When Co-Director of Toughness, Mark and I arrived in the Pacific Northwest in late November 2016, neither of us knew what to expect. We arrived in a winter wonderland, more snow than the PNW had experienced in record time and even an ice storm. We hit ski slopes, put screws into our running shoes for traction, and even made a few snow angels. As the sun began to make an appearance and the days stretched longer into summer, we hit the road for a PNW road trip.
Our first stop was the Klamath River which flows from Southern Oregon into Northern California and empties into the Pacific Ocean. We met up with incredible guides from Momentum River Expeditions, took a day to learn pointers about how to paddle through the rapids and then loaded ourselves and our gear into inflatable kayaks.
Our first stop was the Klamath River which flows from Southern Oregon into Northern California and empties into the Pacific Ocean.
On the river, when I had moments of calm water, I could really look around me. Tall thin pine trees shot up through the canyon interrupting the wide blue sky above. Ducks flew just above the water in search of their next meal and deer walked along the river banks. We paddled through a portion of Clear Creek, a tributary of the Klamath. True to its name, the water ran crystal clear and flirting around the rocks below we could see tiny fish swimming. At one point, I looked up to see a bald ego perched regally on a branch surveying the river, the first one I’d ever seen. Over the course of two days on the river I saw three bald eagles and two golden eagles.
We were completely off the grid, cell phones tucked away in dry bags and no service to be found even if we’d wanted it. I paddled along in awe, following our guide, Tyler, through a series of rapids and asking him about every tree and feature. Tyler talked about how being a river guide makes it hard not to think about conservation, when you are in the middle of such epic beauty you want to share it with others so that everyone will know just how worthy it is of our protection. As we bumped along the river I found myself thinking hard about what it meant to be exploring such beautiful country. The only time I wasn’t exclaiming in wonder at the beauty around me was when I had to concentrate on the task at hand, staying in my boat as we navigated the river.
We moved from eddy to rapid, trying to learn the current and the river’s behavior as we rounded bends and navigated around and over rocks. The river’s force is not to be underestimated and even the least imposing current could send you spinning unexpectedly. As we came up to big rapids I repeated reminders to myself, “tee up to the waves, paddle hard, the river will try to force you outside, don’t stop paddling.” There was one set of rapids where Mark and I looked at each other and just knew we were going under. We pulled our kayaks ashore and walked ahead to scout the rapid.
We moved from eddy to rapid, trying to learn the current and the river’s behavior as we rounded bends and navigated around and over rocks.
We were hitting dragon’s tooth, so named because there’s a jagged rock jutting out of the center of the river. We would need to be pushing ourselves to the right between the rock and the riverbank and then angling our kayaks to the left and paddling hard to avoid being slammed into the right bank as the river quickly turns left. With a quick fistbump we climbed back into our kayaks and started to paddle. As I went over a few waves, I suddenly found myself looking up at an 8-foot wave and paddling hard right at it and leaning in. Miraculously somehow, we both made it through without flipping. I heard Mark whooping and was smiling myself and wiping water out of my face in complete shock. I had been so sure I was going in on that one!
But don’t worry, I took a few swims. It happens so quickly, one minute you’re in the kayak and the next minute you’re flying into the water. I took to heart what our guide said about trying your best to self-rescue and two out of three spills I could quickly grab my paddle and pull myself back into my boat. At one point though, I was under the kayak and had no choice but to bail and rely on my team to help rescue my boat, meanwhile I had to swim hard to shore.
But don’t worry, I took a few swims.
It’s a little scary to find yourself out of your boat and in the middle of a fast-moving river. It’s super important to always have all your safety gear on and fastened, you never know when a wave may send you under, but even the falls were honestly so much fun. Kayaking in the PNW was a blast and being able to camp on riverbank beaches and having enough space to bring my hammock along made the nights next to the river pretty epic.
We’ve left the river…but the road trip continues! Stay tuned.
Faith Briggs is an avid runner and documentary film maker from Brooklyn, New York. She’s passionate about sharing contemporary stories from diverse communities and can always be found with her camera, whether in the photographer’s pit during New York’s fashion week or in the cloud forests in Honduras. She lives by the motto #goodvibesonly and loves to show that women and girls, quite literally, run the world. You can follow Faith’s journey as Director of Toughness here and social channels including: Twitter | Instagram