First Rivers | An OTT Guide Series | “P.B.” | The Lower Salmon River Queen

Guides’ First Rivers Series

River guides are notorious storytellers. And whether they be true or tall or somewhere in-between, the stories we tell about the river are a part and reflection of our own story. They are a part of who we are and we will be. (Deep water, brother…)

So, in this spirit of storytelling and in homage to rivers everywhere, we’ve asked our guides to recall a notable “first” paddling experience, broadly defined, and to tell a story about that experience. 

THE LOWER SALMON RIVER QUEEN

Makepeace employing the “Slagle Brace” midway through China Rapid on the Lower Salmon River

When I first met the Lower Salmon River Queen, she didn’t say much. She’d never really been a talker, but we came to share something special, a connection, whose nature words could not illustrate.

She hadn’t been outside for months, not since last autumn. As the sun retreated in the sky and the curtain of the previous summer drew to a close, she withdrew to her domicile for a period of rest and well deserved relaxation, a hibernation of sorts. To protect herself from the elements she remained inside, sheltered from the harsh cold, short days, and long nights of the winter months. She needed the time away to save energy, and those months passed slowly by, trees losing their leaves and flowers rescinding their splendor for another descent into the circle by which life dies in order to make way for life anew. She dreamt of the summer sun reigning down on her voluptuous features like a spotlight from the sky, but was never adamant about an early escape. She epitomized patience, and never seemed to be in a hurry to get where she needed to, but was always certain she’d get there eventually. Her happiness paralleled progress; if things were moving forward, no matter how fast, she was content. She relished in the beauty of the journey, and harnessed the solidity of the destination to recuperate. She saved her strength for when it was needed most; as that time came, she exhausted one hundred percent effort. That’s the only course of action she believed in. She never settled for anything less. Do or do not, there was no try, not to the Lower Salmon River Queen.

I escorted her outside the depths of her winter abode, and into the sunshine. It was like breathing life into a sleeping beauty; her soft voice expressing sighs of gratitude as the mid-June sun warmed her skin and gave back the amber colored energy she so graciously emanated. Her physique went unchanged over the time spent hidden away from the world, beautiful and possessing a symmetry unparalleled by her counterparts. She was revered among her peers, a queen among a myriad of princesses. Her presence intimidated most, but she was approachable. She had a stature about her that made a statement of significance; she dealt in serious terms, and didn’t have time to dally in the feeble demands and accomplishments of those around her. Not out of disrespect, but out of focus on her own needs and her own demands, for they were simply that much larger in scale. I ran water over her body, and washed away the marks that time left behind. Some of the blemishes on her golden orange complexion wouldn’t go without effort, like scars that she had embraced, and would for the remainder of her life; some of them will never leave, I imagined.

Josh, A.K.A., “P.B.” at rigging his raft in the morning sun of the Salmon.

After ensuring her normal glow was apparent, I dressed her. Each piece returned to its normal place among her beautiful frame, completing her masterpiece. I hadn’t seen anything like it, and marveled at the completeness of her being. I could hear her calling for the western Idaho sunshine, for the depths of the Lower Salmon canyon walls and the whispers of sand gently blowing across the beaches. She was ready.

It was time.

The waters at Hammer Creek were calm and collected, gently moving forward, singing the song of the longest undammed river in the contiguous United States until its final diminuendo at the confluence of the Snake and Salmon rivers. It was quiet, and that was the best part. The sound of silence is never clearer than on the water.

Layer upon layer, she embodied everything we’d need. She didn’t concern herself with the weight or the pressure of the adventure to come; she was born for this. For two decades she carried the Orange Torpedo legacy on her broad, soft shoulders, and this summer was no different. Another year, another set of priorities, another crew, but the journey was the same, all seventy-five miles of it from Hammer Creek to Heller Bar, and each memorable stopping point in between.

P.B. readying to push downriver.
This was our formal introduction.

She bowed slightly in acceptance and appreciation of my hello; subsequently, she welcomed my presence. After ensuring she was comfortable, I took hold of her. I loved the feeling, my hands were at home, a place of familiarity and comfort. My grip was soft but sincere; I would only let go if I had to. I pushed her teal-green and black arms outward into the water, and they felt the Lower Salmon river for the first time, again. My arms extended forward, slowly and methodically, pushing her twenty-one foot wingspan through the glassy surface of the water. Her response was timid at first; but, my consistent and gentle motions demonstrated that I had her interests in mind. We were going where she wanted to go, where I needed to go. She quickly answered to the deliberate rotations of my arms and shoulders, signifying her acknowledgement of my intentions. I stood upright and leaned forward, moving my weight toward the middle of her and allowing for a more defined push. With each roll of my wrists, she glided forward. Our relationship was like a long walk; never rushed, always moving, steady as she goes. She was in her element once more.

P.B. and Highside doing some breakfast “shopping” on the Pig.

She’s humbled me. She taught me about patience, and how we must never be in too much of a hurry, for we’ll miss the awe and wonder that is the present. She taught me about preparation; it always pays to see the next three steps, whilst focusing on what’s right in front of you. She taught me about love; an unconditional affinity for what someone does to your spirits, like your soul seeing itself in another. She showed me how to work smart, and not hard, although she necessitates a constant level of work (she can be high maintenance at times). She taught me to enjoy the journey, and not worry so much about where I’m going; I’ll get there, as long as I’m moving forward, one way or another. She’s shown me respect, and to never underestimate the power of things we cannot control, but to focus on the parts of our lives that we can control in order to succeed. She has taught me a great deal about life, and what it truly means to have lived.

Her name is the Pig, and she’s the Lower Salmon River Queen.