Editor’s Note: This story is part of "Headwaters to Harbor," a project to document the Chehalis River from Pe Ell to Grays Harbor while highlighting people and issues connected to the river along the way. Our coverage is compiled at www.chronline.com/Chehalis-River.
Late on Monday afternoon, peeling from sunburns, sore from paddling dozens of miles and soaked with brackish water, Chronicle photographer Jared Wenzelburger and I pulled our kayaks up a boat launch in Hoquiam.
We high-fived before going on Facebook to tell everyone we were alive at the end of our journey.
In truth, we were more exhausted than excited.
On Sunday, we went to The Chronicle in the morning to wrap up work for Tuesday’s paper. By noon, we were at Friends Landing, a campground on the Chehalis River in Montesano.
There, we spoke with Rich and Julia Eaton, a father-daughter duo who runs a fishing channel on YouTube called “BigBankFishing.” From Friends Landing and a boat launch in Cosmopolis — which Rich Eaton affectionately calls “Cozzy” — the two show off the large sturgeon they catch and release on the riverbanks.
After that, we were set to meet with a farmer near the confluence of the Satsop and Chehalis rivers, Steve Willis. When we arrived, Willis pulled up on a bicycle, noticed our footwear was not suited for mud, and promptly rode away. Almost immediately, he was back with a four-wheeler.
“Wanna ride with me?” he asked.
Holding on tightly on the back of the quad, Wenzelburger and I exchanged a glance as if to say, “Our job is really weird.” We bumped along his fields as Willis talked about the effects of erosion on the riverfront property.
Around 3:30 p.m., we were back on the river, riding the ebbing tide from the Satsop to our campsite at Friends Landing.
Almost immediately after the confluence of the Satsop River, we passed a house on a bank so eroded that its facade was completely gone. We could see plumbing in the ground and peer down the hallway of the house. Rivers are not the most merciful neighbors.
Near this, we saw a swarm of at least six turkey vultures. Between vultures, dilapidated structures and abandoned RVs on the banks, someone could write morbid poetry about this area.
When we came to the mouth of the Wynoochee River, we hopped out of our kayaks to sink our feet in its muddy banks. Coming from the Olympic Mountains, this river is the longest single-stem tributary in the Chehalis Basin.
Around 8 p.m., we pulled up the launch. For dinner, we drove to McDonalds in Aberdeen.
The next morning, we got up shortly after 7 a.m. for the home stretch. We were supposed to paddle from Friends Landing to Hoquiam.
I’m not proud of what happened next.
By our arrival in Hoquiam to drop off a van at the pull-out destination, I realized it was going to take us more time than we had to finish that stretch. I chickened out and we launched at Cosmopolis instead, cutting the mileage in about half.
As soon as we got on the water, I started paddling in the wrong direction before Wenzelburger and some onlookers from the shore shouted to me to turn around.
Cosmopolis to Hoqiuam was brutal.
We were fighting wind and tide as the water became increasingly choppy. If you ever want to try stationary kayaking, hit this stretch. As if we were on a treadmill, even the slightest decrease in paddling pace pushed us backwards. This was even harder for Wenzelburger, who had to routinely stop and take photos.
While battling the wind and waves, people on a riverside park walked on the shore twice as fast as we could paddle.
So determined not to look up and see the enormity of the task at hand, I didn’t even notice the mouth of the Wishkah River, a name I recently learned comes from a Chehalis word meaning “stinking water.”
Finally, around 3:30 p.m., it was finished.
We didn’t paddle the entire Chehalis River. If you’ve been reading along, you know we still have to circle back for the Doty to Newaukum stretch — which we will write about eventually — and that we cut two days short, skipping a couple miles near Porter and Montesano.
But, we did make it from the headwaters to the harbor. Even after losing two kayaks and plenty of gear along the way, we gained more than we lost.
Check out Saturday’s edition of The Chronicle for a final wrapup of the trip.