The Salmon “River of no return”
Getting there is half the fun…
Well, after five years of talking about going, we finally made it to Riggins. I’m pretty sure we took the long way getting there. Nice scenery, but long. We went over Hwy 140 through Klamath Falls to Lakeview on the first day. It began snowing at the bottom of the first hill out of White City, Oregon. The temperature began dropping and dropped the further we went. It’s the first time I’ve ever drained the block in the boat on the way to a race because it was so darn cold, I thought I might pop some freeze plugs. It was also the first time I ever ran in 4-wheel drive through a snowstorm towing a boat! Lynn and I both kept saying to each other “It’s snowing and we’re going racing, I can’t believe it…”
We also acquired a noxious little memento of the road somewhere along the way. I don’t know where we got it, but there was cow flop all over the boat and trailer when we got to Lakeview. It was frozen right in with a layer of slush from the road. We stayed in Lakeview that night. Overnight it snowed some more, melted slightly, then froze again. It all combined into a layer of ice covering both sides of the hull, topped with a layer of pure white powder on the horizontal surfaces. The Cavefish with its red paint job and snow on the carb cover, front deck and rollbar, looked like a Christmas card from a speed shop. You couldn’t really see the cow offerings as separate from the rest because they were mixed with a layer of ice.
The next morning was sunny and we drove north out of Lakeview, along Abert Rim. It’s high desert there and I find it quite scenic. Got to see two National Guard F-15s playing out over the desert, stopped to watch them for a bit. It was still cold and the boat was still frozen.
We turned east at Riley and trucked on through the desert, which gradually gives way to the farm country around Ontario, then crossed the Snake and headed North through Idaho. Never been there before, but it is very beautiful country and I will go back someday just to fish and look.
By the time we got to Riggins, it had warmed up and the liquid part of the ice shell on the boat had melted and run off, leaving behind just the dry cow offerings. NOT a pretty picture. Not a pretty smell either, come to that. Derek Ely said he had the same mess on his boat when he got there. Where’s the car wash??
Derek and Tristan. Tristan is getting her first ride in the race boat.
Riggins and the river
Riggins is a happy little town of about 500 Idahoans in the bottom of a canyon. It's at an altitude of around 1800 feet. The Little Salmon River meets the Salmon River at the South end of town. We followed the Little Salmon down off the high country by New Meadows into Riggins and the last ten miles is steep and almost total whitewater. The banks from the top to the bottom were lined with fisherman! Lots of evidence of high water and the Little Salmon changing course on a regular basis. Noticed a few cement wing dams here and there.
Riggins has one main street and is geared towards helping visiting fisherman and river nuts, powered and unpowered, to have a good time. There are several great restaurants and nice places to stay. Everyone is glad to see you! The town offers jetboat trips, guide services and kayak/raft trips and rentals. From the stories I heard, some truly psycho-awesome jetboat operators run out of here.
The sparkplug behind this race is the Riggins Chamber of Commerce and Sam Whitten, a local guide, outfitter and former racer, owner of River Adventures Ltd. Great job!
Tech in and the boat show were in downtown Riggins on Friday evening. There were bands in a couple of local saloons as well as food booths on the street. Fun times, lots of people partying. It rained off and on early, but that didn’t seem to slow down the good times. Riggins, besides being set in one the most beautiful places on earth, is also a heck of a fun town.
This is a well-attended race, lots of people came by looking at the boats and asking questions. The sprint boaters had a non-points race setup in Box Canyon for Saturday and they also had some of their boats at the show. I very much enjoyed talking to the racers and getting a close look at these little rockets - they are even smaller than Cavefish, but even so, every one of them packs a much bigger punch! Boy, I would love to try driving one of those just once, they gotta have some unbelievable off the line acceleration with those big nozzle axial flow pumps and all that horsepower.
The Salmon race is out on the main Salmon and runs from the boat launch at Hammer Creek, near Whitebird, upriver 22 miles to Lucile and back. The course was shortened by about seven miles in 2000 because it was getting a rep as a boat eater. The Salmon would get about a boat a race before being shortened. We drove down the highway that runs along the river and looked at some of those spots that were cut out of the race, places with names like Chair Creek and Time Zone. With the river running at about 18000 cfs they were definitely boat eaters. Big boat eaters too, my little boat wouldn’t even make them burp! I was a little worried about even stopping close to them on the highway; I could almost feel the suction. Those who have raced through those monsters in years past have my utmost respect and admiration.
The race lineup by start order looked like this:
Paul Bagshaw and Rob Soul’e of Roseburg, Or, took a first at Roseburg
211 “Danger Zone”
Will Chandler, of the racing Chandlers and BJ Wyatt, from North Bend, Or, second at Roseburg
280 “Rump Shaker”
Chuck Thompson and Jim Madden both of Grangeville, Idaho, 3rd at Roseburg
Jake Wyatt and Jim Havaneur182 “Risky Business”C-Class
Dave Provost and Dave Wyland (The Dave & Dave show) from Grants Pass, Or, first at Roseburg
Dean Saxon and Rich Boice from Grants Pass, Or, second at Roseburg11 “say, what is the name of that boat anyway?”
