Thank you!

What a six weeks this has been for me and the other Brigade members. We’ve gone from the Rocky Mountain Trench in Canada south and west through Montana, Idaho and Washington tracing David Thompson’s journey to map the Columbia River. We did it – and there is a saying that goes something like, ‘If you’ve done it, it ain’t bragging.’. We did it. There were about 60 or so I think who paddled the entire six weeks, and I’m glad to be one of that fraternity.

This wasn’t a ‘Bucket List’ kind of thing for me. In the end, however, it has the same kind of satisfying feeling of carving off a Bucket List item. I look different and feel different (more muscles certainly and a beard that I think will come off after the Museum Board’s next meeting) but I’m not sure I’m ready to articulate just what those differences are. They have something to do with how I see myself in terms of determination, and something about the ability to do demanding physical work without complaint. Kind of a ‘get it done’ approach.

Wrapping this up, I want to thank everyone who helped me get it done – Lorna, my kids, the Museum staff and Board, and lots of friends who encouraged me. I also did this Brigade journey as a fund-raiser for the Kelowna Museum’s curriculum-based Fur Trade Program. So the advertisement is that if you’d like to donate to the program that would be wonderful and help ensure these important parts of our Canadian history are passed on to kids in fun and dynamic ways. You can donate at www.kelownamuseums.ca if you are interested and that link will be on the website by tomorrow.

I also want to thank all of you who took the time to read and follow along with this personal blog/journal/diary of mine. I hope it gave you a little insight at least to the times and places we traveled through and into the experiences we faced along the way. Jay will be doing a video of this journey and I’m sure the final cut of it will be advertised on the Brigade’s website (www.2011brigade.org) sometime in the fall. I have put a bid in to do the narration for this, and I know I would have lots of fun in the studio laying down that soundtrack. Here’s hoping.

Cheers,

Wayne Wilson, July 19, 2011

Kelowna, B. C.

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The Red Rogues Revisited

(a little re-cap of the cast of characters along the way – a great crew to paddle this journey with)

Bob – The Captain. What a great job he did getting everything sorted out day-after-day for six weeks – managing everything from the logistics and personalities to medical emergencies and social events.

Chuck – The Rock. None of us can think that there is anything Chuck can’t fix – and an even personality to add to those abilities. A great co-captain and true Red Rogue!

Gord – The Straight Guy. If there is comfort in routine, then Gord gave us this. From his steady good humour to his morning coffee making.

Lavern – The Celebrity. He was thrown into lots of different scenarios – none of them were of his making. And in every instance he represented the Brigade admirably and graciously. And on top of that this guy can ‘pull water’ big time!

Ben – The Enthusiast. With us for the last 2+ weeks, Ben settled in to be a good strong paddler and a good sport about all the ribbing that we all love to give youth!

Keith – The Professor. A line a minute, Keith had a great way of cutting through the daily ‘stuff’ with his clever wit.

Debbie – The Thinker. At every turn she was planning for food or other contingencies we’d all need.

Suzanne – The Hammer. This lady can paddle! She’s kind and strong and very fun, and she was a great asset to the Red Rogues.

Eugene – The Organizer. Steady, steady, steady. Seemed to me that Eugene had an answer to pretty much every situation we met.

Christine – The Quiet. Christine could fit in pretty much anywhere in the boat and did the shifts with a quiet determination that ended each day with her walking that wonderful chocolate lab (Abby) of hers.

Kathy – The Smile. Nothing seemed to keep Kathy down. Kind of a rain/hail/sleet/snow kind of determination.

Kris – The Local. Kris had loads of local information about the places we were paddling through and there was a kind of comfort in that. And he was full of trivia about this history of the place too.

Garry – The Energy. I know he slept, but I’m not sure he needed to. He’d paddle all day and play volleyball in the park with the kids in the evening!

Kaitlin – The Charmer. Like Ben, she brought the kind of enthusiasm that is replete in youth. And she was funny to boot!

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Breakfast of Champions – July 16, 2011

This was our wrap up day. We met (love it) at the Moose Lodge Hall in Astoria and they served us a wonderful breakfast after our six-week journey. The full morning was spent with recognition and celebration for those who brought this whole enterprise together. They deserve so many accolades – from the advance crews to the planners and more, they all did so well to orchestrate what ended up with 195 paddlers wending their way from Invermere, British Columbia to Astoria, Oregon.

