With the way 2020 was shaping out to be, a helpless feeling of defeat settled in when we discovered that the permit for our Jon Day River trip had accidentally been registered as a one-day jaunt.
All the planning for our five-day expedition and all the anticipation to discover a new corner of the world that had built up throughout each day of the relentlessly repetitive quarantine had all seemed in vain. The wind was taken out of our sails.
And yet - the pending reunion of friends seemed to have a higher sense of importance to the group.
Long days behind computer monitors at home and a lot less sunshine over the socially distant; shelter-in-place months of the pandemic, was weighing heavy on this crew. Severely deprived of our normal gatherings—both indoors and out—an immediate wave of approval met the suggestion to repeat the previous year’s route along the Grande Ronde River in Northeast Oregon.
It wouldn’t be the exploratory voyage we all dreamt about, but five nights of waking up on sandy shores with no cell service or news alerts (not to mention: human interaction) had never sounded better.
As the weather outlook slowly deteriorated for this early June quest, there was a noticeable decay in the group’s excitement. However, as the campfire started burning at the put-in the night before the start, the cars slowly started to trickle in; everyone’s itch to be free of confinement proved to be victorious over the ominous rain clouds in the forecast. The victory also appeared to be enough justification to dip pretty heavily into the week’s beer allotment before an oar stroke had even been made.
The fogginess in the heads burned off immediately as our three boats embarked into the misty Oregon morning the next day. No amount of rain would end up dampening our spirits once we were off.
Even after having completed this same stretch of water a year prior, this reunion felt brand new. Through rain and sunshine, long hikes and naps on the off days, bear sightings and beer shortages, the 78 miles along this wild and scenic Oregon river had turned out to be just the rejuvenation of spirit everyone had been longing for.
The sensations of warm fire, sogginess, sunshine, and human contact all took on a deeper feeling this go ‘round. Whatever the cause of this extra depth, it was an undeniably necessary hiatus from the monotony of the previous three months.
At the end of the week, and after the burgers and milkshakes were scarfed down at the takeout, the wind was back in everyone’s sails; the thought of turning cell phones back on and re-entering into the ‘real’ world didn’t seem nearly as daunting as it had just six days before.
Words and photos by Max Benz