Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A father son adventure.
320 miles in 35 days. Endless driftwood campfires and hours of "neaking" up on unique rocks. Sunrises, sunsets, monster trout and white capped waves. Stars so bright they lit the tent as I lay restlessly listened for grizzly bears in the night. Days, weeks, marked our time frame which we extended until the snowflakes convinced us of a reluctant end.

The first week of endless channelized marshes mixed with a few long shallow lakes made for a bird watching bonanza as hundreds of ducks and geese filled the sky every day. This high valley drops through a surprisingly tight canyon as it falls into what is now Kinbasket reservoir. Inside the pinch were a few tense moments of class 2 in our heavy boat, keeping us on our toes. Melting glaciers turned the river milky grey, but here a few rivers came in mixing emerald blue water into the silty abis. The river slows backed up by Kinbasket reservoir and a couple hundred yard long log jam that went bank to bank blocked our path . Simultaneously the silt in the water sank leaving us with tropical colored chrystal clear water. Before Kinbasket lake the mountains were immense in the background. But here wedged between the Selkerks and the east slope of the Rocky Mountain trench, the mountains stood steep and tall right from the waters edge. Making you crane your neck to see there snow capped peaks. It was on Kinbasket that we wandered, checking out this cove or that. Finding perfect camp sites hidden among the steep rocky banks. Catching the biggest bull trout and dolly varden I've ever laid eyes on. Where we ate fish and baking powder biscuits topped with wild blueberries, until we were sick. Where we discovered a secret arm of the reservoir where the terms elk, moose, bears and wolves are used in the present tense. Where bald eagles were as common as the crow and there feathers littered the moraine basin. It was the place we came looking for, truly wild.
all good things must come to an end, so mica dam we headed to. A dark and cold place filled with friendly people, but i was glad to put it behind me. Failing weather pushed us a little harder through lake Revelstoke, prodded along by the poor fishing, but slowed by the views as the fog would lift leaving clear reflections making you feel like your paddling in the clouds. The sight of Revelstoke dam was bittersweet to say the least. I missed my girlfriend and a hot shower, but I knew it would not be long before I longed to be back in the mountains. Where a day is a day, something that is not partitioned but left alone as a singular experience.

Fletcher and Keel Brightman, 3 weeks without a shower makes great hair gel.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Back to the top!!

Its been a long summer of Raft guiding, I'm stoked to be headed to the source of the Columbia river to complete my source to sea attempt. The plan is to canoe the 350 mile section in about a month with my father Fletcher. We have talked about doing a canadian fishing trip since i was a kid.
This section of the columbia river cuts through the heart of the canadian rocky mountains, bear country, and huge marshes. We hope it turns out to be the biggest baddest fishing trip of our lives.

We plan on leaving around the 18th of september.
Updates coming soon

Monday, July 13, 2009

A Sailing Adventure

Less than 2 weeks after the completion of my Columbia river expedition i hopped on a plane headed to West Palm Beach Florida. I was to help deliver a 39 foot little harbor sailboat with my mom, Captain Donna Lange, and my girlfriend Virginia Hickey. 8 days and 1100 nautical miles (1320 miles) after setting sail we arrived in Hyannis Massachusetts. It was a perfect continuation of an epic spring... Here is a short video taken with a point and shoot camera...

I ran into this story about my encounter with a friend Scott on the Columbia river just downstream of Mcnary dam

http://www.thenarrativeimage.blogspot.com/ check out the May 31 post on his archives as well as the wealth of amazing images and creative and provocative writing

Friday, July 10, 2009

A Sailing Adventure

May 9Th, 12 days after finishing the Columbia trip. My mom, Ginny and myself enjoy the afternoon sunshine in the cockpit of the 39 foot little harbor, a few miles offshore of West Palm Beach Florida, bound for Hyannis, Massachusetts . The wind is mild at 9 to 15 knots, just enough to sail and not motor. The sea is about as docile as the wind. Though I've only been on 1 true offshore sailboat delivery, I feel like Ive done this a thousand times before. The rolling of the ocean beneath my feet feels so familiar. The smell of the ocean still fresh in my mind from Astoria.

