Posted by: Columbia River | March 9, 2009

On River Exclusive! – Journal Entry

Journal Entry from Keel Brightman – On River Exclusive!

   I was up at 7:30 and cooked breakfast as the sun rose.  By 8:30 I was fed and laying my stuff on the rocks to dry.  I waited around till 11 thinking Paul was behind me. He never showed so I assumed he must have passed me in the night, for it was calm out with a full moon. Perfect conditions for rowing.  Worst case scenario he was behind me and if that was the case we were only a few days from Grand Coulee.  He could catch up with me there I though it was still below freezing the sun was shining and slight breeze on my back made the first 4 miles a joy.  I rounded a bend and headed down a long straight towards the south, as a breeze began to pick up right in my face.  I ran into a fisherman Tony O’Neil, he had the day off from work in Spokane and was out to enjoy the sun.  He was fishing for catfish at the moment, but hadn’t caught anything yet.  We chatted for a few minutes and he gave me 2 bananas, 1 apple, and 2 cups of pudding.  They said “made with real milk”.  what kind of world do we live in when you have to write that on  the container.  You’d think that’s the only kind of milk out there.  I thanked Tony for the food, I hadn’t had a piece of fruit in 2 weeks besides dried apples.  He Reeled in his line and set off up the lake, grabbing some gas as he left the cove. I watched him fly up the lake covering more ground in a few minutes than i would in a few hours. The wind was picking up and I could not hide from it for there were few features to hide behind.  I got into my best upright posture and began taking long deliberate strokes. My dad would have been proud for he was my paddling coach growing up and I knew it would be the best stroke carry me through the wind. I got on the right bank which was slightly protected and enjoyed 4 hours of quality suffering, making it all of 10 miles.  At the final bend I spotted Paul’s  silhouette far ahead. When I caught up to him I found out he had paddled to well after midnight and had spent the whole day today making it 5 miles up the south section battling the headwind.  I was surprised to see him. He continues to impress me with his tenacity.


      We shared my last cup of coffee together and chatted for a few minutes.  It was 6:30 and the sun was setting.  I was beginning to get cold in the waning light so i bid him farewell and told him i was going to paddle for 2 more hours or so looking to make another 8 miles or so before i camped.  He said he was tired  and that he might not make it that far.  I figured I would wait for him to pass in the morning.
     For the last 2 days the cliffs lining the river were made of sand.  They were eroding and collapsing into the water. But here as i turned the corner heading NW a deep granite gorge began to form. As i paddled between the rising walls looming higher and higher, painted by the setting sun, I wondered.  How many amazing rapids were buried under me in this lake, for the geology screamed of a sweet canyon which would undoubtedly have produced giant whitewater. It was one of the most spectacular sections i had seen on the trip, and i was awed by its grandness as it wound generally westward towards a planet that shone brightly through the increasing darkness.
     I wasn’t worried about the darkness. the mostly full moon had been up shortly after sunset last night.  My planet finally sank into the western horizon, and it became as dark as night can be, the canyon walls looming black all around me.  I lost all depth perception and waited in the darkness for the moon to rise.  It never did for the depth of the canyon and some clouds to the east blocked its light.  i was getting cold but could barely see the mountains around me. I knew i could follow the left bank to avoid an arm that would add 10 mile to my trip if i took it so i paddled along slowly as the water began to freeze in the still air. I paddled along to keep warm my bow cutting a path in the this ice and my paddle crunching through on every stroke.  it was so black i peered into the ink trying to decipher what was mountain and what was reflection. A house lit up in front of me as somebody came home and put my surroundings back into perspective. Turned right and began to follow what i now knew to be the shoreline. I saw a blinking light in the distance and thought it might be Paul’s strobe.  The batteries were dead in mine and my flashlight buried in my dry box which was strapped in behind me. I picked up the pace trying to catch up.  it was good to paddle hard and get my core warmed up again.  As i got close to the light i gave a holler not wanting to scare Paul in the soupy darkness. No response. I got a little closer and yelled and whistled again.  Again no response.  as i closed in i began to talk “Paul is that you? everything alright?”  I floated up and realized all this time i had been talking to a buoy. By now I was tired and know i was loosing my mind.  This i was sure of, if nothing else.  i paddle for another half hour or so and the canyon walls receded enough for the moon to show. I found a suitable spot and stopped.  I was beat and freezing my ass of once again. I got out of my boat and immediately began putting my tent poles together before the bungee froze, my fingers sticking to the frozen metal.  I thought to myself.  Here we go again.  Another night on the Columbia…



  1. […] soon.  TCE camped in Kennewick awaiting arrival of Ground Support for tomorrow’s float. On River Exclusive = Journal Entry. Keel checks in with a days account from the river. – March 24, Keel and Paul check in.  They are […]

  2. thanks for the great update and smooth words keel. I have to say the DR and Haiti trip is proving to be one of the most incredible experience of my life. Can’t wait to see you and talk for real… biggest loves..xoxoxo mom

  3. Keel is absolutely correct about the drowned rapids. I follow the trip on Goggle Earth there are Wikipidia entries all along about great famous and dangerous rapids that are now lakes.

  4. Very impressive Keel. Brian saw the first picture (of the lock) and said “holy sh..” He says if he were younger he’d have made the trip with you. He’s looking forward to hearing ‘Keel stories’

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