Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Siltcoos River: A Lazy River That Nearly Got the Best of Me!

I lost my nerve on the Siltcoos River Canoe Trail. True to its reputation, the Siltcoos River is a lazy river with no rapids or strong currents. It drains Siltcoos Lake and connects to the Pacific Ocean. This meandering three-mile river does not require the skill of an expert paddler. So why did I get shaky on a river called “ideal for canoes and kayaks”? It boiled down to a lack of confidence in my partner’s and my own skills to control the canoe.

Ed and I borrowed a canoe from Bill, our RV park neighbor, who wanted to be sure one of us could handle a canoe before launching on unfamiliar water. For a practice run, Ed and Bill navigated a mile of the Siltcoos River on Saturday. My experience was less recent. I had canoed one time last summer on Keystone Lake; and before that, it had been who knows how long, maybe 39 years, since I had been out on a river. Then Sunday morning came, and I’d have a go at the Siltcoos River.

The canoe wobbled under me and the paddle felt clumsy in my hands as we pushed off from the launch in Westlake, eight miles south of Florence, Oregon. I sat in the front with Ed behind me. I cut the water using the paddle without splashing Ed but hit the side of the canoe often. Ed made more noise than the paddle by complaining each time I bumped the metal side. He said I scare the wildlife with the racket. We never did see any critters or fish.

Steering left then right kept us on course toward the Pacific Ocean, but we never stayed centered in the winding, narrow river. We bumped the tall grassy banks more than once to my chagrin. When I knew paddling was not going to stop the inevitable thud, I muttered “Oh, shit!”

After a few of these encounters, Ed’s frustrations let loose. “Don’t say ‘Oh, shit’ when we get close to the bank, PADDLE!”

This lazy river “ideal for canoes and kayaks” tested my angel wings such that when we reached the portage point on the dam, I was relieved to stand on concrete. We had traveled one mile of the three mile course.

“Enough!” I made a weak case favoring the return to our RV campsite, but Ed wanted to press further. I reluctantly agreed.

Again, I sat at the front of the canoe. The river scenery changed from the dark shroud of towering pines and blossoming hydrangeas to open areas of sculpted sand dunes high above the water level. Though the river widened in parts near the dunes, fallen trees washed down river created obstacles. Protruding branches forced us to steer through skinny passages. Sometimes I had to do the forbidden, which is I used my paddle tip to push the canoe away from the branch or log.

After passing under Highway 101, the river grew wider; the banks flattened. “How far to the ocean?” Ed called to a man on shore reading the Canoe Trail park sign. “Another mile,” he calculated.

To me Ed said, “We’ll go to that bend and turn around.” This was just a little way past the Lodgepole Picnic Area. We had completed about two miles of the river course.

Canoeing back up the river felt less unnerving. I knew the course and had a rhythm to my paddling. I hit the side of the canoe infrequently now and I knew how to dig into the water with my paddle when we got too close to the river banks. Aligning the canoe to portage the dam proved challenging. We got it on the third try.

So confident now, we pulled the camera out of its waterproof bag. I stopped paddling for the last mile back to Westlake. Ed became my river guide suggesting photos as I clicked away.

I might try canoeing the Siltcoos River again before we move on from this lovely area of Oregon. The next time I want to go all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

September 15, 2008

Here’s some insight from US 101 Mile By Mile:

“The Siltcoos River flows gently, so it's just about as easy to paddle upstream as downstream. When the river enters its estuary, paddlers need to head back upstream to the Lodgepole picnic area because the beach has no canoe landing. Besides, the beach near the river's mouth is closed between March 15 and Sept. 15 to protect nesting areas of the snowy plover. The river's small dam just west of U.S. 101 requires a portage, but a walkway helps boaters pass it.”

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