The trip started as usual, airplane rides with little sleep, babies crying, and Bible thumpers one upping each other with quotes from the scriptures in the seat in front of me. The gentleman siting next to me glances over with a here we go again look. I concured. This would be a long flight, as another baby started up in chorus. I put in my earplugs drowning out all but the sermon going on in front of me. I could see the woman's face get redder through the crack in the seats, as she faced off with the slicked-back haired gentleman besides her who coaxed her into a full on frenzy. I wondered if God wanted her to get that stressed out while she contemplated the meaning of his words. I just wished they could keep it down to baby screaming volumes so I could get a few more hours of sleep.

The few days I spent in West Palm Beach solidified that people are strange in what they value, as I drive by massive mansions with million dollar yachts being worked on by the Cuban migrant workforce. I have little envy for either situation. Both trapped in there own purgatory. One in expectation, overhead and greed, the other by moderate poverty, racism, and a lack of a green card. The whole situation makes me realize how lucky I am to sit on this rich man's boat, feel the sea roll beneath me, the wind cools me as I experience bliss in the setting sun. I am lucky and feel as rich as any man could be.
It is an odd thing to go from kayaking to sailing, human powered to wind. It is so nice to sit and watch the miles float by with nary a stroke taken. A far cry from the endless suffering of thousands of paddle strokes. But it is not without its own hardships. Sailboats never stop, like a baby they must be constantly monitored. It is a test of mental endurance, an endless day with no pause button, stopping only when the boat is safe on its mooring now still days away. At points I envy the daily rituals of the Columbia trip, where I could stop and sleep a deep sleep as long as the coyotes or trains didn't come to close in the night.

It is Day 6 of this adventure, We have a 5 foot swell and mild wind out of the SE. Though comfortable, it is slow and we are already running a day late from our original itinerary. 100 miles from Beaufort, NC we did a fuel use estimate, concluding that we would need to refuel to keep the engine running for the rest of the trip. The batteries on the boat were old and not able to hold a charge, forcing us to run the engines more than expected to run the auto pilot. With the forecast looking like slow sailing from here on out, we would have to motor the rest of the trip to try to stay on schedule.
The stop in Beaufort was uneventful but I was happy to get some sugar cookies which I forgot to get in Florida. It is the small things that bring so much joy, and cookies are a personal favorite
of mine.
The wind was cranking from the NE as we left the dock, we knew it would make things a little interesting but with peak gusts in the 35 knots range we would just reef the sails and deal with it. The boat is more than capable and we were eager to get back on the water. About 5 miles out of the harbor we put up half the main and half the jib in 25 knots of wind. It was nice to be sailing again and the boat was flying beautifully. The wind was picking up but with the sails furled we were a little under powered just in case a gust came up. The furler on the jib was new to both my mom and I and we accidentally let the whole sail out once. It made for some excitement but we got it under control right away. As soon as we put the sail out the second time the furler failed letting the whole sail out before we had the sheet lines anchored. Due to our forward angle to the wind they went under the boat and got stuck in the prop. We were immediately in a bit of a pickle. No engine and 1 crippled sail in less than 5 seconds. We shut down the engine and headed down wind trying to ease the pressure on the overloaded jib. The wind was picking up to around 30 knots and even after heading downwind the right rail was still way in the water. To make maters worse the jib was back loading and fighting the forces of the main. We were officially getting screwed. With few options we came to a quick decision to cut the sheet lines freeing the boat from the crippled sail. I ran up the deck, kitchen knife in hand and touched the rope with the knife. It was under so much tension that it exploded apart. The boat jumped to life now free from the back filled sail but now the sail was trying to disintegrate itself whipping back and forth snapping like a wet towel in the wind. Shit was hitting the fan and staying up on deck with the flogging sail would be dangerous to say the least. The end of it had 2 big knots on it from the sheet lines turning it into a club that threatened to beat anyone who dared tame it. Without a second thought, Captain Lange handed me the helm and headed up the deck. With steerage returned, I cranked the wheel pointing us downwind again so the sail would flap over the ocean and not the deck. The captain got a hold of the sail and began piling it up on the bow pulpit, standing on top of the pile to keep it from catching the wind and flying out again. She got it under control and lashed it down to the anchor cleats.

