Wednesday, August 31, 2011

BANKS! - Chapter One

 The headlights dimly shown on the winding road, while outside, the mountains’ silhouettes rose as blackened shadows in the night. The moon’s fractured reflection lit the river, who had etched its path through the mountains, and the road obediently followed beside it. There stood no sign to mark my arrival in Banks Idaho, only the confluence of rivers now shining in the darkness. Weary from my long drive, I parked the truck, crawled into the topper, and descended into slumber.

Having recently moved into my new home of Billings Montana, I found myself in the thralls of my medical residency. Which meant I was thrust into 70 hr work weeks amidst overwhelming challenges of learning the art of medicine. My life became singularly absorbed, meanwhile the other facets of my soul thirsted for time on the water. When my vacation was forced to be taken in the final days of August, my eyes unquestioningly turned towards the Payette drainage of Idaho.  And so in my slumber, I washed away my responsibility and for 10 days to come I would be unreachable by the outside world.

The morning light tugged at my eye lids and they slowly opened to the greet the beginning of my 10 day freedom. Beside me ran the Main Payette River gently rolling by. Following it upstream, I came upon the Banks cafe. In search of fellow paddlers, I stepped into its welcoming doors, sat down at the counter, and ordered a hearty breakfast. Across from me a small group of friendly folk made preparations to paddle. Within one sentence of asking where they were to paddle, I found an invitation for a day’s worth of paddling and new found friends.

I found myself in the good company of Brian and Emily as we slipped into the waters of the South Fork of the Payette river and began paddling what is known as the canyon section. Reaching from from the rivers edge abruptly rose the mountains and their slopes were thickly laden with conifers. As we made or way through the class III and IV whitewater, I sat mesmerized with the clarity of the water and paddled backwards transfixed by the racing river bottom. The cold river waters where met by the steaming of several hot springs along the way. My comfort on the water grew steadily throughout the day. By late afternoon we put on the Main Payette river for yet more moderate whitewater, and from my play boat I enjoyed the rapids offered smiling in the cool waters amongst blue skies and great company.

South Fork of the Payette

As the sun was falling into the western horizon,  Emily, Brian, and I skidded down the raft ramp and playfully launched for a late run on the "staircase section" of the South Fork of the payette. In the shadows of the mountains and the waning daylight we made our way through more beautiful whitewater and soon only the white of the water and whites of our smiles seemed visible amongst the newly risen moon's light. We quietly glided into the confluence of the of the Payettes. Trailing the tail lights of my companions vehicle, I followed them to camp a wooded camp. With hunger quenched and my clothes smelling of campfire, I lay my head to sleep. In my dwindling consciousness, I could hear the roarings of the North Fork of the Payette. Yet even now, I had not witnessed it's gnashings and had only heard the lore of it's infamy. In my dreams the river whispered to me.

I awoke to a quiet morning, the camp empty, as my friends had departed in the first rays of the morn. I stretched the sleep from my body and slowly drove down to Banks Cafe.

 Banks Cafe

After eating what become my usual cholesterol endowed breakfast, I came to find Banks rather devoid of paddlers as the weekend had passed. By noon I had scraped up a group to paddle down the Main for my singular run of the day. By the time I had left the river,  Drew Beezly from Durango invited me to run the Lower Five of the North Fork of the Payette in the coming morning. I was reluctant at first, as I was planning a more gradual progression for myself. But I finally concluding I could wait no longer and accepted the invitation. I spent the remaining hours of sunlight along along the banks of the The North Fork, scouting and planting the lines in my head. My analysis was only halted by looming darkness. My headlights lit my dusty place of rest for night as the "Otter Slide" of the North Fork lay below me. After dinner warmed my stomach, I wandered down the twinkling firelight on small island amongst the waters of the North Fork, I exchanged introductions and laughter amongst good company. There we sat awaiting the arrival of a mutual friend. Andy McMurray was the first paddler I had ever met amidst surfing the waves of Minnesota's Lake Superior, and in the Northwoods we both grew from our paddling infancy. A honk of the horn in the night signaled his arrival, and the night was spent in good cheer amongst old and new friends.

I didn't sleep well that night, along the shores North Fork. The river's song kept me awake both in excitement and in apprehension. I awoke to my usually routine of two pancakes, bacon, an a side of has browns, but on this morning, couldn't finish my breakfast as my stomach had other things on it's mind. At the Bank Cafe found a well wishes on my first run of the North Fork as Emily whisked in and out the cafe in route to the other Forks of the Payette. Later I sat down with Andy and Liz Powers for a bit of catching up, before I stepped into the blinding light as the sun baked the dusty parking lot. I found Drew eagerly awaiting. I readied for battle with  for my first introduction to the North Fork... (to be continued)

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