Derek Ely and Toby (our personal award for best nav) from Grants Pass, Or, first at Roseburg
Jess LaForest (me) and Lynn Mouser, Klamath, Ca. Fourth at Roseburg
Jake Wyatt and Jim Havaneur originally weren’t going to be able to make it because their number one motor was toast. Jake and Jim however said what the heck and cobbled together a mild 396 just so they could run. All the rest of the A-boats looked ready to rumble.
Dave Provost in B-class got bit by the bad luck brownies right before the first run up. Upon arriving at the beach by the start line prior to the boat dance, he found major leaks somewhere under his feet. I think from a cracked weld, but I don’t know that for sure. Dave relaunched and ran back down to the boat ramp to fix it and they were back again before the first start, ready to go. But, that wasn’t all for them; somewhere between the start and a bit upriver they tore the armor plate loose of the bottom and corrugated it. That was on a piece of water only, no rock. They pulled over and waved at the rest of the boats as we went by.
Everyone else made it to the top without event except that Dean Saxon and Rich Boice in B-boat 107 spun out and did the “pointing crane dance” through Blackhawk, put a pressure dent in "Velocity" and sprayed some folks on the beach. Dean said at one point in the routine, he found himself pointed straight at the bank and all he could see were rocks, brush, ankles and rearends as a whole bunch of people scrambled up the bank! Upon pulling the boat at the top end, during postflight Rich found that the thrust bearing in the front of the pump was on it’s way out.
Dean and Rich started at the back for the run down as they were going to limp it in. Paul Bagshaw, 277 Unpredictable, contacted a small, rocky piece of Idaho at the bottom of Blackhawk which created a dent in front of the intake and slowed the rest of his run down. In A-class this year, the boats and drivers are very evenly matched so it's all about little things and this probably locked them back a place. jEveryone else made it unscathed.
Sunday morning everyone with the exception of Dave Provost was ready to go. The wrinkling and removal of the armor plate left the bottom of “Risky Business” with way too thin a skin to safely run. Rich was rechecking his work on the thrust bearing on 107 and Unpredictable’s team had overnight repaired the dent with good ole Bondo. It was much warmer than Saturday.
The start went great, everyone made it up fine except Derek Ely’s boat was attempting to disassemble itself. Lotsa big leaks! Through Toby’s willingness to stand in the frigid water and hold the wires on the bilge pump and Jim Ely’s record breaking trailer towing, they got it out before it sank on the ramp. After looking it over real good the assesment was made that it was a good gamble to put in a known good bilge pump and try and make it back down to the finish line at Blackhawk and on to the ramp just below.
Derek Ely- photo courtesy of Michel Ely
We spent a pleasant hour on the beach talking to Darren Arave and his Dad. I learned that my type of boat has a name here in Riggins: Bobber. Darren works for Dave Smith motors, the major sponsors of the Riggins race. A very big thank you to them, without sponsors there would be no races! Dean Miles also came by to say hi- he is recovering from a tanker wreck, may race next year.
The last leg ended at Blackhawk and we could pull out at the ramp just below at Slate Creek. Derek and Toby took it pretty easy on the run back down to hopefully keep from gutting their boat, it was the only leg I even came close to them. All it took was about 800 pounds of water to even up our boats and driving style! Even so when we got to Slate Creek right behind them they were tearing around in big gradual circles trying to keep the boat on plane while the trailer was being backed in. The flywheel was making another rooster tail in the boat right behind the motor! They got on the trailer at high speed and everything turned out ok. Lynn met some very nice folks who brought our truck and trailer up to Slate Creek for us. Thanks Joe and Lynn! I gave Joe a very short ride in the boat, I think he liked it! Joe is a big man, he barely was able to hook the belly band on Lynn’s x-small life jacket, hope he didn’t break any ribs putting it on… .I think he might also need stiches in his left ear after cramming Lynn's also small helmet on. ; ) Thanks again, guys.
The final results:
A-class211 Will Chandler and B.J. Wyatt, first place “Danger Zone”
277 Paul Bagshaw and Rob Soul’e second place and a dent “Unpredictable”
280 Chuck Thompson and Jim Madden, third place, “Rump Shaker”
237 Jake Wyatt and Jim Havaneur, fourth place, "Ambush"
B-class107 Dean Saxon and Rich Boice, first place in class also first place in spectator spraying, “Velocity”FX-class
182 Dave Provost and Dave Wyland, second place minus armor plate, “Risky Business”11 Derek Ely and Toby, first place, water fountain and all
16 Jess LaForest and Lynn Mouser, second place- shaken AND stirred
Roller City - our race
What the Salmon race no longer has in pure unfiltered heart attack whitewater, it makes up for by being sneaky. Start line, time runs out, green flag goes back up, your adrenaline’s pumping, you roar away from the line full throttle, motor screaming. At this race, at the bridge one riffle up from the start line, the Salmon has a little surprise for you, a couple of rollers the size of Subaru wagons! I got a look at them early in the morning on Saturday courtesy of the Chandlers (#211) and Will in particular, but even so, the first time through I was going too slow, hopped the first roller nicely and speared the second one. Nothing like an ice cold bath to put things in perspective. Welcome to the Salmon, please chill out.
