CHEHALIS — Meet the self-described “diehards” of the Chehalis River.

    Centralian Justine West and her longtime boyfriend Del Rasmussen of Randle are weekly fixtures on the river. Every summer, they gear up their canoe for weekend runs from the Newaukum River to the Chehalis, they say.

    And each time, they bring with them their most prized possessions — two Yorkies named Winchester and Daisy. 

    “We camp out all up and down this thing,” says West while helping Rasmussen pull the canoe on shore just past the convergence of the Newaukum River Saturday. “We pretty much live here.”

    The couple considers the weekly summer paddling as an escape from the norm, though the traffic of Interstate 5 can still be heard echoing in the distance and West is never more than a few miles away from her home.

    Rasmussen, a framer and builder in East Lewis County, says the close proximity is part of the allure.

    “It’s a nice, cheap way to get away,” he says.

    West and Rasmussen’s two wet, muddied Yorkie terriers are not at all concerned by the rushing waters of the Newaukum or the muddy banks of the Chehalis. No ordinary lap dogs, they explore the banks and wade into the water without fear.

    The couple’s canoe has been customized with a dual-latch leash that secures the dogs to the vessel while riding the river. Daisy, the youngest of the two river dogs, has exhibited daredevil tendencies in the past, leaping from the moving kayak to a nearby kneeboard.

    West has had to customize the dogs as well. Remington receives a unique grooming before each river voyage.

    “I shave his belly from  here up,” she said, pointing about leg-high. She said the selective hair removal prevents some of the buildup of mud and twigs.

    West said Remington got his name after he was acquired through a trade for a .30-06 rifle she said. Daisy was also the result of a barter involving a firearm, they said.

    “They have a blast,” she said. “They have no fear.”

    After their trip down the Newaukum brought them to Alexander Park and the Chehalis River, Rasmussen and West planned to head back upstream — the more difficult part of their weekly journey.

    Rasmussen said he normally jumps out of the canoe and hauls it through the swift moving Newaukum when he and West are ready to leave the Chehalis and head back to camp.

    “This is a great place,” he says, smoking a cigarette and preparing to paddle further downriver. “It’s our little escape.”

    Eric Schwartz: (360) 807-8245

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