With the immediate problem solved we set out a little more mainsail and began limping back to port. The sheet lines wrapped up in the prop so using the engine was out of the question. If the lines jammed we could bend the drive shaft or break the transmission, crippling the boat and costing thousands. We could try to sail into the harbor and anchor but with only a main sail it would be difficult in the best conditions. In the dark with no motor and a anchor that was buried under a defunct jib sail axed that option. Option number three was to call sea tow and get towed in, our best option but not a cheap one. I didn't really see a 4th option but Captain Lange did. Her plan was to "hove the boat to" a survival technique that points the boat straight into the wind at the slowest possible speed, that way she could jump overboard and cut the lines free from the prop. It was a crazy idea, we were 6 miles offshore in 6 foot choppy seas with 30 knots of wind. You couldn't have paid me enough to swim in that ocean. None-the-less, a few minutes later a calm and confident if not a little bit pissed Captain Lange slipped overboard with a rope tied around her waist as a tether, and a big kitchen knife in hand. I would head to wind where we went from 1 1/2 to 3 knots. Every time the boat began to slow I would call out our speed and she would dive down cutting a few more wraps of friction melted rope off the drive shaft. After 10 or so tries, she had all the rope removed and hung from the rail to tired to pull herself back up. With a last burst of energy she walked hand over hand down the rail to a break in the life line, where I could haul her aboard. I was so scared for her she felt like a fly as I pulled her in, bearhugging her to make sure she didn't fall back in while she caught her breath.

With the prop free, I started up the engine, threw it in drive and cranked up the r's. It would be a piece of cake to get back to the dock now. I had the way points in the GPS from earlier and knew just what dock I'd be pulling up to once we got to the port.

We spent the next morning threading the jib up the furling track and fitting new sheet lines into the blocking. We left around noon with 10 to 15 knots of wind out of the NE, not exactly ideal but it would work. The forecast was for more of the same for 24 hours, and as we rounded the bend of Cape Lookout we began a slow battle into choppy seas, straight into the wind.

It took a little over a day to pass Cape Hatteras the wind changed to the south east where it is now 2 and a half days from leaving Beaufort. The sunrise at Hatteras was amazing as the sun burned a hole through the storm clouds that formed over the gulf stream 50 miles to the east. That afternoon a pod of dolphins danced and played around the boat in the setting sun. It seemed to be a sign that the worst was over. They put a smile on my face, a reminder that nothing good is free, but the good is always worth the fee.
With only 2 and a half days left and plenty of fuel on board we motored straight towards Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket sound, a place renowned for JFK and fog. And fog we got, lots of it. I woke for my morning shift to pea soup conditions and the sound of the captain sending out a broadcast of our position. With no radar and a very small radar reflector we would send out our position every half hour for the next 2 days to make sure other boats were aware of our position and heading. "securite, securite, securite, this is sailing vessel Robin broadcasting our position N 40 deg 29 min, W 71 deg 22 min with a course over ground at 34 deg at 5.5 knots". It made for some spooky watches, no wind and nothing to see, just the sound of the engine running and the waves splashing up against the boat, hoping that people are listing to there radios.

Entering the sound early on our 8th morning, the sun came out and slowly burned off the fog revealing the low lying islands of Martha's vineyard and Nantucket. It always nice to see dry land but there's the bittersweet feeling that an amazing journey is over. By noon I was standing on the docks getting land sick by the minute, wishing there was more ocean to sail across, more time to sit and not think, to let time pass unaware of time...

Friday, May 1, 2009

I made it to the ocean!!!

I arrive at the Pacific ocean. 2 months, and 880 miles from the start of my journey in Revelstoke, BC.
The final leg of my trip turned out to be everything I had hoped for, and more. I went fast, the weather and wind cooperated, and the wildlife incredible. Arriving at the ocean brought me a sense of accomplishment I have experienced only a few times in my life. It was an amazing journey, that I'm glad I undertook but one that I'm also glad is over for now.