Each crew had been asked to prepare a skit or song for this final event. The No Way Corvee team (the young re-enactors from Fort William) had done so much entertaining and the goal was to do something that would entertain/pay tribute to them. Each one was great! For our part, I wrote a take-off on Stan Rogers song, Barrett’s Privateers, which No Way Corvee sang daily on the trip. This was called, Big Bob’s Paddleteers.

Big Bob’s Paddleteers

Oh the year was two oh one and one

How I wish I was in Astoria now

An email came from Big Bob Groves

For the Red Rogues crew we would be slaves

 Chorus

God damn them all

I was told we’d cruise the waves

For historical fame we’d be so brave

Now we’re a broken crew on Astoria’s pier

The last of Big Bob’s paddling career.

Oh the big Brigade was a sickening sight

How I wish I was in Astoria now

It was fat and round and out of shape

But with six whole weeks we’d change our game

 Chorus

 On the 31st day we hit the Gorge

How I wish I was in Astoria now

It was wind in our face and waves to the side

But the smashing and the crashing couldn’t crush our pride

 Chorus

 On the 38th day we paddled again

How I wish I was in Astoria now

Setting ramming speeds down the shipping lane

It was like the Brigade had lost its brains

 Chorus

So here we stand on Astoria’s Shore

How I wish I was in Astoria now

Big Bob’s here with his beard (or not)

And the rest of us laughing like one mad lot

Chorus

I sang the verses and the entire Red Rogues took the Chorus and, personally, I think it was the best of the lot (not that it was a competition you understand)!!!! At the end of each skit/song the organizers handed out a souvenir of the trip and we all filed out for a group photo in front of the Museum.

That was it!

We were done.

The Brigade had achieved its goal and with no problems or hitches or troubles along the way – what a tribute to the organizers and captains and to each paddler for keeping the final goal in sight.

For our part, the Red Rogue crew retired (as you would expect) to the Rogue Pub for a final meal and brew (see photo). And some of us came away with apparel that read ‘Rogue Nation – Dare/Risk/Dream. We did all of these.

Lorna and I, Bob and Colette stayed the rest of the day and had dinner that night with Lavern, Ben and Shirley. The following day we drove 12 hours back to Kelowna and arrived safe and sound. This was country we all thought we’d love to revisit – pretty country and wonderful people; thank you for your kindness and hospitality.

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Paddling to Astoria – July 15, 2011

So this was it – our last day paddling on the rivers of the Pacific Northwest and tracing David Thompson’s epic mapping route of the Columbia River.

This was the day, 200 years ago, that David Thompson arrived in Fort Astoria to meet the employees of the Pacific Fur Company. (BTW – that was the same fur company to send explorers and traders into the Okanagan Valley where I live. David Stewart of the PFC arrived there in 1811 as well.)

The day started out just like all the others – breaking camp and getting breakfast and finding paddles and PFDs and dry bags and getting snacks and water ready for paddle. But there was an excitement around the camp that was palpable – we all knew this was the end of  six weeks of individual effort and team collaboration.

Longview is on the north (Washington) side of the Columbia River and we were heading to Astoria, Oregon on the south side of the river. At some point we’d have to pick our time and cross the shipping channel to slide down river-left to our destination. I was in the first leg again and we pushed off from shore with a pretty good current and no appreciable wind to slow us. This section was to be about a 25 km, and with the current and little wind we were hoping to be about 2 – 3 hours at it.

For the most part, this again was a great steady paddle. I was feeling those ribs of mine, but kept at it and after an hour or so again it was an easier haul. We had a few freighters come our way and one of them gave us some entertainment with the swells it was generating. Who knew that there would be enough speed to these hulks on such a narrow river, but a grey cargo ship passed and left us with huge ocean type swells that we eased over sooooo well.  We met them straight on and rode up and down over them not realizing until we were in the middle of the swells that the troughs of these swells was quite as deep as we thought.

Perhaps the most intriguing sight of this last section I’d be paddling was the number of shoreline piling there were from the relicts of the Columbia River’s salmon canneries. Knowing a little about the history of British Columbia’s resource-based history I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, but seeing them slip past us this way was so new to me. The buildings were long gone and all that remained were long stretches of rotted and moss-covered piles scattered along the miles we paddled. Such a curious network pattern of log piles sticking up through the surface of the river, and behind them on the shore and equally curious series of clearings that must have held warehouses and residences and a the random placement of out-building for this new industry plunked down in the middle of the wilderness a hundred years ago and more.

