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Rafting 'the wave' is worth the soak

No telling how long it had been on the clock since we met our guide at Helfrich Landing just east of Vida and drove 10 miles upstream to our launch because, well, river time seems to slip past at an easier, hazy, lazy pace than life in the proverbial fast lane.

In terms of our first rafting experience, it had been, simply put, long enough.

How did I know? Easy. I just looked up to the front port-side seat and saw my daughter Sierra smiling with her golden locks blowing in the wind.

If Sierra is within a stone's throw of water and her hair isn't soaked, you know the clock is ticking.

With that our guide, Jonnie Helfrich, announced the pending arrival of Clover Point or, as her children call it, "the wave."

It struck me at that moment that if you happen to have the same last name as an official landing on a Lane County sign, and you happen to have nicknamed a section of the river, you probably know your stuff.

Then Jonnie shouted, "Paddle forward! Paddle forward!"

Everyone with paddles dug in. Our pace quickened. Suddenly we were a roller-coaster on Red Bull, all screaming like 6-year-old Michael. Then a dropping dip and, Wham!

With that, Sierra's head blasted through a wave like a playful river otter's, and her giggles followed. Taylor laughed, comfortably wet but not soaked a few rows back. Indeed, we were officially rafting the McKenzie.
Although I've spent a lifetime in and around water, from the shores of Lake Michigan to the mighty Mississippi River and down to the Pacific Ocean, I've whiled away the hours predominantly from shore.

My McKenzie baptism with Rick Gurule, floating down the river in a McKenzie river boat, opened my eyes to a new perspective.

An afternoon rafting with Jonnie Helfrich cranked it up another notch.

Rolling down a river is truly an opportunity to float back in time. I'm sure Lewis and Clark didn't enjoy the luxuries of a self-bilging multi-chamber raft with aluminum oars that weigh less than a pioneer frying pan.

Still, if you glance down at the rocky bottom zipping past or out at the invigorating scenery dancing by at a dream-like pace, I'm sure you experience the same sensations they did 200 years ago.

The beauty of a guided tour with an experienced rafting guide is learning much more about the history and the intimacy of the river that otherwise would slide past in a blur. The commentary gives the easy floating stages a cozy feel and helps ratchet up the energy when the white rapids do approach.

We rafted down 9 1/2 miles in a little more than three hours under a warm summer sun that managed to keep a deep chill from getting embedded in our bones. We looked at more osprey nests than you could imagine, drifted under the towering Eagle Rock, and saw more than a couple species of ducks and their offspring also enjoying the wonderful day.

And in the end, we tackled Martin Rapids as our final memory, closing in on the rocky stretch as we watched a red rope stretched from the northern shore halfway across the river in an attempt to retrieve a McKenzie river boat wedged into the rocks amid the whitewater.

Jonnie said it was time to stow away the cameras, get out the paddles and "Paddle forward!"

The next 30 seconds or so topped any water ride at any amusement park we've ever had the chance to experience.

With our heart rates still elevated, we ran ashore back at Helfrich Landing, confident in the knowledge that there's nothing like the real deal.


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