There lies a spirit and a character to every river. The North Fork of the Payette moves in soul of all who have paddled it and it's rumbling presence echos in the memory of all who have been touched by it's waters. Surrounding this river is a community of paddlers united by admiration, respect, and exhilaration found amongst it's violent gnashings.
Myself and Drew drove Northward up Hwy 55 which follows the entire length of the North Fork. We stopped to scout "Crunch" and "Juicer". I tried to imprint the lines in my memory, but knew that once at river level it would be difficult to put together what I was viewing now. I quieted my mind deciding to let go and take each drop as they came. I put aside all preoccupations on lines and focused on maintaining good paddling technique, while following Drew's instruction.
We geared up while the sun was just beginning to create the midday heat. I slowly gearing up and plodded down to the riverside. Drew sat ready with a smile. I took a quick glance at "Hounds Tooth" and jumped into my boat and snugged myself in. The run would begin immediately as we pealed out and I was about to experience my first baptism by the North Fork of the Payette. Within 50 ft we snuck between boulders and I laid the first boof of the day. I landed satisfactorily in a small calm pool. We ferried out into the meat and began the journey.
It began as busy Class IV with waves crashing abound and minor holes with their grip fleeting. Even then, I kept my guard and my paddling focused. Gradually, it appeared that the river increased it's intensity. On a large breaking wave I misplaced a stroke and was reminded that little error was tolerated. I was overturned, but instantaneously found myself rolled and upright. The water's then calmed for minute before we reached Otter Slide.
I had been camping along side this stretch of river and was well familiar with it and felt comfortable as Drew and I rounded the left bend with a few instructions on the line relayed to me. Hugging tight to the river right shore we punched through the a couple awkwardly angled holes before regaining speed. Drew caught a tight right eddy, but I found myself in no way able to enter it and continued onward. A head of me, I felt calm and picked my way through a run-out of fun class IV whitewater.
We paddled onward and the river migrated closer the the roadway signaling the oncoming onslaught. Ahead lay "Juicer" and I knew the North Fork was about to give me the first real test. We eddied on the river left and went over the line again. I took some deep breaths and Drew asked, "You ready?" I mustered an inexpressive, "Yep", and we ferried out. Ahead on the horizon line I could see water erupting into the sky and dancing in the air....... and then it began.
The world began to warp as the acceleration took hold and the river constricted. The waters reflected off the walls unpredictably and yet ahead the line Drew had explained began to unfold before me. Following a raging ramp of water, bordered by two looming laterals, I worked from river left to right. As the ramp closed in on me quickly and punched river right temporarily blinded as I was blasted by the force of the lateral. The world continued to accelerate and strokes became instinctual and the battle became primal in nature. Another lateral came on my left and forced me further right and I fought it off. Ahead on the right I caught a glimpse of large wall of holes ahead of me on the river right. I began working furiously to the left. But the river offered no mercy. Desperately fighting left, I found the the meat of the crashing holes still loomed in my path. I resigned to the river and stopped fighting. I turned my boat into a less vulnerable position... and faced my licking head on. A large blast of water beat against my chest brutally and a white blindness enveloped me as I braced. When I could see again I found that I had been typewriter-ed back on line and was nearer to the river left. Ahead a final large hole lay ahead and I turned and lined up. Another blast of blindness and then I emerged into busy class IV. I was relieved and felt the tremor of adrenaline about me. I found Drew smiling in a nearby eddy and I let out a "whoop" of both catharsis and excitement.
We paddled on, and only one last challenge remained. A short ways downriver we again sat in a small eddy above "Crunch". We peeled out with after a simple conversation of the line. We ferried to the river left and immediately found myself instinctively boofing a large irregular hole near the river right bank, meanwhile Drew sat in a eddy grinning as I blew by it. I was on my own to find the lines. I followed the water ahead and fought back to the river left charging through a few large and blinding holes. Atop the peaking waves, I surveyed my line an continued along the left bank. Multiple sets of holes blasted my vision and slowed my momentum as I fought on. The river eased and I began to feel the elation pulse through me. The worst was behind me. The waters of the North and South fork converged as we took to the shore and dismounted are boats. A tremor lay in my hands and knees as the adrenaline persisted in my blood and fueled a wide smile.
For the remainder of the afternoon I took it easy cooling myself from the summer heat with dual playboat runs on the main with companions. I slept that night soundly dreaming of days ahead. Banks quieted over the next days. Yet I found another paddler to run the Canyon of the South Fork of the Payette. The next morning I met up with Drew and again ran the Lower Five for the second time. My nerves calmed and I began to relax on the lower five and began to feel the rhythm of the river.
The day after, I rested myself waking late in the morning and attending to my usual cholesterol laden breakfast. My new friend Brian Ward sat down at my table and I looked up to see Eric Boomer sit down beside him. Inhaling my breakfast, I chatted with Boomer for a bit outside the cafe as I had nothing but time and he awaited a ride Northward to McCall. It was refreshing to chat with a professional paddler whom I had only seen in magazines, and yet found him to be humble, down to earth, and devoid of egotism.
By the time the Friday prior to labor day rolled in, Banks was getting busy. Paddlers from all over the nation flocked to the Payettes for their vacation. In the Cafe I ran into Emily and we hit the Staircase section and Main Payette before retiring to spectating the local crew running the entire North Fork.
I ran the Lower Five one last time before the crowds of paddlers clogged the Banks parking lots. With the few days remaining I decided my time amongst the Payettes had come to a close. I reluctantly said goodbye to new friends and on my last eve we sat by the light of headlamps, and I sung a few playful songs accompanied by my ukelele amongst the night's star filled sky.
The next morning I drove slowly home and within a few hours from Banks found myself lonesome for the rivers and friends I had turned from. But the days of my vacation wained and the woe of work hung heavy upon me. I made a last stop in Sun Valley to visit a friend and made the long drive home to Montana.
My journey to the Payette drainage still hangs still vivid in my memory. The spirit of the Payettes still tugs at strings of my soul. Meanwhile, to the community of people who feast in the bounty of the Payettes: I am ever thankful for welcoming kindness.