We picked our way through these hazards to the crew change and the final paddlers for each crew stepped forward for this momentous section of the river we’d come to navigate. The expectation was that this section – about 25 km like the first section – would take just over two hours. The final crews headed out into the now much slower moving river and the rest of us had a quick bite to eat before driving the last few miles in to Astoria to await their arrival.

We drove to the boat launch where the Brigade was to arrive and there we were met by Kris’s wife, Joanne; Lavern’s wife, Shirley; Bob’s wife, Colette; and my wife, Lorna. It was great to see them, and there were lots of hugs and tears and then…the question……’Where are they?’ The last crew was Bob, Lavern, Ben, Cathy, Kris and Christine. We explained they’d be another hour or so and then all went off to get a coffee and some Champaign for the arrival.

We had our coffee and headed out to the end of the pier to wait.

And wait.

And wait.

After about three hours it was getting to feel a bit tense there at the end of the pier. Lots more of the Brigade’s ground crew and first-shift paddlers were there waiting too. What was supposed to be a handy 2+ hour paddle was now over three hours and the weather had turned rainy and cold. Colette had some binoculars in the car and we brought those out and they got well passed around as we watched the far point hoping to see some tiny specs appear. We seemed to wait for the longest time and then we saw it – off in the distance and through the Pacific mist there was one and then two and then the entire Brigade appeared around the far point, and in moment there was a distant line of specs we knew were our crewmates. Tears started to flow as they grew larger paddling toward us, and we could see the Brigade flags they were carrying on the stern of most of the canoes.

The Red Rogues were the third canoe past the end-point of the pier and they were paddling hard. With each stroke we could see the canoe rise and surge ahead and, at one point, there got to be powerful gentle rocking from side to side as they paddled in unison to get every ounce of power from their effort. (I’ve posted a photo of the canoe surging up on one side to give a sense of the speed and power of their work.

We all walked quickly back to the dock to meet them and there was a great rolling sense of accomplishment that eased its way through everyone there. We’d all paddled on that last 200 year celebration day and there was only one arrival ceremony left to prepare for.

A few of us headed off to get changed and we all met back at the dock at 3:30 to begin to prepare our arrival. Soon there were all ten boats loaded with every seat filled and flags flying. Each boat tucked under the dock out of the rain to wait for the last of the preparations and then we were off. It was a short one mile paddle to the Astoria Maritime Museum where we were met by a delegation from the City and an amazing display of black powder rifles and even and small cannon was shot off! We paddled a circle through the foreshore remnants of cannery pilings and ducked in to the downtown wharf for a short parade to be met by the Astoria delegation. The speeches done, one of our organizers, Ross, called on the Thunder Bay group of your historical re-enactors to lead us in Stan Rogers song, Northwest Passage. Now that, let me tell you brought lots of tears through this crowd and especially amongst the Brigaders!

Ceremonies done the various crews headed off – some to hotels and motels and some to the local school grounds where there was an encampment arranged (yes, with showers). A little later everyone got together at the school and the community put on a wonderful lasagna dinner for the entire Brigade. Rodney Brown performed and then the evening was done – though a few did slip off to the Rogue Pub for a final pint for the day!

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Back in the Saddle – July 14, 2011

Kalama to Longview was going to be an interesting stretch of water by everyone’s guess as we were right into the heart of the warehouse and shipping sections of the river downstream of Vancouver/Portland. As we pulled out into the river for the first leg we were flanked on both sides of the river with huge docks and piers looming above us and all manner of cargo ship lashed to them as the cargo davits swung containers into their holds and onto their decks. It was a noisy bit of water too with all those sounds of American economic activity – more activity than we’d seen on lots of stretches of this waterway too!

The first section was about 25 km and I was in the boat this time. For the first hour or so my side was killing me, but there really wasn’t anything I could do about it but suck it up.

