DAY 1: I assumed nature would come a knockin’. I just didn’t know it would be so soon.

    We are now one night into a journey that will take photographer Brandon Swanson and I from alongside the Chehalis River at Rainbow Falls State Park to the conclusion of the river in Grays Harbor.

    A restless, anxious night was highlighted by the invasion of a half-dozen raccoons — the pickpockets of the forest, in my opinion. One of the critters wedged himself between the flap and the mosquito netting of my one-person tent, which startled both me and the raccoon.

    We assumed we might have visitors when a raccoon strolled onto our campsite before we had even unpacked our bags. It stood on its hind legs and gazed at us with the eyes of a veteran who had ransacked his fair share of campsites.

    Thankfully, the raccoons were harmless. If the wildlife here at Rainbow Falls is any indicator, we should be in for an exciting and visually pleasing ride as we collect photographs and stories from throughout the basin. Thus far, we’ve been lucky to see a couple owls, a bald eagle and several of the more common residents of the forest. I suspect we’ll see a big change in this arena as well, as we move from evergreen forest to the coastal plains of Grays Harbor.

    In a few short hours, we’ll drop our kayaks into the Chehalis River and begin our uncertain journey toward the coast. At this point, the anxiousness has given way to a sense of adventure.

    Though we’ll never be far from civilization, the river promises to provide a new viewpoint for our coverage. Along our five- to seven-day journey, we’ll paddle down the North Fork of the Chehalis River to the main stem. We’ll pass the convergence of the Newaukum River near Alexander Park in Chehalis before riding the serpentine curves of the Chehalis River in the shadow of the Twin Cities.

    We’ll visit the site of the original homestead of pioneer George Washington, the son of a slave who bucked societal norms to found the city of Centralia. We’ll pass the point where the Satsop River pours into the Chehalis, and our kayaks will be lifted and lowered by the tidal influence of the Pacific Ocean.

    Without the benefit of speaking with someone who has made the approximately 90-mile journey, we’re not exactly sure what to expect. I think that’s what makes it exciting, and hopefully that’s what will make it interesting to Chronicle readers.

    Feel free to contact Assistant Editor Brian Mittge at The Chronicle to suggest a story or give us pointers. Reach him by telephone at 807-8234 or by e-mail a bmittge@chronline.com. Mittge and others represent Mission Control for this journey, and will be bringing us fresh supplies and e-mails each day.

    I look forward to meeting the people and seeing the places that make the Chehalis River what it is.

    And if there happen to be more raccoons ahead, I look forward to seeing them as well. As long as they stay out of my tent.

    Eric Schwartz: (360) 807-8245

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