Monday: Ben Hahn fell in love with the Chehalis River while growing up on its banks outside of Galvin as a boy. But he can clearly pinpoint the moment when he fell out of love with it.

    “The last time I went swimming in the Chehalis, my buddy caught a virus from the river,” he said. “It swam up his urethra.”

    He told me this haunting tale when I was floating in the middle of said river along with Chronicle reporter Eric Schwartz on day four of our journey from the upper Chehalis River to the Pacific. I can’t prove whether or not his story is true, but he told it with such gravitas that I don’t doubt it.

    A hypochondriac by nature, I thought about it for the rest of the day. How many times had I been urethra-deep in the river during the last three days? And what in God’s name is the source of this cough I am developing? These thoughts tempered what would have been a lovely day.

    We put in at Fort Borst Park in Centralia and aimed to pass Rochester by the end of the day. It was the first day that we noticed a change in topography. Gone were the 10-foot-high eroded mud banks that we faced around every bend. Once downriver from Centralia, the river banks flattened, and our field of vision opened. We saw black-tailed deer for the first time, now that the river was accessible to them.

    Soon after putting in, we whipped around a bend and snuck up on two young bucks and a doe. I snapped a few frames before they bound into the woods. We would see another half dozen deer before the day was through.

    Eric heard an awful groan from the banks an hour later. We paddled closer and heard two hound dogs braying on the bank opposite the Centralia Wastewater Treatment Plant. Eric guessed that the dogs were lost.

    “Sometimes those types of dogs will catch a scent and take off,” he said.

    The dogs looked lost, and they had tags. We tried to catch them in order to identify them, but they bounded off before we could get to the bank.

    We met Janet Strong of the Chehalis River Basin Land Trust, then paddled hard to type up our stories and edit our photos underneath the Independence Road Bridge south of Rochester.

    After a quick bite and a victory beer, it was time to float down to find a good place to camp for the night.

    Brandon Swanson: (360) 807-8232

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