One Year On, and a Look Back to Day One



There was a heaviness – a weight that I knew came from loss – from seeing so many great old friends as of late and then saying goodbye and driving up the California and Oregon coast with the canoe strapped up atop the rented X-Trail.

Over the Golden Gate Bridge, through the Muir Woods, and along the California and Oregon coastline, I transported my new canoe to Astoria, Ore. Photo by Neal Moore.

I’d looked at the tides on the NOAA site and made the call the day before to launch out at 9:30am.

And I was ready. Awoke at 6:30am, drew a hot bath – my last for some time to come — packed the remaining bags, taped up the resupply boxes for Portland and the Gorge, and went to wake Peter Marsh, friend, resident historian and nautical writer.

The night before my own launch in the “Bunkhouse” at Pier 39 (thanks, Floyd!), I helped Peter Marsh select photos and news clippings for his new book about the launch of WWII craft on this very river. Photo by Neal Moore.

Peter woke quick and together we drove to the Marine Supply Store for some last-minute supplies – 3 dry bags, emergency ropes, carabiners, etc. – and then came back.

I was packed up in no time – my lucky landlubber duffle fitting right into the new dry duffel and I wheeled the first load of gear to the dock.

Wheeling up to launch, Pier 39, Astoria, Ore. Photo by Floyd Holcom.

There’d been an old couple who’d smiled and asked, “How far you going?” when they saw me hauling the canoe. I’d answered, “New York City” with a pride, with a confidence, in a rhyming carefree-wheeling fashion, and they said, “Good lord.”

Friend and “Crab Man” Tom Hilton on Pier 39 gestures through the morning fog, “This way!” Photo by Neal Moore.

I descended the steps onto the dock and then I slipped hard with my muck boots, flying up into the air before landing flat on my back, my wetsuit and right hand and elbow absorbing part of the fall. I knew I was lucky not to have broken my arm, I thought at first I had.

I am still bleeding into the wetsuit. Buck it up, sop it up, bandage it all up in the next town.   

There were other people watching and they greeted me without a word as I walked past with a nod of the head. A grunged-out looking young dude, an employee at Rogue Brewery, when I walked past for more gear, laughed hard, too hard. He yelled “OUCH!” as an insult and then he looked away.

Floyd found me and together with Peter, we went down to launch. Floyd asked how I was and I just repeated to myself: Breathe – remember to breathe.

Then I was in. We’d loaded the canoe and pushed it into the water, and away I went – first with a false start for the camera, and again for real.

The joy, the sheer giddy joy of launching and paddling into adventure. It was overwhelming, and I struggled to describe it as I spoke into my camera.

The tankers were blowing their fog horns, a thick layer of fog had rolled in and blocked out all visibility. But I knew the fog would lift, and as it did, I found myself enveloped by brilliant bright sun.

A tanker blows its fog horn in the thick of it, a few nights post-launch. Photo by Neal Moore

I rounded Tongue Point and progressed onward and in time, in time arriving to the Washington shore I spotted my first bald eagle on this trip, and then a tree full/thick with them.

I saw two crosses this day. One was made of tools, of wrenches and it said “Sonny.” The cross of wrenches lorded over the water, keeping Sonny’s memory alive. As the river ebbed and flooded, first one way, and then the other, I snapped a picture of Sonny’s memorial.

A testament to a handyman-mariner? Photo by Neal Moore.

The second cross was made of sticks, and the austere, sticky, thorny trees all around it, all gnarled with no life to them at all, it highlighted/underscored the finality, the death, of the un-named.

And then another. Somebody else had died on or near the river. An unmarked crossed stick cross, a testament to the dangers of the Lower Columbia River. Photo by Neal Moore.

Up to Pillar Rock and the old cannery, and there was Leon Gollersrud, an older gent with white hair and a shaky mouth.

Pillar Rock Cannery owner/caretaker Leon Gollersrud poses in front of his “what-not” wall. A lumberjack by trade, he reckons the cannery dates back to at least 1876 on account of a brick with that date he found inside. Photo by Neal Moore.

“I proclaim you welcome to Pillar Rock!” he bellowed in friendship, and brought me up to his shack, a man cave, where he’d already got a fire to keep us warm.

On to a tour of the old cannery, and we made our way back. He bade me good night, for he was tired.

Only my first day out, and, Jesus, so am I.

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