Starting my final leg at Jared Jackman's house at 9:30 am, I wasn't even on the water when I realized I had forgotten my skirt. I decided to push on without it, realizing it may cripple my ability to travel in poor conditions. The theory was tested right away as some of the biggest waves of the trip rolled up the river formed by a 10 mph headwind meeting the current pumping downstream. It was quite intense as a big wave could fill the cockpit and make for a very interesting paddle to shore. luckily all went well and before I knew it I was paddling under the I 5 bridge in Portland 30 miles from the start of my day. It was only 3:45 and there was plenty of daylight ahead of me. Just before
dark I passed the Willamette river as a storm threatened, so i took off
the river and had my camp set
up just in time before the rain started. I slept soundly knowing I had paddled over 50 miles in 10 hours, and was glad to be warm and dry as I watched the rain poor down. it was a blessing since it filled all my pots with fresh water which would end up coming down to the wire.

The rain was still falling when I got under way in the morning. I couldn't
complain since the river was calm and the rain kept me cool while I paddled. I was surprised that the current kept up at full steam and I was making
time again. Paddling right in the shipping channel, I kept my eyes open for boats but it was the fastest line and I wanted to maximise on the good weather. By noon the rain had cleared, and I had already made it over 25 miles to the town of Raineer. The factories and shipping docks gave way to forests and islands and I enjoyed up close and personal osprey, duck and eagle sightings. The river makes a dramatic bend to the west after following the mountains north since Portland. Driftwood filled the calm water and I knew I had reached the tidal water. There was still a little current and I enjoyed its last little bit of help while the sunlight streamed through the clouds onto the mountains in the distance. I saw a sea lion off in the distance wondering if i would get a closer look. my wish was answered a moment later when I heard a loud blast of air leaving the lungs of a large specimen only 15 yards off my stern. It officially scared the crap out of me, I know nothing of sea lion behavior and didn't wait around to find out if it was being curious or Territorial. I let out the bellow of a man fearing for his life, slapped the water with my paddle and turned on the afterburners. He didn't look like he could run that fast so I sprinting towards shore. I could swear it was following me at first, and I was sure it could swim faster than I could paddle. I made it halfway to shore when I looked behind me and saw it had given up the chase. My heart
was racing and I
knew that I could go the rest of the trip without another sea lion sighting and not be disappointed.

