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SPOUT | Rant, React, Chat, Blather

Wake Up and Watch the Picnic


It took a couple of pokes at my 10-year-old son's sleeping bag. When his eyes popped open, they were staring at a sky packed solid with stars. "Sit up, Rob," I whispered.

We were three days down Oregon's Rogue River, our boats pulled up onshore, tents, tarps, and sleeping pads scattered across a wide sandbar. After a full day of paddling and rowing, our group had hauled our food and beer and toothpaste 50 yards downstream and secured them inside a small area corralled by an electric fence. Sleep had come easily.

I'd been rafting for years, but this was my first trip guiding. I'd recently taken a 10-day professional-guide course with the American River Touring Association, and some of my fellow graduates and I had pooled our resources and were rowing family and friends on a five-day trip.

I knew better than to wake my wife, Pam, who was asleep on a tarp with our two daughters. The only thing that scares her more than clowns is the sort of creature that was making the sounds that had awakened me.

"What is it?" my son asked.

I wasn't sure of the wisdom of what we were about to do, but I didn't want my child to miss this. "Turn on your headlamp," I said.

Together, we aimed our light beams at a spot some 10 yards away.

The black bear's eyes glowed yellow in our direction for a good five seconds, then went back to focusing on what I later discovered was a backpack that one of the children had left on a raft.

"Wow," my son said.

Still in the spotlight, the bear lifted a foil packet in the air and shook hot chocolate mix into its open mouth, then used its big claws to continue poking through the loot.

Watching my son's face, I knew that the trip's hours of crashing through rapids, showering under waterfalls, leaping from high granite ledges, and watching grown adults do crazy campfire dances would now be even more ineluctably part of a brainscape already colonized by Super Mario Bros.

When Rob finished college last spring, our graduation gift was tuition to river-guide school. A couple of weeks ago, I felt a burst of paternal pride when an acquaintance noted how self-assured my son had seemed at a recent professional gathering of urban planners. I suspect that readers of this magazine--and particularly of this paddling-oriented issue--will know what I mean when I speculate that this confidence probably stems as much from the time he has spent on rivers as from the time he has spent in classrooms. —Bob Sipchen, editor in chief

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