Like the previous day’s paddle, this section of the river was full of cargo ships and barges in the shipping channel or anchored and the shorelines were filled with wharves. We did our reception ceremony at Longview and pulled the canoes in to shore to find that Suzanne and Eugene had arrived from Calgary. We knew they would be joining us for the last couple of days but not sure of the exact time – there they were and it was great to see them again. Bob, like me, had pulled some kind of muscle on his side (both side for him though) and he was pretty sore, so Suzanne was delighted to arrive and be able to step right in to a seat in the canoe. She’s a keen and strong paddler.

The tricky part of the day’s paddle was for another of the crews on the Brigade. As it turned out, they got a little close to one of the freighters and got 5 blasts of its foghorn – I gather they don’t give more than 5, then you’re on your own and it’s kind of – ‘Good Luck.’ The crew had tried to steer between an anchored cargo ship and the one moving in the shipping channel. We and the others kept on the far side of the anchored ship, but was all heard the blasts and just hoped there was enough distance between the ships. There was, but I bet the crew had an interesting ride over the wake of the freighter!

There isn’t any law saying the canoes can’t be there – but the ships can’t stop or turn so…. The idea is to stay well out of their way!

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Missing The Boat – July 13, 2011

The departure from Vancouver, Washington to Kalama was to be a three section process and I was to be on the third leg. My ribs were still killing me but I figured it was one of those ‘sports injury’ things where you just get back at it. After all, I kept telling myself after the first few weeks into this journey that we were all ‘Extreme Athletes’. As it turned out fate stepped into my way in the form of a broken down railroad train. As we were heading to the crew change for that third section of the day’s paddle a BNSF (Burlington Northern Santa Fe) train broke down across the siding three cars in front of us. So much for getting back in the saddle. Fortunately for those who had to stay in without a break it was a pretty smooth bit of paddling.

That evening the entire Brigade got together and put on a Pot Luck dinner in order to use up whatever supplies each team had left. As it turned out, the Red Rogues campsite ended up hosting a kind of ‘party’ at the end of the dinner. Tough job that one! But the Rogues were up to it and we didn’t leave too many bottles left full I’m pleased to report. It was funny because the mood of the campsites began to change a little as we began to smell the end of our journey. Things were loosening up and it felt good.

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A Real Meal! – July 12, 2011

This was our last Day Off before the final push down the Columbia River to Astoria, Oregon. Everyone took the opportunity to get a shower or do some laundry or catch up on emails and blogs at various local coffee shops. For myself, I called friends, Lil and Ann, who live in Portland. In the late afternoon they came by and met the Red Rogues and we had some good laughs as they both have pretty good senses of humour. Then they took me off for dinner. We zipped over the bridge from Vancouver back to Portland and sat in a little booth and visited over a very tasty India Pale Ale.

I have to tell you that I did have some great fun when I got back telling my crewmates about the dinner. I had a sumptuous meal of beef tenderloin tips in a cabernet sauce with garlic mashed potatoes and asparagus. To be honest, I can’t remember what it was the Red Rogues had, but I won that round I think!

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The Big City (Vancouver, Wash.) – July 11, 2011

Another beautiful sunrise as we got up around 4:40 to leave by 6:30 and head to the Put-in just below the Cascade Locks dam – the Bonnyville Dam, the last dam we’ll meet on the Columbia River. This was a longer paddle day than we’ve seen for several day with the plan being to paddle about 55 kilometres in two shifts. The first leg was much more scenic and I was glad to be in this section. We slipped into the downriver current and paddled past some beautiful forested landscapes. There were dramatic cliffs and waterfalls and stunning down river vistas to take in. With the running water we were in we made about 13 km in the first hour of paddling.

The trouble for me on this leg was that, just before our first break after an hour or so of paddling, I pulled a muscle on my left side low where the lat muscles tie in to the ribs. God it was painful and there was no way to get out – more it was one of those ‘suck it up’ occasions. I was calling the switches, and sliding from left to right was fine and I could pull some good water on the right side. Sliding to the left side was completely different and I don’t think I made one switch to the left without having to give a little hop for the last 25% of the canoe seat. Then I couldn’t pull much water either – and we had more than two hours to go. I made it alright, but was pretty sore and tried to find so relief in Ibuprofen and an ice pack and some A535 type cream on those muscles.

The Brigade did a ‘show’ at 4:00pm at the Vancouver Marine Waterfront Park and quite a few locals came out for the entertainment and the People in Boats program. Even the local Senator was there.

