SATURDAY: Our second day on the Chehalis River en route to the Pacific Ocean was interesting from the start.
Afterall, it’s not every day that your boss is accused of dangling his two young children from a bridge.
The incident occurred early this morning as The Chronicle Assistant Editor Brian Mittge met us near the intersection of Highway 603 and state Route 6 east of Adna.
Mittge had kindly agreed to rendezvous with us at the river to bring much-needed supplies and collect all of our gear that wouldn’t fit in our kayaks. He summoned us from atop the Highway 603 bridge, his 1-year-old daughter Elizabeth in one arm and his 4-year-old son Sam in the other, as we cleaned up our camp and prepared to continue downriver.
By the time we made it up the steep banks to a waiting Mittge clan, we figured something was awry. A Lewis County Sheriff’s Office deputy pulled up almost immediately. Within seconds, another squad car pulled up behind him.
“Oh boy,” we thought. Perhaps camping on the Chehalis River is not legal. Were we on private property? Did our unkempt, bedraggled appearance startle shoppers at a nearby gas station?
No. The deputy quickly informed us that the Sheriff’s Office had received reports of a man holding his children over the Chehalis River. In this day and age, the deputy said, a strong, quick response was necessary.
After a brief explanation from Mittge, the deputy waved off the three squad cars that had responded to the call. Mittge’s son Sam politely thanked the officers for making sure he was safe. Sam is intelligent and polite beyond his years, a testament to the parenting of Mittge and his wife.
The quick response of the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office was commendable as well. Deputies arrived within minutes of the call. It’s reassuring indeed to know that one quick phone call from a concerned passerby could elicit such an immediate response, despite the fact that Mittge never put his children in danger.
On Down The River
After our encounter with Lewis County’s finest, we continued down the river toward Chehalis and Centralia. We passed through some of the last swift-moving portions of the river, and arrived at the largest and most complex log jam yet.
Several miles from Claquato, we were forced to leave our kayaks and climb ashore when we encountered a maze of twisted woody debris. One large tree had fallen across the river, snagging dozens of others to create a dangerous situation for two amateur rivermen.
We charted out the best course, and Swanson climbed a nearby hill to photograph my passage. Fortunately, there was a 2-foot gap in the jam that allowed for a clear path through, the kayak received a few bumps and scratches from submerged trees jutting through the surface.
We had paddled for a 11 hours in a day-and-a-half without seeing a single human being on the river. Wildlife continued to entertain us. Hawks and osprey flew high overhead beckoning our arrival, their screeches echoing through the river banks.
We soon arrived at the convergence of another well-known Lewis County river.
The Newaukum River spills in just west of the city of Chehalis, marking a stark change in the nature of the river and its current. Narrow, log-lined, rocky channels with sometimes swift water flow define the upper reaches of the Chehalis River from Pe Ell to Claquato. After the convergence of the Newaukum, however, the river widens and becomes lazy.
It was here that we met Justine West and her longtime boyfriend Del Rasmussen (read a separate story on these regular river travels in Monday’s edition of The Chronicle).
From there, we continued down the slower, wider Chehalis River as it twisted through the agricultural lands between Interstate 5 and Scheuber Road, an area defined by its ability to flood the Twin Cities.
The river banks throughout this area are lined with the unlikely presence of old, rusted vehicles used decades ago to secure the banks and protect against erosion.
Swanson and I counted dozens of the vehicles in and around the river in this stretch of river from Centralia to Chehalis. After being surprised by the presence of automobiles during our first day of paddling, they soon appeared with constant regularity.
By about 1 p.m., we decided to take a break at the Riverside Golf Club. Friendly golfers responded to questions from Swanson, who asked where would be the best place to pull our kayaks ashore for a quick meal at the clubhouse.
The staff there was extremely friendly, agreeing to bring our food to us outside. Our wet, muddied and generally tired appearance garnered a few stares, but the meal was rejuvenating and soon we were back on the river.
We soon came into contact with Linda Ticknor, a Scheuber Road resident who had brought her three dogs down to the river to cool off and get exercise. She said she has lived along the river for most of her life, and recalled creating rafts out of logs and debris in her youth.
“We would dive off and see who could get a handful of mud off the bottom,” she recalled.
The next life we encountered was a beaver just a couple miles down. We stalked the beaver for about 30 minutes, seeking to snap a photograph for publication. The wily beaver, however, had different ideas.
He never allowed us to get quite close enough, flipping in the air, slapping his tail on the surface and submerging each time we were within a reasonable distance to take pictures.
Soon, we began paddling hard in order to reach our chosen destination — Fort Borst Park — where we pulled out kayaks from the water. The park is located near the convergence of the Skookumchuck River, an area rich in history.
On Monday, we’ll provide an account of one of the most interesting men to call the area home. George Washington, founder of the town that would become Centralia, settled at the convergence before laying out plans for what is now Lewis County’s largest municipality.
Having completed nearly a third of our journey — from Rainbow Falls to Centralia — we exited the river with plans to shower, catch up on sleep and return to our voyage Monday.
Continue following us at www.chronline.com, or feel free to meet us along the river. On Monday, we will paddle from Centralia to Rochester with a couple planned stops along the way.