Why Do I Keep Boating?


It’s a hassle getting ready for a trip and a pain in the butt cleaning up after one. After 35+ years of doing this to myself, there’s gotta be something else there.

Why do I keep boating? And why am I thinking about this now? Maybe because I’m in a post-trip cleanup phase. Maybe I’m just in a contemplative mood. Maybe I’m just cranky. Whatever. The question does come up for me every once in a while.

I do agree with something NRS’s founder, Bill Parks, wrote in earlier catalogs. “At first the excitement kept me coming back for more… Eventually I realized that what I love most about kayaking and rafting isn’t really the adventure. It’s the people.”

This recent trip sure brought that truism to mind. First of October, Lower Salmon River, eight of us. Al Harris drove shuttle, Dave McConnell and his California Girl bride Liz were on the trip. First time I boated with Al and Dave was about 25 years ago on a Main Salmon trip. We drove to the put-in in a big farm truck with high, wood-slated sides covered with tarps. There was a massive wooden picnic table in back and a keg in a cutoff oil drum. My older son Ben had all the right moves with the oars, he just wasn’t big enough to muscle them yet. Matt was probably in first or second grade; I remember Al and Dave chuckling about him sitting up at the campfire, telling dinosaur and knock-knock jokes, while this rough bunch was probably spinning knocker jokes.

View From the Groover # 1. When the seat’s cold, you don’t linger. There was frost on the boats this morning. ©Clyde Nicely

Elton Jones and his lovely lady Codi were there. I remember celebrating Elton’s 15thbirthday in the Grand Canyon in 1988; he was there with his dad. In 2006, we did that trip again, with Elton rowing his own boat; more on that later.

Liz’s son Robert was along. Big, loud and brash, he’s a good boatman and good help in camp, though sometimes he’s got more energy than good sense. For example, after graduating from college, he decided to do a solo trip to celebrate. He spent 6 ½ days running the Salmon River from Stanley, Idaho, out to the Snake River and down to Clarkston, Washington, about 310 miles. It was at the peak of spring flow, and for those of you who know the Lower Salmon, the flow was over 70,000 cfs. He shot Slide Rapid and stayed upright… in a 12-foot raft. Most stop running the Lower when it gets over 20,000 cfs, because of the Slide. Even Robert admits that in addition to skill there was lots of luck involved in the success of that stunt.

The coffee pot and folding camp oven are the natural gathering spots on a cold morning. ©Clyde

Davin and Alaina, Robert’s friends, drove up all the way from southern Idaho to join us. Davin did his first whitewater rowing in Dave’s little 12-foot raft so Robert could IK. They were fun and good help.

View From the Groover # 2. It’s warmer up on that far ridgeline where the sun’s hitting. Gonna be a long time til it’s on our beach. ©Clyde Nicely
The Hat: Dave found his river hat by the side of the road many years ago. It was sweat-stained and shapeless then. It’s only gotten better with age. ©Clyde Nicely

Dave and I have heard each other’s stories many times, but we still laugh at them anyway. Liz still puts up with my razzing her ‘cause she wants a hot shower every night and has that god-awful 6″ thick, tent-filling air mattress. Elton packs the heaviest ice-filled cooler, afraid the beer will get warm, and he’s always on morning can-flattening detail. Codi marinates the best bite-size steak and has a great laugh. Robert’s as full of poop as a Christmas turkey, but he’s good natured about the ribbing I give him.

And it’s fun to help introduce new people to a river. You never get the chance to run a stretch for the first time more than once. I do enjoy watching folks like Davin and Alaina experience that first-time thrill.

So yes, the people are a big part of why I still love boating. But there’s more, much more out there for me. The country is so damn beautiful! Whether it’s richly forested scenery like the upper Middle Fork Salmon or Selway, dry craggy country like the lower sections of the Salmon or the Owyhee, or the cathedral splendor of the Grand Canyon, it’s just truly awe inspiring. I never get tired of it.

View From the Groover # 3. It’s big country. And we’re the only rafters on the river. ©Clyde Nicely

Ah, and the camping; now that’s the icing on the cake for me. I love sitting there by the river, sipping a cold or hot one, listening to the water, marveling that it just keeps flowing downstream. It’s good to camp near a rapid; this last trip our final night was in a quiet stretch, and the next morning everyone complained about the snoring. I didn’t hear a thing.

Then throw in some wildlife sightings, a great sunset or sunrise, enough excitement to make good stories, hopefully the song of the canyon wren, and I’m a happy boater. Guess I’m kinda like that firehouse dog that jumps on the truck when the alarm bell rings. Somebody says, “How about a raft trip?” and I’m ready to buy in.

The Crew: Standing (l to r) Alaina, Codi, Elton, Davin, Dave and Liz. Kneeling, Robert. ©Clyde Nicely

Now if I could just get somebody to clean up this mess.

—Clyde Editor NRS e-News

Two fine boats. E-150 on the left and Sport II on the right. ©Clyde Nicely
Codi and Elton relaxing in a calm stretch of the Salmon. ©Clyde Nicely

P.S.: I mentioned Elton rowing his own boat down the Grand. That was in 2006. The boat is an NRS Sport II. 14′9″ long, 7′ wide, 20″ tubes made out of 840-denier/43 ounce 80% Hypalon material, a beautiful boat. And I know it well; I bought it in 1983.

In 2006 I bought my NRS E-150, and Elton and Codi bought the Sport. That boat’s been down the Grand three times and has more miles than I can count on many other rivers.

As I’ve told many a customer, if that Sport is still going strong after 30 years, an NRS Otter or E-boat will last a lifetime.

Elton and Codi, I’m glad the boat is in good hands!