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Kayaker shares Middle Fork lessons | Column
Kayaker Dave Olson of North Bend is a veteran whitewater enthusiast whos paddled local waters for a decade. Here, he shares his thoughts on kayaking the waters of the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River, and how that experience mirrors his own life.
Middle Fork rocks
As a lifer water man, when my wife and I moved to the bank of the South Fork of the Snoqualmie River ten years ago, I was promptly attracted to run the wild whitewater.
Within months, a friendship was struck with a local expert kayaker, Rick Todd of Snoqualmie. A boat was bought. Rick generously put up with guiding me through a learning curve to a degree of intermediate competency. My next lucky break came when another veteran kayaker, David Elliott, became my next-door neighbor. Since getting the hang of my South Fork, they have introduced me to a number of other nearby rivers, including the upper and lower runs on the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie.
A favorite Middle Fork float for them, when I wasnt tagging along, was the so-called Middle Middle, a seven-mile stretch of more-or-less constant class III rapids with named features like Cable Drop, Goal Posts and Suprise. As described in A Guide to Whitewater Rivers of Washington, this section has boulder gardens formed by granite rocks of every conceivable shape and size. Short drops, narrow chutes and twisting drops dominate the riverscape. The toughest rapid is House Rocks, where all the water piles onto a mega-boulder in the main chute. Maybe too much for me, near age 80.
Eventually, David suggested that with the right flow, I had the skills to do it. And now, Ive done it. I came off the river recently, having experienced my first-ever solo Middle Middle. As I easily dropped off the last slide before taking the kayak out of the water, the light dawned on this 75-year-old that tripping down the Middle Middle is like life. Life rocks, and so does the Middle Fork. Its all there. For other whitewater runners half my age, Id gather its a gas and an adrenaline rush. At my age, its a metaphor for an adventurous life.
No turning back
Once on whitewater, there is no turning back. But leaving shore, nobody mentions it. The downstream view from the put-in gives no evidence of whats ahead. So, the first half-mile was like school days daydreaming, David offering guidance on how to run the first serious rapids, carefree drifting, time to be caught up in the beauty of the river and surrounding scenery, mental preparation to diminish apprehension.
The next few miles were a blur of living in the moment dodging rocks as if they were bullets, experiencing the rush of plunging through a narrow chute into clear ?whitewater, like emerging