Thankful to be done with the close encounter with my nemesis, I paddled for a couple more hours as a mild headwind kicked up and a raincloud formed in front of me. I saw a bridge in front of me and made it a few mile past it before I spotted a duck blind on stilts. It was a modest home but with its dry plywood floor and a small roof I
could enlarge with my tarp it would prove
to be a perfect spot call home for the night. it was 6:15 and I had made it another 50 miles in 10 hours. I was tired and my hip was hurting pretty bad but I was glad to be only 30 miles from my destination.
In early morning, maybe 4:30, I woke from a
crazy dream I was having about dropping my boat into the river, to realize there were waves splashing under the duck blind and my boat was banging up against the stilts. I jumped up worried that my dream might be coming true. I had done a good job of tying up my boat but I wanted to double check. I had anticipated the water coming up pretty high but didn't realize my little island would be completely under water at high tide. It was still dark but I was restless so I slept lightly waiting for the tide to ebb as by boat banged gently against the blind. When I woke again the grass was showing on my little island, I ate fast knowing that you cant stop the tide, and I wanted to be on it. I had decided to stay close to shore on the Oregon side for the rest of my paddle. There were little islands and channels there which I could use to protect me from the swell if the wind picked up. It was a little longer than going straight across the bay to Astoria, but the scenery would be better and it would be better than sinking my boat miles offshore. The tide was ripping and I was making amazing time again, I felt extremely lucky to be having such ideal conditions 3 days in a row. At about 11 I stopped for lunch where 2 fisherman had a fire going. Josh Massett and David Reyes were there names. They were both in there late 20s and were enjoying the sunshine trying to catch Chinook salmon. No luck today but they did mention my good luck as this was one of the biggest tides of the month and would last an extra hour giving me more time to get to Astoria.. I was enjoying there company, but still had another 7 miles to go, so I thanked them for there hospitality and set off with the ebbing tide. The last few miles are unprotected from a east wind, a good breeze picked up and helped push me right into Astoria. I was going to paddle right past town but the smell of hamburgers drifted by me and prompted me to treat myself to lunch at a diner. It wouldn't hurt to let the tide switch anyways. My waitress at the 100 year old diner was Tami Oconner, a tall brunette with a sparkle in her eye and a nervous pace like anyone would be with a kid at home and to much coffee from the lunch rush. The place slowed down we chatted for a while. She told me her story as I told her mine. This is my 3rd diner to stop at along my trip and they have all proved to be a genuine American experience. One that gives me hope that humans aren't so bad. they are genuine and caring, always curious about the guy in a srysuit. I eventually got a hold of Ginny my girlfriend, she was surprised to hear I had mad it so far and wondered if I could make it to the ocean that day instead of the following day like we had planned. It was 3:45 and it gets dark a little after 8. with 8 miles left to go I felt confident I could make it, even though I knew the wind and the tide would be against me. I hurried to my boat and began what I knew would be at last 3 hours of hard paddling. I had a 3 mile wide bay to cross with the tide, and wind going against me, then I would be free of the tide and would be able to hide from the west wind on the final 5 miles. With only 3 hours left before I was finished with over 800 miles of paddling,, I pulled for all I was worth and made it to the inside of the Stevens state park sandbar by 7pm. a short walk through thigh high grass proved to be brutal but with the thought of being so close I kept at it without stopping. I wanted to stand in sight of the ocean with my boat next to me. This proved to extend the challenge, for the last 50 yards was up a steep hill with loose sand. I was on all fours clawing my way up the final hill. At first the horizon line and then the crashing pacific surf marked the end of my journey. I didn't know how to feel. Tired for sure as I stood there breathing hard from my final exertion but what else. I was happy as hell to be done, sad for it to be over, humbled by the suffering I had
endured, mad at the politics, sorry for I wasn't here with the whole team, proud for finishing, calmed by the crashing waves, deepened by the complexity of the whole experience. Flooded by all of this emotion. I stood there for a while watching the sun settle on the horizon, knowing that I would be whisked back into the rigors of daily life. Of all the things that was the one thing I liked most about this trip. Not having to live in the time frame of daily civilized life but one of the earth and the natural ebb and flow of every day, tide, moon. it seems to be a pace I relate to . I will miss is dearly. I walked down to the edge of the ocean where the waves slide up onto the sand and tasted the water, making sure I was actually there. It all seemed like a dream and I wanted to make sure it was real. I've never tasted in a dream, and the water was salty and cold, it was confermed I was standing in the pacific ocean.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Hood River to North Bonneville

Monday April 20th would be a perfect day for paddling so i decided to make the most of it and get down past Bonneville dam, my last portage in the US portion of the trip. I put on at around 9am at the windsurfing launch. I met a fellow long distance paddler, his name was Par pronounced pear, like the fruit. He helped me put in on the glassy water so i could keep my socks dry for the day. It was a beautiful day, 70 degrees, sunny, and calm as it could be. The birds were out in force and I immediately felt the pressures of life fade away once more. Paddling through the reflections of stumps from a forest long gone with sea gulls perched here and there. I soaked it up, for I had been off the water just long enough to know that this was the good life, it was good to be back.

I paddled for a few hours appreciating the mild current which was whisking me to my destination at a steady 2mph. I spotted a Bald eagle at a distance, and was surprised when it let me get so close before it took to the air. There was a juvenile with it that dwarfed the adult. I guessed it was a mother and son pair. They were feeding on a fish as I came up to them and as I paddled away I saw them return to finish there meal.

