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Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Kayaking to Corvallis

Having paddled from central Eugene to Whiteley's Landing, and from Whiteley's to Brown's, the next obvious step was to kayak from Brown's to Corvallis, the next big city up the river.

This then was my plan for Sunday, with Beth's able support as driver to drop me off at Brown's and meet me at Corvallis. There are a couple of different official landing places in Corvallis, and I had planned on using the nearer one, but Beth suggested the further one because the river's current was supposedly less and it would be easier to land a kayak.

I awoke before 5am, partly helped by our cat Ghost, and was too excited to get to sleep again, so I left Beth asleep and went downstairs to check over my kit. We'd got the kayak up on Beth's car the previous evening, but the straps needed tightening, and I had to prepare some snacks for the trip. I packed a cooler with some sodas, and made a couple of tuna & mayo finger rolls. I was too excited for my stomach to want anything major, so a cup of tea and a donut sufficed.

By 6am it was bright enough to drive without headlights and I was hopping to get started, so went and woke Beth who had said she could be on the road within ten minutes of waking.

The landing at Brown's requires sliding the kayak down a grassy slope to the water.

I struggle into my wetsuit...

Beth's view before the off

and mine.

To keep dry feet as long as possible, I try to get into the kayak while it's still partly aground, and then jerk it into the water with body and paddle movements.

Properly afloat now, and judging how to get into the main current

I don't want to end up against one of those bits of tree, and the current always wants to make me do just that.

 Past the danger point, and Beth's last view of me for many hours...

Afloat and alone, on a glassy river, the Coastal mountain range visible in the distance. There are long periods in any kayaking trip when one is completely alone, and apart from the blue plastic kayak and white plastic paddles, it could be any decade, or indeed any time since the dawn of man. These are my favorite moments.

The distance by road from start to finish is 29 miles, but the river is far less direct, and by water I judged it could be as much as 50 miles. I had hoped I'd catch a 5mph current, so that without any paddling I'd take 10 hours to get there, and any paddling on top of that was just gravy. Starting at 7am (I actually hit the water at 6:50), I should be in Corvallis by 5pm at the latest.

I had Beth's GPS with me this trip as it is waterproof, and also has a better battery life than my bigger screen GPS. What it didn't have (and neither does mine) was a "by water" option. I was able to set it to offroad mode, and for travel by foot, which gave me a reasonable idea of how I was doing, but it expected me to progress in a straight line towards my destination, and at a constant pace. Depending on the current, my speed of paddling, and whether I was headed directly towards my destination or at an angle to it (or even sometimes away from it), I was getting an estimated time of arrival of between 12:45pm and 5pm. Hmmm. I really wanted to be there before 5pm, and anyway I needed a better estimate of arrival time so Beth wouldn't have to wait for me for hours. She had returned home after dropping me off, and I called a few times on my cellphone, when I had network coverage, with updates on my progress and ETA.

Early on I passed a couple of rail bridges. These carry the two rail lines that connect Junction City to Harrisburg, and after Harrisburg the lines run almost due North until they reach Albany, and so on further North. One of the bridges looked pretty rusty and unkempt, and it may be that only one is still in use.

The next bridge carries the 99E highway from Junction City to Harrisburg. 99W goes to Corvallis, the split occuring at the North edge of Junction City. Harrisburg is one of those towns that has nothing of interest unless you live there, and I passed it quickly and unnoticed.

This nesting platform has been occupied by an Osprey. Poles like this one, and nesting platforms on the top of telegraph poles, dot the riverside. It's good to see the platforms in use, and I saw a couple of Bald Eagles and several Ospreys on this trip, but wasn't close enough to get a good photograph.

The river is much shallower than I had expected, often less than thigh deep, occasionally not much more than ankle deep. Shortly after taking this picture I grounded, having inattentively allowed myself to get washed towards a gravel island in midstream. The river meanders a good deal between Eugene and Corvallis, and the banks alternate between deep cut cliffs on one side and low gravel banks on the other. The deeper water and faster current are found on the outer side of each curve, and very shallow water with almost no current on the inner curve. I had to get out and drag my kayak back to deeper water, getting my feet wet in the process, not surprising really in a river. Then I "broke" my paddle and used the two ends to punt myself into the current again. 

I passed a couple of camping groups in this stretch, one lot getting ready to set out again in inflatable canoes, the other group still fast asleep in their tents. It might be fun to do a two-day trip, taking a sleeping bag and maybe a small tent, and enjoying the river at night, setting out at dawn to finish the trip. Or it might be a nightmare of stiff muscles, hard gravel for a bed, and outdoor ablutions.

This stranded tree was a reminder that the river is not always so gentle as it was today.

A couple of birds. The smaller one is something very like a Turnstone,  the larger one I have yet to identify.

