River Diary No. 3 — A Happiness Defined by the Sunburn That Followed


Editor’s Note: This story is part of "Headwaters to Harbor," a project by The Chronicle 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.

It should be obvious but, don’t forget to pack extra sunscreen when paddling on a sunny day, like I did.

If you’re thinking, “she really has made every mistake in the book on this trip,” don’t worry, I’m thinking that, too. 

The good news is the approximately 15-mile paddle from Centralia to Independence Valley went perfectly.

On Wednesday around 10 a.m., we took off from the Fort Borst Park boat launch. 

CT Publishing Regional Executive Editor Justyna Tomtas, Longview Daily News Sports Editor Jordan Nailon, Chronicle photographer Jared Wenzeburger and I each piloted our own kayak until we had just entered the Chehalis Reservation.

With the amount of water in the river right now, this stretch was not overly challenging. We finished just before 4 p.m.

The first few miles were packed with wildlife. A young coyote stared at our party from the banks, eagles and osprey swooped down past us. Shortly after Galvin, Tomtas dubbed one beach “eagle island” for its five squabbling bald eagles. Fish of varying sizes jumped around us throughout the stretch.

When we neared the mouth of Lincoln Creek, I noticed someone peeking from behind the brush. As I got closer, a familiar face took shape. I shouted back to everyone, “You guys, it’s Edna Fund!”

The former Lewis County commissioner is on the Office of the Chehalis Basin Board. She had seen our live video on Facebook from the day’s launch and drove down to greet us. A regular community meeting attendee, I run into Fund frequently. Now that she has found us even on the banks of the Chehalis River, I have decided to call her “omnipresent Edna.”

On the same beach as the former commissioner was some flotsam and jetsam — a decoy duck we named Dale Halis, a last name derived from the drake’s river home. Dale remained strapped to a kayak for the rest of the day.

We took one of our longest detours at the mouth of Lincoln Creek, which forms a pond before joining the river. Nailon explained that the pond was a collection site for logs back in Galvin’s heyday, when the town had three lumber mills. Logs there were strapped together and sent to Grays Harbor by railroad. We also observed the rail line’s remains near the river bank.

“I wouldn’t go so far as to say (the pond) is entirely man-made, but it was definitely manicured,” Nailon said. 

In grass at the pond’s edge, I saw several frogs about the size of my fist, some smaller. I forwarded a blurry photo of one to each of my most knowledgeable ecological sources. The guesses I received in response were an invasive bullfrog or a northern red-legged frog. 

From there, we were right across from the edge of the Discovery Trail, where a member of the Chehalis Basin Land Trust met with us for an interview. 

From there, the water began to widen. Once reaching Rochester, it opens immensely. Through the wider channel, we encountered wind that felt as though it was pushing us backwards and countless fishing shacks.

At one rocky beach, we stopped for a stone-skipping contest. Nailon won the category of farthest skip, while I secured the title for most skips. Tomtas had never skipped a stone, so we stayed on the beach until she conquered this deficiency. She has now skipped three.

We stopped just after the edge of the reservation to meet with a retired farmer in the Independence Valley, Betsie De Wreede.

On dry land, a man asked us if we had put in at the Independence Bridge. When I told him we started in Centralia, he was thoroughly impressed. 

The best thing about outdoors reporting, I believe, is showing folks that adventures are accessible right in their own communities. I got a text from De Wreede on Thursday saying she was inspired to paddle the same stretch this weekend.

Despite learning many lessons the hard way, Wenzelburger and I are continuing downstream. Whether this drives you to do something similar or discourages you from ever setting foot in the river, you can at least continue the trip with us by reading about it at https://www.Chronline.com/Chehalis-River/.