I wake up to my alarm at 4:30am. It’s a Friday morning, and I’m on my way to the nearby bus station to catch my 6am Greyhound from Vancouver, British Columbia to Coeur D’Alene, Idaho. As a returning Sea Kayak Adventures guide, I’ve been invited to join the rest of the ROW Adventures team on a staff rafting trip. It’s been five years since the last time I’ve gone rafting, so this trip is met with both excitement and a bit of nervousness. Nevertheless, the Greyhound shuts its doors, and I’m off.
After pit stops in Seattle and Spokane, I finally arrive in Coeur D’Alene, ID. I’m greeted by Betsy Bowen, co-owner of ROW Adventures with her husband Peter Grubb. Betsy is a high-energy, positive and generous person. Upon arriving to downtown Coeur d'Alene, I am taken aback by its beauty and charm. Situated right by Lake Coeur D’Alene, the city offers picturesque views of the lake itself as well as forested hills and mountains. Just outside the downtown core across the Spokane River, elk and deer roam freely.
I spend the night in Coeur d'Alene, and the next day Betsy and I drive to Clarkston, Washington to meet the rest of the ROW team for the annual staff barbeque. Getting to Clarkston requires driving through the beautiful valleys of the Palouse. Coming from BC, my skyline is often met with tall mountains and dense forests. Here in the Palouse however, although 2,400 feet above sea level, I’m greeted with rolling green hills and flat farmland. Being this high up but seeing hills and flat land leaves me slightly confused as I’ve become accustomed to seeing mountains at this kind of altitude. Though strange to me, the views are breathtaking and I find myself simply staring out the window looking at some of the biggest sky I’ve ever seen in my life.
Driving towards Clarkston down Spiral Road, views of the Clearwater River, as well as the town of Lewiston come into sight. Stating the obvious, I mention that these two towns must’ve been named after renowned explorers, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.
We arrive at the ROW warehouse in Clarkston, WA. Already many of the other guides have arrived for the festivities. More would soon be coming as well. Although only for a moment, I feel overwhelmed with meeting the other guides, especially being the lone Canadian sea kayak guide, while the others are all local (or close to) river guides. Despite it all, I make my introductions and tell any interested persons about Canada and what it’s like to be a kayak guide in the Johnstone Strait of British Columbia. Amongst my new acquaintances is Peter Grubb, ROW Adventures’ owner. Peter is an incredibly positive, outgoing and humorous man. Starting ROW Adventures at the tender age of 21, he’s also mightily experienced and unsurprisingly knowledgeable.
The next day is spent with the fellow guides learning all about ROW’s history, policies and procedures. That night however, we pack up and grab our gear in preparation for our rafting excursion the following day.
We head off to the Salmon River Canyon early the next morning. Along the way, Peter Grubb provides excellent interpretative stories about Lewis and Clark, the Nez Perce people, and local Idahoan natural history. We also take a brief pit stop at White Bird Valley, the site where a handful of Nez Perce Indians fought hundreds of US Cavalrymen, and won! This sparked the battle of White Bird and the ensuing war between the Nez Perce people, led by the infamous Chief Joseph, and the US Calvary.
After a four hour drive, we arrive at our put in to the Salmon River Canyon. Safety talks ensue, people gear up, and before we know it, we’re off! Immediately, the river offers its first big rapid, Vinegar Creek, where two of our small, inflatable kayaks (known as “duckies”) flip and swimmers need to be rescued back into their boats. Off to a wild start!
Around us, the Salmon River Canyons provides amazing views of the Idaho Batholiths; tall rocky cliffs, with patches of lush greenery near the top, speckled with Ponderosa Pine trees. Once again, I’m taken back by the natural beauty and uncommon sights for a born and raised British Columbian. Where I’m from, trees are almost always found clumped together to make dense forests. Here, however, the Ponderosa Pine is sparsely spread out; I’m later informed by Peter Grubb that the trees spread out like that to avoid forest fires from breaking out.
Over the next four days, we guides begin a series of team building exercises as we raft down the Salmon River. The river itself offers a delicate balance of fun class III and IV rapids, including the daunting Ruby Rapid, as well as relaxing flat waters. Finally, after our fourth day of rafting, we travel down to our take out. I take one last glance at the towering cliffs beside me, now part of the mountain range called the Seven Devils, and once again I’m left breathless at its immense beauty.
We travel back to our warehouse in Clarkston, and it’s not long before some of the guides begin to depart to prepare for their upcoming seasons. Things for me however, are not done just yet. I learn I will be accompanying some of the fellow guides to the small town of Syringa to paddle to mighty Lochsa River. After a night of rest, we set off the following afternoon.
Syringa is a small town, surrounded by tall Grand and Douglas Firs, as well as Western Red Cedars. It strangely reminds me of home back in BC. We stay at the cute and charming River Dance Lodge, a ROW Adventures sister company that offers guests the option of staying in modern log cabins or glamping tents. At guide camp, anticipation grows as all of the fellow guides start getting pumped up to paddle down the Lochsa. Described as a “whitewater playground” I find myself excited and somewhat scared that some of the larger class IV rapids may eject me from my raft and into the river. Regardless, I go to bed that night full of anticipation.
The next morning I scarf down a quick breakfast, gear up and hop on the big red school bus, accompanied by fellow guides, as well as 21 excited guests. As the bus travels alongside the Lochsa, we all get a chance to scout out some of the rapids, sizing them up as if each were an opponent to eventually defeat. Not before long, we arrive at the put in.
Much like the Salmon River, we’re immediately faced with a big class III rapid. Guests in the front my raft can be heard “Woo-hoo’ing” and “Yew-haw’ing”! The mighty Lochsa is a 20 mile stretch covering more rapids that I can remember. We’re often met with superb class III and class III-plus rapids. But finally, we begin hitting some of the bigger holes, like Ten Pin Alley and House Rock. But none was bigger than Lochsa Falls. This class IV rapid descends into a huge drop, immersing our raft in a wall of whitewater! The rapid was even powerful enough to send one of our guides in another raft up into the air, and into the water! But like any professional raft guide, he was quick to self-rescue and hop right back into his boat.
After paddling in constant rapids for close to six hours, we finally make it to our take out only a handful of miles from the River Dance Lodge. It’s been a long, hard day of paddling, but I’m left feeling elated and utterly satisfied.
It’s now the final day of my time here in Idaho. Heartfelt goodbyes were said to the fellow ROW guides as a great bond was created over the last ten days. I’m now waiting for my bus back home to Vancouver, but it’s with mixed emotions. On one hand, I had a great time here in Idaho meeting some amazing human beings while taking in wonderful sites and awesome rapids; but on the other hand I’ll be returning home where soon I’ll be guiding trips through the wild coast of supernatural British Columbia.
Looking back on the week and a half that was, Idaho has far surpassed any expectations I might have had before heading into a state famous for its potatoes. I’ve been greeted with some of the best river rapids North America has to offer, spectacular views of the Palouse and Seven Devils, and met some truly wonderful people. But there’s one thing that’s missing, something so wild and powerful, something intrinsic in my saltwater blood, and that something is the sea. I’m stoked to return the coast of BC where whales and sea lions await. Idaho, it’s been a blast, but the Orcas and Humpbacks are calling my name…