There is always a little yin and yang to everything and I was reminded of this as I passed some lovely looking sludge that filled the eddylines of the river. It was as if the river was trying to keep me focused on the original goal of the trip which is to bring awareness to the Columbia river as a whole. The good and the bad...
My lunch spot was a large outcropping of rocks, a few miles from Cascade Locks. I was making great time and enjoyed a long rest hanging out on the warm rocks. It is amazing how a few weeks can change the weather, two weeks ago i was paddling in a drysuit, and now I'm wearing shorts and a T shirt. This truly is the good life.
Of course all good things come to an end, as the wind picked up at 1pm sharp right as i began my last paddling leg. luckily the current is strong as you pass Cascade Locks which made quick work of the remaining 5 miles. I made it to the Indian fishing area, my predetermined takeout before 2pm, a whopping 5+ mph average with lunch included. I was quite grateful. My plan had been to do this portion of the trip as a day trip so i could avoid portaging Bonneville dam with a fully loaded boat. It was paying off because though it was a short distance from the river to the road, it was almost straight up a rocky bank which I made quick work of by carrying my boat up in 1 trip. It would have been at least 3 trips with a boat full of gear.
Once on the road my wheels made easy work of the portage, the dam security threatened me with arrest if I didn't portage all the way to a boat ramp 1 1/2 miles downstream from the dam. Since I was dropping my boat off in North Bonneville 2 miles from the dam, I just walked it to town. There is a small creek that runs through N Bonneville which I put on and paddled the final 1/2 mile to my friend Jerred Jackmans house. The creek was clear and cold. I spooked at least a dozen mergansers from the shallow riffles, and watched a turkey vulture sore above the tree tops just above me. It was a perfect ending to the days paddle. I'm looking forward to finishing the final leg to the ocean as soon as possible.

Monday, April 6, 2009

I made it to Hood River!!

Though most of this trip has been about quality suffering, its moments like these that make it all worth it. This is a 270 degree view of my camp lagoon, Sunday morning. Click on it for the best viewing experience.

I was stopped 12 miles east of Arlington, WA by 45 + mph winds last week. I took the opportunity to hitchhike home and refuel my mind and body. Having access to the Internet allowed me to spot a 2 day break in the west winds, to head back up and sprint to Hood River.

I got dropped of Friday night, right where i left off, three mile canyon,Exit and mile marker 151 on I 84. I was up and paddling by 5AM, and took a brief stop in Arlington to pick up some gear I had left at home. Thank you Trever Jostad for driving out to get me out of my wet jeans.
The published "portage" road around John Day dam is blocked by a large gate, and I almost broke my arm trying to lower my boat into the water at the locks outlet, the only place I could find access to the water.
I made it about 10 miles past the dam before darkness began to creep up. I camped on a large island called Miller Island, and ran into a fellow photographer who had paddled over from the Washington side to photo old Indian paintings. Scott Dietz was pleasant company to cook dinner with, we exchanged photography ideas and tried out our moon lite technique. Sunday morning was sunny and beautiful, my first truly warm day of the trip. The Dalles Dam proved to be almost as bad as John Day, minus the vertical water entry. The walk down the railroad tracks was bumpy and unnerving since there was nowhere to go but into a little ditch next to a vertical rock wall. luckily a train never passed. I was Back on the water by 3pm Sunday with 20 miles of paddling ahead of me. The Easterly Winds I was hoping for finally breathed a slight breath on my back as I passed Lyle, my first familiar corner of the river. The Hood River bridge was a sight for sore eyes at 6:30 PM, 85 miles and 2 dam portages from my starting point sat morning. I am beat, but glad to have finished most of the "wind tunnel". Hood River puts me about 800 miles into the trip.

Scott Dietz was kind enough to send me these photos to publish.

"Keel Arriving".
I spotted Scott camped on a sandy beach on what i thought was an island. I wondered if my island was in fact an island or a peninsula, and was glad to find out it was indeed an island for it would have added miles to tomarrows paddle if it were not.

As i cooked dinner Scott experimented with slow exposures on his camera. This one came out great

"To The Ocean"
I feel like a tiny dot in the vastness around me. Reflecting on myself and the world around me.
Sunday morning I woke to birds chirping in the stillness. This photo embodies the feeling i get out on the river.

"Details, Hells Gate"
I head west through Hells Gate, witch seperates Miller island from Washington, wrinkling the reflection with my wake.

Photos copywrite Scott Dietz