So went my thinking before my friend Matt Leidecker, an outdoors photographer who happens to be writing a Rogue River rafting guidebook, convinced me to accompany him on a trip last July. Matt has been a river guide on Idaho’s Middle Fork of the Salmon River for more than a decade, and my assessment of rivergoing people, he informed me, was entirely off the mark. "The vast majority of those who sign up for river trips are exactly the kind of folks you want to hang out with," he said assuringly.
These are not, he pointed out, women schlepping their curling irons or men who talk ad nauseum about the stock market. They are people who want to spend their few vacation days in the wilderness, nature lovers with limited time on their hands.
On guided tours, no details is forgotten, not bug spray or margarita mix.
And so I finally relented and joined him on a four-day journey with Hood River-based Echo River Trips, a family-focused outfitter with 35 years of Rogue River experience. And, yes, as hard as this is to admit, I now know that the problem lies not with the curmudgeons of my imagination—but with the curmudgeon inside of me.
Consider Vicky, a middle-aged mother from Berkeley, California, who, together with her husband and two children, were among the 20 guests. The first days of the trip, traveling through the sculpted river valley, she was content to be a passenger on a large raft steered by one of the guides. But on the final day, she decided to face her trepidation and tackle the white water in a one-person inflatable kayak known as a "duckie." Paddling full steam into the crashing waves of the Tacoma Rapids, she dug her oars into the cresting rolls of water, navigating the right-to-left run with aplomb. So moved was I by her transformation that before even thinking about it, I let out an unguarded "Way to go, Vicky!"
It was during an afternoon meal of Thai peanut salad, fruit and sugar cookies that I first recognized yet another perk of guided trips. Outfitter tours are such thorough affairs these days that no detail is forgotten, not bug spray or margarita mix or backup tent stakes; not croutons or even a Frisbee (an excellent way to pass the time ashore). Instead of dealing with gear, prepping meals, washing dishes or plotting the next day’s campsite, guests can leave all that and more to the guides, and stay focused on the business of relaxing.
Rarely did we paddle for more than a couple of hours before pulling ashore, allowing us a chance to stretch kayak-cramped legs, lean back in the sand and look for wildlife, which is abundant on the Rogue. During our trip, we saw bald eagles, deer, river otters, ospreys and even a young black bear, loping along the south side of the riverbank.
On the third day, Matt and I pulled away from the group to scamper up a small but precariously steep ridge so he could snap some photos looking back upriver toward the Blossom Bar rapid, among the hairiest sections of the river. So narrow was the peak’s pinnacle that to take in the view of the river snaking through a canyon, I had to brace myself on a downed tree with one foot and grip the branch of a young manzanita with my right hand; I looked down just in time to see the first raft and a pod of duckies rounding a C-curve in the river. Even from a few hundred feet up, I recognized these people: the father-son pair from Sebastopol, California; the San Diego lawyer and his daughter; the guy from Milwaukee who works in publishing; the young San Francisco couple; the ever-enthused guides; and Vicky and her family. There were no bad apples here. It was official: My pre-Rogue attitude about outfitter tours was completely ridiculous.