Fun fact: We measured the wind at 29.7 mph today.

Day 18, Oct. 9

Fame’s fickle fancy has favored us again! With much fortitude, we foray fearlessly into the fringes of fate, fighting fatigue and fierce critters with every footstep….

Okay, enough of the alliteration, we did not drag a thesaurus with us on this boat and I have failed to find one on the banks of the river (so far, anyway). Basically, what I’m sort of saying is that we’ve had awesome luck with school visits so far. Also, we made the front page of the Wenatchee World and somebody recognized us this morning.

The visit to the Nespelum School happened on Day 8 (right before the bear night, thus the delay in writing about it). Rachael, pro environmental educator that she is, had an exciting trick about fire to show the kids, which was super applicable because we had been seeing a lot of scorched ground lately. Plus, what kid doesn’t want to play with fire during school hours? (Well, me, actually, but that’s why I was on standby water duty.)

Then, this past week, Rachael and her friend Kai (who was standing in for me as I disappeared to Seattle for a few days) paid a visit to Osborne Elementary in Leavenworth. I was not there so I can’t relay an observation about that, but the article on it in the Wenatchee World  was super nice and had some sweet pictures. So really I guess Rachael has accumulated more game than me, the slob.

And some guy we ran into on the river this morning – actually, not just some guy, the author of several books about the river – recognized us from the article!

Fame does no good when the wind picks up, though. Let that be a moral lesson, I suppose, because we spent the entire afternoon on the side of the river opposite The Gorge Amphitheater, and there wasn’t even a concert going on.

Fun fact: A person is 180 times more likely to be killed by a bee than a black bear.

Bear,Tracks,Poop2 Day 9, Oct. 1

Remember how I said that conchs are useful things when Nature comes a-knockin’ in the form of charismatic megafauna that would be a point of interest by day but are less so by night?

The report from the field: at 9:30 pm on Day 9, a black bear happened upon our camp. We scared it away with some sudden light and also a little bit of yelling (note: black bears are not grizzly bears and therefore really don’t want confrontation with humans; calm down, Mom), but decided to move camp anyway. Although really that decision was more caused by the water suddenly encroaching on our sleeping area than the bear.

We rowed a short ways upstream, tied the boat off to a rock near the opposite sBear,Tracks,Poop3hore, and laid our sleeping bags out in the boat. This was actually a fantastically comfortable way to sleep and I highly recommend it, minus the fact that another bear made rustling sounds on a nearby hill around 11:45 pm and was subsequently frightened away by the conch. Also minus the fact that, despite the earlier sudden rise in water level, it later decided to drop several feet, leaving us high and dry (twice), which is a very surreal feeling to wake up to when you fell asleep floating.

And upon Day 10, Rachael got stung by a bee. She is still alive, as am I. Good IMG_7727day.

Fun fact: Rachael and I do not, in fact, have a motor on our boat.

IMG_7719 IMG_7656Day 6: Sep. 28

The days drag on. Rations grow thin. Our party’s numbers have fallen to only two: The Mallonator and myself, The Shamwow. Still we strike on into the wilderness in pursuit of our ultimate goal, the fame and fortune that await adventure educators, facing bears, bugs, and things that go bump in the night.

And then there are the other boaters. Fortunately, they tend to be comic relief from the fierce predators that stalk our boat by day and prowl at the fringes of our campfire light by night.

We were packing up our boat after lunch today – land lunch, not floating lunch – when a fishing boat puttered slowly around the bend in the river near us, dragging lines behind them. We gave them the boaters’ wave – the one that says “I acknowledge your coolness in context of my own” – and carried on stowing things.

“I don’t see a motor on their boat,” we heard drift to us from across the water.

We looked at each other, laughed, shoved off from shore, and rowed off into the sunset (noonday sun, close enough), blowing the conch behind us.

The conch also makes for a useful tool to ward against unwelcome night-time critters – but that’s a whole ‘nother story.

Fun fact: September 27/28 was the last eclipse of 2015.

Sunset on the Columbia
Sunset on the Columbia (Image: OAR Northwest)

Day 5, Sep. 27

The scene: a sand beach tucked between two yellow hills, overlooking a small town. Some pleasure boaters were out and about – having beers with friends, sitting on other sandy nooks with family. The opposite shore had summer homes, a marina, and limited cell service. As the sun went down, the horizon turned a particular shade of orange-gold that I think you only see in dry place during dawn and dusk.

We sat on a piece of driftwood high in the beach, eating fried veggies with fajita seasoning, alternating with nibbles of hard cheese (such is life), admiring the blue of early sunset that is somehow both pale and deep, when Rachael turned to me:

“Wasn’t it a full moon last night?” Read more

Fun fact: Gifford has a grand total of 60 P.O. boxes.

We saw rowers thiiiis tall! (Image: OAR Northwest)

Day 3, Sep. 25

On Day 2, we had our first brush with fame – a couple of lovely park rangers spotted us and drove their boat over to say hi.

“You’re the ones doing that big trip, right?”

Apparently that’s us. They then informed is, per Rachael’s request, that our mileage estimate was wrong and we had about ten more miles to row that day than we thought we did. So maybe they weren’t quite so lovely. But we didn’t want to disappoint the 23 students of Evergreen School in Gifford, WA. Read more

Fun fact: Growing facial hair is called “pogonotrophy”

Leah and Rachael on their way down river!
Wait a sec? There were viking warrior women too!

