The Love Boat

And so, another tourist season passes astern. This year’s tourist season has been a record setting invasion that’s caused miles-long traffic jams to get on the ferries. Olympic National Park was packed with people. They closed Lake Cushman. There were hour-long waits to go to Hurricane Ridge and get into the Hoh Rain Forest.

The tourists were rarin’ to get out and go anywhere after being cooped up in quarantine for months. Anywhere that is within the confines of our borders. Americans are not welcome in other countries. We cannot even escape to Canada. The tourists panicked with their new found freedom. They got lost, fell off rocks and someone started a forest fire keeping our wild land’s emergency responders hopping all summer.

This summer, it was tougher than ever to get away from it all. We weren’t going to raft at all this year but then the Covid 19 restrictions lessened to phase two and every other raft company in the country was doing it so we did it to.

That meant there could be no mixing of groups of rafters in the raft or shuttle van with sanitizing all equipment between each use and using gloves and masks where appropriate. There’s been a lot of controversy about wearing masks. Some folks would rather pack a pistol than wear a mask and that is their Constitutional right as Americans and another reason why, with only 4% of the world’s population we have 25% of the world’s Covid 19 deaths.

Internet rumors hint that masks can endanger the wearer with sickness or even death which would be news to doctors, nurses, dentists and other health care workers who spend their entire careers wearing masks.

Sure, masks are a hassle but so is intubation. They say you can’t exercise with a mask on and that may be true. I can only row 18 miles a day down the river while wearing a mask but that’s far enough for me. I tend to look on the bright side. They say you can tell if a guide is lying if his lips are moving. When you’re wearing a mask it almost isn’t fair. Wearing a mask, it’s possible to spawn any half-baked fable you can dream up and the tourists will suck it up like the Gospel truth.

The crowds and the traffic did not improve anyone’s temper. The tourists were tired, hot and cranky. Then they got in the raft. Most enjoyed the scenic tour through a rainforest canyon while watching elk, bear, otters and eagles beneath a canopy of giant trees. Unless they were American teenagers.

The American teenager and children in general have little inclination to enjoy a nature experience that does not involve a video game. Faced with the prospect of a two hour raft trip, they invariably claim to suffer from a variety of physical maladies and chronic pain issues with bad backs, arms, necks and legs. The symptoms of which they freely share throughout the trip to which I respond,

“Wait till you’re my age.”

These pampered, (American) children sit in the raft like they are going to the dentist while mommy and daddy ask them if they are ok every thirty seconds, offering drinks and snacks or to put on or take off their hat or coat or sunglasses or sunscreen.

The parents only want the child to smile for a picture for a memory of a family vacation where they spent thousands on plane tickets, rental cars, RV’s, hotels, motels, meals, souvenirs and yes, raft trips but no, the kid refuses to smile for a picture.

Then there are other days. The ones we will remember all winter. We watch the mood of the river change with the passing of the seasons. Every day brings a new hint of fall with random patches of red and orange vine maples splashed across hillsides that echo the bugling elk. A quiet young couple sat in the front of the raft. While we were watching an eagle circling far above another eagle caught a fish in the river just downstream and landed on a log on the shore to eat it. I said we’re just going to sit and watch the eagle eat the fish if they didn’t have anything better to do. They didn’t.

They put down their paddles and sat together in the center of the raft. He gave her something and she started crying. Then she said yes and he started crying. Things were getting weird so I asked them what the heck was going on up there.

He said he asked her to marry him and she said yes so, I started crying. I told them that by the powers vested in me as captain of the ship I could get them hitched right then and there but they were going to plan a big family wedding back home.

So, I started singing the theme from the Love Boat and rowed them down the river. It was the best raft trip this summer.