The First Descent E-mail
Written by Ema Grey   
Tuesday, 13 August 2013 18:35

JAU 9336 Portrait

Standing under the beating central Oregon sun, dug into a sixty degree incline of a bank alongside the John Day River, Allen Bushnell scanned the flowing water for signs of debris. Sweat dribbled from his brow, and his lungs, transitioning from the recent aqueous intrusion, sucked in air approaching 100 degrees.  A fleeting glimmer of reddish-orange flashed dully beneath the sparkling ripples of the current. A Plano box, perhaps, and one of but many possessions recently given to the fabled smallmouth fishery's waters. Further downstream, another burst of color came into light. Neither stationary nor submerged, the image made its way through the high desert’s heat waves and onto Allen’s slowly clearing retinas. No longer a mélange of color and movement, the form soon took the shape of a human, and a recognizable one at that.

“I saw a throw bag float by,” stated the vision, “and when it was followed by an orange, I figured that you were in trouble.”

Twenty-five minutes prior had Allen, an accomplished saltwater kayak angler and well-respected guide, entering into his first river descent. He was used to moving water, formidable hazards, and the need to possess in one’s mind a healthy respect for nature and all of its technical demands.  Rivers, however, have long remained a metaphor for life’s omnipresent array of challenges, and this one, a relatively tame and seasonally mild lifeline for Oregon’s hot and dry east side, was to place within Allen’s hands an awakening, of sorts.

With tragedy often comes growth, and the maturing of Allen started with his boat's bow being caught by an eddy on river left. Recovering from the spin, he stopped, fished, and waited for the rest of the party to pass. Now alone, and positioned as the trailing member of his group, Allen eased back into the flow and was immediately caught against a boulder. Leaning into the wave, he managed to hold on for a few seconds. It didn’t take long, though, for the boat to flip, and for the river to claim a trip’s worth of food, tackle, and humility.  A three piece rod was now able to be segmented in a quadruple fashion. Two other poles were nowhere to be seen; the same could be said for the rocket launchers into which they were leashed.

With boat in tow, Allen soon came upon the aforementioned bank, and set about a process of regaining breath and assessing the situation. With his party well downstream, he was low on both energy and supplies. His paddle, though in view, was making its own way down the river; his spare was safely stowed in partner, Allen Sansano’s, vessel.  The later Allen, however, was amongst the leading edge of the expedition’s crew.

“Well, at least I got THAT over with,” Allen yelled to his encroaching companion.

“I’ll take a few dives and see what I can turn up,” replied Mark Veary. From the freshwater Poseidon’s grip soon came a paddle and steelhead rod.  Mark, however, could not find the missing third pole. A complete grid search was performed, and nearly all supplies - sans rod - were brought back to terra. Salvation, though, comes not in physical form. Before resuming the float, Mark, a man possessing a true waterman's background, bestowed upon Allen a few tips and tricks applicable to a riverine environment.

Mark later stated, "I was really glad that this happened, ‘cause I got to spend the rest of the day fishing and trading stories with someone who’s exploits I’ve been reading about for years, and who’s rabid drive to catch fish matches my own."

The pair were soon seated at the first night’s camp, and the time-honored tradition of shit-flicking was underway. Kayak fishermen, the ubiquitous bastions of altruism and hand-lending, cannot simply tear into their brethren without bettering both the sport and target. The party, therefore, turned the rum-soaked evening into a celebration of survival, a testament to the river’s power, and a forum in which the freshwater veterans dispensed the know-how necessary to keep Allen alive and happy for the rest of the descent. Added Mark, " Even though everyone on the trip was a highly experienced kayak fisherman, it would have been a good idea to take five minutes to review safety protocols and strategies for dealing with moving water."

“The best thing was that this incident happened,” reflected Allen, “I gained instant respect for the power of the river. The incident taught me about the proper amount of caution. By the end, I was taking the path of most resistance. I learned that, when sideways, to keep my rail upstream, and to go faster than the current. I learned to enjoy the ride and to travel with the flow. I mean, at the end, I was taking routes akin to the log plume on the Santa Cruz pier. It was enjoyable and what I sought. I looked forward to the rapids."

 

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