It WAS a real good clue what the Salmon is about; it ain’t so much about fast as it is about finish. That was clue one. Clue two was when I found myself counting rollers at the bottom of rapids and at the top of the same rapid to see if there was a pattern.
Here is what I came up with: Each rapid HAS rollers at the top and at the bottom. There are different numbers of them and they are different sizes. If there is a pattern, I couldn’t see it! I did notice something right away though- each roller is perfectly shaped and proportioned to launch our size #2 race boat to a height that can be determined by subtracting 15 ½ feet (the length of my boat) from 20 feet (the length it should be) and multiplying the result by ½ the height of the roller. It averages about four feet. The end result is a thump and a big splash.
Start to Blackhawk
We hauled butt after getting through the 41-degree shower at Whitebird. We were spraying water all over, flying through the air and out of shape most of the time. I was stompin and whippin for all I was worth. The good old MSD rev limiter was hit more than just a few times. A Wild Ride. After about five miles of this nonsense, we were exhausted and bruised from being dropped an average of about four feet into the river six times every quarter of a mile. I began looking back for broken welds and that is when it dawned on me that we should now slow down and see about finishing the entire race instead of just making one fast run and a big splash. Not to mention that my navigator was flying around with her feet in the air to the point she looked like she was having some kind of fit and almost turning upside down in her seat. Being adrenaline junkies at our age carries with it the requirement to exercise cunning and restraint at times. I cunningly slowed the hell down before my navigator decided to strangle me with her restraints!
After that revelation, the run began to be fun. Given the lack of size of our little boat compared to the Salmon and our demonstrated lack of speed we knew there was no way we were going to catch Derek. Second place was ours to either throw away or finish and take. We chose the latter. After a bit, for fun, we were picking likely rollers and I would goose it at the top and see how far we could fly. But not every single one, that was too much of a good thing. We tried to wave at everybody we saw and had fun trying to race the cars on the highway at box canyon where the water was flat for about a half a mile. For most of the first run up I kinda felt my way through, tending towards approaching rapids much slower than I would almost anywhere else. Finish, not fast.
At the island we went around on the left side and took our lumps at the top. The right side is much straighter but looked to be a lot bumpier. Finish, not fast. Not knowing the names of the rapids and “features”, we named some of the places on our own, like Three Trees, Dean’s House (were Dean Saxon was camped) and The Cows. An interesting spot, which I don’t know the real name of, we dubbed The Creek Run. The smooth route required a run into what I thought was a creek mouth then out again, but it turned out to be the river rejoining itself around an island.
The piece between Two Bridges was interesting also; it seemed like an optical illusion to me for some reason. Way around the bend it looked like the river was flowing uphill towards us- Weird, huh? Might have been that my eyeballs were flattened from the first part of the run.
Blackhawk Rapid is quite cool! Looking across it from the highway side, it has all these boiling lumps of water along the highway bank, two big monster rocks in the middle, the upriver one covered, the downriver one sticking way out, a sort of slick water way through with a lump at the top just on the other side of the big rocks, then more big rocks and lumps. It looks scary, but was actually one of the smaller rapids of the old racecourse. The approach to it at the bottom is a smaller version of the lumps just above it. On the upriver run, we came in along the left-river bank at the bottom hopped through the approach lumps then plowed and hopped up the left side between the highway bank and the two rocks. I was told afterwards that everyone else was going up through the slicks to the right of the two rocks. Oh well, that’s us, real pioneers!
On the downriver approach to Blackhawk, the upriver of the two rocks was invisible until you were next to it, so we hugged in to the bank again on the way down and kept enough speed on to be able to maneuver. It was bumpy but really fun! I figured if I crashed, it would be into the bank, it was just right there we could step right out, and hey, they were selling hamburgers at Blackhawk anyway. (That’s a joke, by the way, very last place I would want to crash. Actually, I don’t want to crash anywhere!)
Pictures courtesy of Michel Ely- Thanks kiddo!
Blackhawk to Lucile
From Blackhawk upriver to Lucile the rapids were slightly bigger but had better approaches. They also felt more like what I was used to on the Klamath above Coon Creek. I ran a bit harder through there. You go under another bridge right at Lucile, than it was another mile or so to the finish line. A rock or two to hit in here if you aren’t looking. Lynn was comfortable enough by this time to point out various interesting things to me (besides rocks and logs) from here on up.
Where we stopped there is big rock wall slightly overhanging the river, maybe 200 feet high. It has most of a nice sand beach and a good ramp. Normally if you are the slowest boat, you get the most stick and rock infested parking spot when you arrive. Here, pretty much everyone had pulled out by the time we arrived and we had the pick of the beach, talk about a slow run! No, I did not see the sweep boat in my mirrors! We were GOA (grinning on arrival) and that’s always good.
We love this race, as long as I have a boat and can do it, we will be back.
Sam and Riggins, you throw a hell of a race!
Jesse & Lynn