That, as it turned out, was the last picture I took on this trip. I was much occupied with paddling and judging my rate of progress, and nothing else turned up to make me take out my camera. The current, which I had counted on to be around 5mph, was being very lazy and only running at 2-3mph in places. I should probably be talking in knots, so we'll say the current was two knots, when I had hoped for at least four. The result of this was more paddling than I had planned on, as at times I seemed to hardly be moving at all without paddling, with sorer arms, stiffer shoulders, and a stiff and sore back, extra sore where my wetsuit zipper was rubbed into the small of my back by the seat. 

These distractions aside, I was still having fun, and having adventures. Shortly after my grounding I had a near-capsize, when the current ran me onto a submerged tree. I saw the tree and tried to avoid it, but the naughty river saw what I was at and went that bit faster to frustrate me. I rammed the tree like a D-Day beach obstacle, though happily for me no mine was attached to this one. A thrill of panic ran through me, and a chill of water getting into the boat as I tipped, but then I righted myself and got off the tree - without my paddle. In the confusion I had let it go, and I could see it now drifting away on the current. Fortunately I had planned for such an eventuality and quickly whipped out my emergency paddle, clipped the two halves together, and within a minute had caught up with my errant main paddle and recovered it. What I would have down without the emergency paddle doesn't bear thinking about. I suppose I'd have hand-paddled as fast as possible to get back to my main paddle. That would have taken several minutes, and might have proved impossible. The emergency paddle paid for itself on this occasion (about $20), and I was very glad I had carried it with me on every trip.

I came across a wide stretch of river frequented by fishing boats, and must have passed a dozen, singly or in small groups. The last one I saw was occupied by two young men who hailed me and asked for directions to Peoria Landing. I was unable to help them, having not seen it on any maps. Peoria Road runs on the East bank of the river all the way from Harrisburg to Corvallis, soccasionally close enough to see the vehicles passing, so the Landing could be pretty much anywhere.

Later I came across another group of kayakers, just getting ready to launch. One lady called to me "How's the water?", which no doubt if I was more experienced I would be able to answer with something useful and possibly technical. On this occasion I was only able to reply that it was wet. 

Around 12:45pm I was able to call Beth with an updated ETA of 2pm, at the nearer landing site I had chosen. I really didn't want to add another couple of river miles to my paddling at this stage, and she was happy to confirm a pickup. I'd been on the river for six hours so far, three times longer than any of my previous trips, and the heat of the day had really set in. I'd watched the miles click down very slowly on my GPS, starting around 25, now under 10, and I was eager to get finished, be able to stand up and straighten my back, stretch my legs, and generally use different muscles again. Apart from the one short interval when I grounded, I had been sitting in the same position since 6:50am.

Shortly after calling Beth I saw a couple of jet skis up ahead, and thought "Uh oh, hullabaloos." I'd had a couple of fast boats already pass me going upstream, and had to steady myself against their wash, so what mischief a jet ski could do I didn't like to think. As I neared them however they had already stopped, and as I got closer still I discovered that they were Sheriffs, talking to someone on the bank. I wondered briefly if they'd want to see my invasive species permit, which I carry in the front waterproof compartment in a ziplock bag, but they didn't ask. One came alongside me to say hi, and I asked him how far to Willamette Boat Landing, which was my planned landing, as chosen from Google maps. He startled me a little by saying there wasn't a boat landing there (then why is it on the map???), but there was one at Crystal Lake a little further on, and I had about another hour afloat to get there. This unsettled me, as Beth was now headed to a map location that apparently didn't exist in the real world.

As I got to the outskirts of Corvallis I could see houses not far away on the West bank, and the Willamette Park edging onto the river, with people floating about in rubber rings and in small paddle boats. I kept to the East bank and the faster current, bypassing them with a silent sneer. They hadn't paddled half the day to get here.

As the river curved to the left round this park, I saw a possible landing spot with people again messing about on the land and in the water, and made a very neat turn in to this spot, only to be informed that there was a proper landing ramp further on. That was hopefully where Beth would be meeting me, and I set out again.


I unbent myself out of the kayak, and Beth helped me get my various clobber out and into the car, before we carried the kayak up the ramp and loaded it onto the car roof. It was very hot by now, and Beth stood in the shade while I changed into fresh clothes, and then we set off to do a little shopping, and have meal out at McMenamin's Pub.

If I do this trip again, I now know what to expect on the river, and how long it should take. I could have gone slower and arrived by 4pm, and more likely if I did it in a day I'd take a break for lunch and a stretch. The worst discomfort came from being bent in half for seven hours.

My arms and shoulders were stiff and sore the rest of that day, but surprisingly were back to normal by Monday morning, when I had to be up at 5:45am to start work at 7am. Before repeating this section of the Willamette though, I'll explore the McKenzie, where there are several landing places I've scouted out, from all of which I would reach Brown's Landing as my ending spot. There are more rapids on the McKenzie so I'd plan for more chance of an upset, and wear my bike helmet again.


  1. Yay! I am so glad you had fun on the river. I will be your support crew anytime!

  2. You guys are adorable. :) I think that larger bird may be a heron of some type...some of them have really short legs and are much smaller than you'd think.