Editor’s note: Chronicle reporter Eric Schwartz and photographer Brandon Swanson on Thursday concluded their week long kayak trip down the Chehalis River from Rainbow Falls State Park in West Lewis County to Grays Harbor. On Saturday The Chronicle will publish a visual wrap-up of the trip.
THURSDAY: After seven days, 60 hours and about 90 miles of paddling, Chronicle photographer Brandon Swanson and I spilled into Grays Harbor from the Chehalis River at about 10:30 a.m.
A journey that began at Rainbow Falls State Park June 5 culminated with our arrival in Hoquiam, where we removed our kayaks from the water for the final time and pulled ourselves to dry land.
The short day of paddling was made possible thanks in part to an assist from a retreating tide that carried us from a camp at Friends Landing west of Montesano, passed Cosmopolis, through Aberdeen and into Hoquiam.
It was a peaceful conclusion to our adventure as we floated in the harbor, our kayaks rising and plummeting with the incoming waves of the Pacific Ocean.
The final leg of our journey was completed with empty kayaks, after we unloaded our sleeping bags, tents and supplies on Chronicle Visuals Editor Dan Schreiber, who provided logistical support throughout the trip.
As we passed through the harbor we saw new forms of wildlife, large ships, lumber mills and log yards. But by the time we arrived, all we really wanted was a shower and secure land beneath our feet.
We arrived in Cosmopolis just before 10 a.m., and there we met 67-year-old Louis Audette, the last person we would talk to on our journey. Of the approximately three dozen people we came into contact with on the river, only three or four were not already aware of the purpose of the trip.
In what I hope was a testament to the continued reach of newspapers, people along the river asked us questions about previous portions of our journey that had already been published in either The Chronicle or The Daily World, Grays Harbor County’s only daily publication.
Audette commended us on our trip. Then, just as we have for every personality we met on the river, we asked him what had brought him to the banks. As it turns out, Audette has been coming to the river almost every morning for the past 10 years.
He sits in the cab of his pick-up truck and watches the Chehalis River, as it takes its final twists and turns before arriving in the harbor.
“I seen a sea lion, which is very unusual,” he said. “It came up right down there. I watched him for about 15 minutes. He must of had about 80 pounds of fish in his mouth.”
Audette, who was born in Chehalis and lived in Winlock in his childhood, has seen a whale swim up the river as well, he said, an even more rare occurrence. On this day, though, he was thrilled to see two damp, weary travelers kayak past his usual observation point.
Great to Do, Great to Be Through
With our kayaks removed from the water, all that’s left to signify the end of the journey for Brandon and I is the removal of our “river beards.” That, and the giving of thanks to all who helped us along the way.
At the outset of the journey, exactly one week ago, I wasn’t sure how this trip would ultimately end. But the perpetual kindness of those who met us on and around the river made our journey everything we hoped it would be.
To the people who told us their stories, thank you. To the wildlife that provided us with hours of entertainment as we floated down the river, thank you. To the people who provided us with transportation, supplies and hot meals on days when all were sorely needed, thank you.
Most of all though, I feel a debt of gratitude to the people who followed our journey either in print or online, and those who passed on words of support and encouragement during the most physically strenuous of times.
For joining us as we recorded the stories and photographs that make the Chehalis River Basin what it is, we thank you.
Eric Schwartz: (360) 807-8245
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