The day started inauspiciously – we got to the border at 7 and it didn’t open till 9, we had to search for a good put-in place on the U.S. side of the border, and we had to talk to a video camera. But here we are anyway, after 5 miles of rowing in Canada and 10 in the U.S., some spilled pickle juice, and some Lord of the Rings soundtrack while going through Little Dalles: sitting on a tarp by the edge of the Columbia, ready to read to each other for a while under the stars before going to bed.

Leah bringing the Rowboat classroom to the people!

“Wait a second,” you’re probably thinking, “Jordan and Greg read to each other in the evenings? Like, books? Are the books about Vikings or something?

Dear reader, Rachael and I are not Greg and Jordan. The reason you confused us is probably a combination of our striking facial hair (kidding) and the fact that every other OAR Northwest expedition has featured those two fellows – we’re the first women rowers for OARNW (not kidding).

But you know the drill – we do the rowing thing, you do the posting thing where you share your pictures and stories on this website. Rachael and I have promised a picture a day, when cell service permits, so hold on to your hats for the next 725 miles.

Bring it on, Columbia River.

– Leah

Day 77: River Angels aka the Poche Family

In good company with the USS Kidd
In good company with the USS Kidd

November 18, 2014: Day 77

The next morning we said goodbye to Kathy as she dropped us off downtown. Matt the Ranger met us with all of our gear and leaving took a bit longer as our boats were almost completely filled with water from the previous day’s rains. At least 1000 lbs in each boat. School groups toured the USS Kid and 1940s music wafted down to us as we drained the boats. It was sunny and cold. Matt wished us luck on or quest and we continued down river. Read more

Day 75-76: Deep water and southern hospitality

Treading where only ocean liners go - welcome to Baton Rouge, little rowboat!
Treading where only ocean liners go – welcome to Baton Rouge, little rowboat!

November 16 -17, 2014: Day 75-76

We avoid the rain through mid day as we get close to Baton Rouge. It’s warm and humid. Industry is much more common with far more chatter on the VHF radio and in some places a distinct chemical smell precedes the facility. With the last few turns into the city of Red Stick (Baton Rouge) the rain falls in warm torrents. Below the first bridge we see our first ocean going ships. These are not push boats, they are designed to cross oceans and they are flagged out of Monrovia, Singapore, and other distant ports and are now moored 250 miles upriver from the Gulf in southern Louisiana and filling themselves up with the fluid of industry. The city has allowed us to tie our boats up next to the USS Kidd, a World War II destroyer with an illustrious career in the Pacific Theater. It looks like a hunter. Small, with a sharp bow almost like a razor. It’s fully out of the water, propped up out of the mud on blocks. At high water she would look like she was floating. A gentleman from the City is here to help us. His name is Matt, an ex army ranger working for the city Department of Public Works. He helps us get our stuff into dry, locked space and is apparently unbothered by the rain. Our contact here is Kathy Connerly. She is an ag teacher and now works for the university on the state level to provide support for all of the state’s Ag teachers. She and her husband have opened up their lovely house to us four soaking, stinky rowers and she warms us up with gumbo and southern hospitality. Read more

Day 73: A Hot Cocoa on Beaver Island

protected harborNovember 14, 2014: Day 73

I am astounded how restful an evening can be. Eighteen hours in a place is not long and crossing over from life on the river in a rowboat to a hotel for the night and back on the river comes with culture shock. I prefer to be camping. The comforts of a warm shower and laundry are nice but they are not the same as food and water. Our tiny tribe is simple and each brush with town seemed unnecessarily complex. However, it is cold, we bundle up in most of our clothes and the day’s effort does not produce any sweat. It is much colder than any of us expected Louisiana and Mississippi to be.

A lovely campsite reveals itself about a half hour earlier than we usually stop and it entices us to stay. The sandbar has created a tiny cove for our rowboats and with it a tiny dune. Enough to block the wind allowing the sand to warm. It feels luxurious to recline in the warmth for fifteen minutes doing nothing and just sharing the camaraderie of hard work over months. Soon the sun drops enough to inspire the action of making camp. Fire, shelter and food. I don’t normally drink hot cocoa, but there is a temperature at which that is the only thing that is satisfying and I drink three cups! Read more

Day 72: Natchez Under the Hill and the Bowie Knife

Natchez under the hill
The “Godfather” of the Under the Hill Saloon

November 13, 2014: Day 72

There were no gun shots or knife stabbings at the Under the Hill Saloon. Only music, and a great deal of nostalgia on the walls. A huge man in a diminutive-sized body wearing a scarf and Scottish golfing hat with a white goatee pointed at me and yelled, with accuracy that could be forgiven, that “you must be paddling the river!” (we are rowing) This man is John Davies, a retired bartender for the establishment who maintains a presence as “The Godfather of the Under the Hill Saloon.” It’s actually on four brass plaques screwed into the thick wood table at which he sat. Natchez the city is on a bluff, and everything below the bluff was ‘under the hill’ thus the saloons name. This was the area of town where all the trade happened, and to say it was a rough place was an understatement. To take you back to that time I give you the story of Jim Bowie, a frontier man who was so tough he had a knife named after him. Read more