When my dad was 17, he floated 60 miles of the Colorado River on a ping-pong table. Along with two friends, he set off like Huck Finn into the wilderness to see what might happen. Luckily, they tested their “raft” in the neighbors pool before setting off. The suburban backyard didn’t have the desert winds or rapids that quickly poo-pooed their primitive rudder system, but the contraption did indeed float. Somehow.
Fast-forward 45 years to a smaller river in Oregon, where Rob and I loaded his grandson onto a real raft for a 5-day, 70-mile float. Even though I’ve been on dozens of river trips, rafting with a 9-month-old felt a lot like getting on a rickety ping-pong table strapped to some inner tubes: precarious. I wasn’t scared of the Class III/IV rapid we’d cross on the John Day River. I wasn’t scared of wildlife or weather events. I wasn’t even scared that Talon might fall in the river. I was terrified, however, that Mr. Wiggly-Crawly-Has-To-Stand-And-Move would scream bloody murder about being trapped in a small space.
Talon, like his grandfather, is an adventurer at heart. But, unlike his grandfather, he required a LOT more gear to get down his first river. My dad and his friends took a couple of lawn chairs to sit in, sleeping bags to huddle in, and a wooden chest bolted to the middle of the “raft” to hold food (and quite possibly beer). Our party of roughly the same size filled a 14-foot boat to the gills. To be fair, Talon’s gear accounted for one medium-sized dry bag. Kipp, Rob and I, however, like having tables and guitars and comfy tents and binoculars and all sorts of other fun toys. Plus, we brought along a 110-pound wolf/shepherd, too, which really impacted the Jenga-like raft packing system.
Once we figured out how to rig the boat to contain the giant dog, tiny baby, three adults, and oddly-shaped gear, we were off. Sort of. Turns out that he John Day is awfully slow. Low flows and up-canyon winds combined to push us backward instead of forward. Uncle Kipper saved the day by rowing non-stop … for five days. Meanwhile, Rob and I took turns corralling Talon in the bow, scouring the red riverside cliffs for new birds, and generally enjoying the pace of life on water. (Thanks, Kipp.)
Talon’s highlights from his first river trip include:
- watching a pair of peregrine falcons
- playing with zippers in the tent
- banging on a bucket
- staring at riffles
- eating rocks
His parents’ highlights from the John Day include:
- mom sleeping in a separate tent to enjoy uninterrupted sleep
- dad teaching Talon to give high-fives
- not riding on a ping-pong table
- good conversations
The rafting trip was such a success that we decided to try our luck at a second week. We traded in the raft for the car and headed to the Oregon coast for an impromptu extended vacation — and my worst fear was realized. The car seat always causes Talon to scream bloody murder. Fortunately, he forgot the torture of the road as soon as we arrived at new shores, full of new rocks to taste and new waves worthy of his gaze.