the living as memories and stories as evidence of our presence in the giant scheme of things.

All will be touched differently as they think back of their experiences with a loved one that has passed, perhaps remembering their face in the maw of a huge whitewater rapid, or a simple smile in the reflection of a calm pool. All add beauty to the circle of life and death, and will always be in motion just as nature intended it so.

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Our good friend Jack, a cherished member of a beloved dory boat family, used to row the Glenn Canyon when he worked for Martin Litton’s Grand Canyon Dories back in the days of old.  It was a fitting dory boat name, as Jack was a staunch supporter of breaching four dams on the Snake River to help bring back salmon and the true life spirit of the river. He appreciated science and the natural free flowing way as the proper law of nature.

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When he first came to the dory world he came on one of his first apprentice trips with me on the Owyhee River. I remember him in the front of my boat when I entered the wrong side of a bad rock garden and all hell broke loose. Not sure how we made it without a bump, and right-side up, but we did.

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So, now that Jack has moved on to navigate the celestial Milky Way, and even bigger cosmic challenges, perhaps I will come to do some apprenticing behind him, in some future time. Such, is the way of the circle.

As an old boatman’s saying claims: “We never grow too old to boat, we just get a little dingy.” That is, before we all eventually step into our eternal spirit boat. As Jack follows those boatmen and boatwomen before him, and we who will eventually all follow, shall the circle be unbroken.

The one thing about legacies, especially left behind by river people, is a fitting line from Philip  Pullman,  taken from the famous dory tale of the speed run through the Grand by fellow boatmen bonded by common dory world friendships,  in a book by Kevin Fedarkos (now also a part time dory guide) entitled the Emerald Mile:

“Thou shalt not” is soon forgotten,

but: “Once upon a time” lasts forever.”

On one of Jack’s boat pads he wrote the line: “I’ll be right back.”  To that I might add, see you in the stars, Jack, once upon a time.

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Butterfly

Why Is Movement So Important?

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Nothing happens until something moves.  Action is process. From cradle to grave, no matter the species, doing is living. Done is dead. Movement from point to point, rather place or time, is being, and nature’s way. In fact, in the natural scheme of things the difference between life and death is often defined only by movement. Boiled down, the essence of all life processes on earth are all about predator prey relationships. Everything is food for something else. Eat or be eaten is the basic law of the jungle.

Movement is one of the biggest mechanisms of detection that animals live or die by. It  is why deer or elk stand motionless at the wisp of a foreign sound, or approaching danger. It is what cougars look for as they employ stealth to cruise the woods with, or why herons appear to be like a statue, waiting for a fish to swim by unsuspectingly.

So too are humans influenced by movement. From massive demonstrations caused by giant social movements, to a single experience conjured up at an  individual level, change only happens when something moves. As a river guide and enthusiastic observer of nature, change is the name of the game on every adventure. The sage advice  by a greek philosopher named Heraclitus about never stepping twice into the same river, certainly seems true. After all, the same river is never the same, it is always changing. So too are the experiences that those who choose to float earth’s arteries, appreciate each time they step into a boat.

At so many levels, the world and all life in it is all about movement and change.  For me, the beauty of stepping into rivers and landscapes allow me to experience a vastness of new horizons every time. Each approach to the event horizon that the  lip of a rapids entry, or a precipice at the edge of a cliff provides, allows me to stare directly into the abyss.  What stares back is a reflection of the back of my mind and the curiosity of what lies ahead for every movement of forward progress I will soon make.

Based on past history and survival of each new experience, I know that most likely I will survive to yet another exciting adventure in learning, being, and doing. I can only hope that along the way I might better understand the world around me and that is all engulfing. That is the ultimate challenge and why I appreciate the value of movement.

Even a rainbow will not materialize until storm clouds move to allow the sun to shine through the water falling and also moving from through the  sky.

For more river trip information, please go to our website: www.doryfun.com

or (more pics)  Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/Riverdoryfun

800-488-9872

Rivers make good medicine with us, we make good medicine with rivers.

Can You Hear It?

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The call of the wild is not a sound. It is a force and pull. It comes in many forms from nature and is heard by many, though no ears are required to hear it.  An old Indian saying is that silence is the voice of the Great Mystery.  Perhaps it is all a matter of “spirit talk.” The human spirit communicates to all other forms of spirit.

Ever notice how humans are drawn to the flames of a campfire, like a moth is to the light? Could it be that the fire is a release of the woods spirit?  Could a giant wave crashing against the shore be a release of the ocean’s spirit?  Like a soul, a spirit is formless and invisible. But like the unseen force of electricity, it has a current like the river, and can generate power to light up man-made contraptions to enable energy for various aspects of the  human world.

Before the microscope was invented the unseen world of germs, viruses and bacteria carried on their business of spreading infections and disease. We couldn’t see them, but they existed for thousands of years unbeknownst to us.  They too are a part of the wild and powerful forces in nature. Their job is to break things down when plants and animals die, and to control numbers when populations of organisms stretch beyond their carrying capacity.

From the most smallest of forms to the very largest, all dance together to the melodies of vast cosmic fores inspired by nature’s music.  Each dance shapes the world we see, hear, and experience.  All of these events contribute to the call of the wild. Can you feel it?

Every time I step into a boat that is ready to launch on another river trip, this inherent call of all things wild excite my senses. As seasons change, so do the different calls that attract my attention. Each natural cycle eventually completes a circle, yet every time a loop is completed, enough experience has elapsed to alter perceptions of the next loop, So the circle really becomes an upward spiral as levels of learning earn compound interest at every additional full spin.  Such is the beauty of nature’s wisdom.