The evening was reserved for The Red Room bar where the Monday evenings were for Blues (versus Heavy Metal). This was the bar Bob and the others had scoped out and we went and ate and waited for the entertainment to start. Great burgers btw! The opening solo act came on, but I couldn’t make it much past this with the ribs of mine like that, so ducked out at that point and headed back to camp and slept to almost 6:00am the next day.

I gather it was a good time and the band even played the theme song from Deliverance for fun!

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Thunder Island – July 10, 2011

The early morning reprieve we had was short lived and we were up again at 4:00am for a 6:00am ‘Put In’ below the dam at the Cascade Locks. At least we would have some current again and everyone was looking forward to that as we all know the further downstream we get the less current there will be. No that there is anything wrong with lake paddling, it’s just that it’s more exciting with a current in your direction.

The little goal for the first leg, which I was in, was to form up in a ‘V’ shape of the 9 canoes. This was because Jay (the Brigade’s videographer) had talked someone in to taking out their floatplane to get some shots of the Brigade from the air. The Red Rogues were to be the Sweep boat on the left leg of the ‘V’, and all would have gone better if it weren’t for the winds that kept throwing off. Despite this, I asked Jay afterward how it went and he said that he shot a bit of this in slo-mo and it looked pretty good. This was a short paddle for the first leg and after about 14 km we pulled out for the second crew to step in. On this leg, Ben sat in the bow for the first time, and it was good experience for him to meet the kind of weather and wind we were facing. Not too harry for a first-timer, but he had to work at it and there is a lot to think about to keep up the cadence in gusty conditions. Lavern was in the seat behind him giving him tips as we went along. At one point I overheard him tell Ben, ‘Tuck up close to the gunnels, Ben’ and he would tuck in. this happened a few times and finally I heard Lavern say, ‘Come on Ben, tuck up close to the gunnels. Just imagine it’s your girlfriend.’ Of course I had to relate that to the camp a little later in the evening!

The road crew drove to the cascade Locks for the next night’s camp and we shuttled the smallest of the vehicles over a very thin bridge over the old locks to Thunder Island for the night. Then Bob, Kris and Christine headed in to Portland to scout out a venue for the Red Rogues and whoever else from the Brigade to spend the evening in a blues bar. That’s the Red Rogues – always thinking of others and of a party!!!

The crew from the second leg got in after about only 2 hours of paddling – a shorter time than anyone had anticipated. Then again, the winds we’d encountered dies out after only a few kilometers. When they did get in they had the treat of ‘shooting’ the swift water moving through the old locks! It looked pretty exciting.

For dinner it was bbq chicken and I made a Greek Salad. Then it was off to another crew’s camp for a birthday celebration for one of their members. This was sure welcome after the day’s paddle.

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More Wind – July 9, 2011

What a treat the morning brought – we didn’t have to leave until 7:00am for our paddle from The Dalles to Hood River. I know it’s only half an hour extra for sleep in, but after the last few days of EARLY hours, this was wonderful. The first shift headed out from the little eddy where we’d locked the boats the afternoon before and they looked particularly picturesque this morning as they headed into the smooth fast current of eddies and swirls on the Columbia. Wouldn’t you know it that my camera batteries died just as they were pulling into that current looking so damned good!

This first-leg crew had a good paddle with little wind, a good current and cool temperatures, and it only took them about two hours to cover their section. The second leg had more wind and it continued to build the entire time we were paddling. It was Christine’s first time in the bow I think and she did great at it maintaining a good cadence in the bouncing waves that met us head-on. Again, the Red Rogues came in to our destination – Hood River – first. (not that it’s a competition you understand). As we came in we paddled under the Hood River bridge on river-left and were met with the sight of about 20 wind surfers and/or kite surfers. I hope this gives you an idea of the kinds of winds we’ve been getting along this section of the river. Nevertheless, we got in about 11:30am. And set up camp quickly.

We had a bit of time to do some laundry and have one of those overdue showers here. We also got a bit of a look around the town and if I were the ‘tourism guy’ I’d be telling you what a great little downtown core there is here with lots of shops and coffee joints and surrounding it are wonderful homes looking to be largely from the 1920s and 30s. Quaint, and looking out over the Columbia River and the very cool older ‘big bridge’ technology.

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