With Low water in February there aren’t a lot of options for paddling all the time, but there is always something. Yesterday I decided to take advantage of the nice weather and go for a rather low flow paddle on on the Chamberlain Falls section of the North Fork of the American. The day started pretty normal with 7 of us meeting up at Weimar to organize. We decided my truck would be best left at take out since I could carry us all out in one trip, so I loaded my kayak, gear, and paddle into my buddy Troy’s truck. We drove down and left my truck and proceeded to rally up the rowdy dirt road to meet the rest of the crew at the put in. We pulled in to put in and unloaded. Everyone was stoked for a fun relaxed day on the North Fork. The sun was shining, the air was warm, and while the water wasn’t exactly high, it was enough for fun float. As Troy was driving up the road to the free parking, I was doing my final gear checks and getting suited up when I noticed I was missing a critical piece of gear. I looked around at all the gear everyone had searching for my paddle. It was probably just laying next to someone boat, so I asked the group, “does anyone see my paddle?” It was about this time that Dylan noticed his paddle was also MIA. We looked at each other with the realization that we had not gotten them out of the truck before Troy drove it up the hill. We jogged up after Troy to get them but when we arrived at the back of the truck there were no paddles and Troy informed us he had taken all the paddles out. So, we walked back down to recheck. They must be at the put in. However, further inspection by the group yielded no better results. At first we were confused. We both very clearly remember putting our paddles into the cargo net on the ceiling of the shell on Troy’s truck. That’s when it hit us. The back hatch had been open because there were 2 boats sticking out of the bed on the shuttle drive and we had been rattling all over the place driving out of the take out. Our paddles had fallen out. Immediately we hopped in the truck with Troy and raced back hoping they had not yet been run over by someone else. If you’re not familiar with this stretch of river, the shuttle is on a one lane road that is dirt for a lot of it and not very good dirt road. It takes anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes to drive it one way. As we are about 2/3 of the way back to the take out we see a state park ranger driving up toward us. We stop him and ask him about the paddles. “I did see a guy in a gold sedan that had two paddles but didn’t look like a kayaker,” he tells us. We are immediately relieved. We know the guy. We saw him driving in as we were driving out just a little while ago. He has them. Great! We drive down to the take out and start climbing up the other side of the canyon before we see him 50 or so feet below the road, at water level panning for gold. We stop in the next turn out where we find his car with our paddles safely locked inside. Dylan volunteers to scramble down the hill and ask him to unlock the car so we can get them. However, when Dylan gets down to the water he finds the situation to be a little different than we were anticipating. Dylan tells him the paddles belong to us and we have come back for them, and then asks him to get them out of the car. “How much are they worth?” the toothless miner asks. Dylan correctly answers, “not very much at all.” So close. “Well then you can buy new ones and I’ll sell these and get my money,” the miner replies. So now Dylan has to correct and tells the miner the paddles would cost about $500. Not a great move but I don’t really know what would have worked better. During the conversation the miner pulls a large folding knife from his pocket and begins to turn it over in his hands. Through some miracle of diplomacy that I myself could never have accomplished, Dylan agrees to stay and hold the rope holding the guys dog while he goes up the hill. By this time I begin to wonder what’s taking so long so I start to walk down the road to the spot where Dylan climbed down. I’m almost there when I see the miner climbing up the hill and Dylan no where in sight. A few steps further and I’m able to see Dylan at the bottom of the hill holding the dog. I’m was rather confused by this but guessed that the guy was climbing up to give us the paddles and for some reason didn’t want to bring up his dog. (At this point I was completely unaware of the interaction between Dylan and the Miner.) As he gets to the top of the hill I begin to thank him for finding our paddles and express my appreciation. “You don’t have 20 bucks do you?” He asks me. I said I didn’t have any money but that I had a few beers I’d be happy to give. “I’d rather have 20 bucks,” he says. Little did he know I had planned to give the $40 that I had right up until the point where he expected me to give him something. I follow him up the road toward the car, not really sure what to expect when we get there. He continues trying to get money out of me saying things like, “I’m not trying to steal them, I found them” and “you’re lucky there weren’t any others (other kayakers) down there, I was gonna sell ’em for $50.” He asked me how much they were worth and I said nearly nothing. He replied, “oh yeah? He (Dylan) says they’re worth 500 bucks.” To which I say “he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” As we approached his car his attitude improved ever so slightly. I attributed this to him seeing Troy standing there and now realizing that there were 3 of us and just 1 of him. He did make a few attempts to get some money out of Troy before very reluctantly handing over the paddles and concluding the conversation with “awe fuck it! pay it forward right?!” I considered pointing out to him that this probably didn’t count toward good karma, but having just gotten the paddles back and with out a fight, I saw no reason to instigate. We could just get Dylan and go kayaking, finally.
After driving the shuttle for a second time we were finally on the water. There is nothing like kayaking to relieve the tension brought on by an awkward confrontation with an old toothless hillbilly. The rest of the day turned out to be one of the best days I’ve ever had on Chamberlain. It was sunny, warm, and the low water revealed dozen of boofs that are normally covered over. We stopped just above the take out for a short hike up a tributary creek to a beautiful double waterfall that I had not previously known about. There were plans for post run mountain biking or a lap on the Bear River which didn’t pan out after all the time delays but no one seemed to mind too much.
So I guess the moral of the story is, make sure your gear is securely fastened into your vehicle, especially when in mining country. Evidently miners have this misguided idea that anything they pick up from the ground is rightfully theirs. Moral number two is, in spite of lost gear and sketchy encounters with crazy hillbillies, you can still have a great day on the river.