The Magic of Multigenerational Family Adventures
Deep in the narrow, swirly section of Hells Canyon, where the rock walls tower and the water moves quickly, my paddle boat sails into a big wave. Water crashes over the giggling paddlers. I turn my boat sideways in the tailwaves and look upstream to check on how the inflatable kayakers fared.
“Still upright,” Scott says with pride, and maybe a hint of surprise. His daughter, Carter, 12, comes cruising up to us, playfully goading her grandfather, who is in tow. Moments before, Carter cleanly paddled McCarty Creek Rapid while Rocky, 71, came flying into the big feature, where he got stalled by the force of the wave which type-writered his boat to the left, turned him sideways, surfing him. His hand flew off his paddle to check his balance, his boat teetered on its edge for a millisecond before the wave spit him out and he floated the tailwaves backwards to the soundtrack of Carter’s chortle and chide.
She relived the moment to the paddle boat with Rocky’s interrupting and conflicting commentary as accompaniment. “Pop almost flipped! His boat almost went over,” she howled to her cousins. Scott laughed as he listened to his daughter. With a smile he told me, “She’s gonna tell that story all day. Just watch.” A half hour later when we eddied out for lunch, Carter paddled her kayak up to the dory where her mom and grandmother were riding. “Look, look! There she goes,” Scott predicted to me in a whisper.
Rocky and Carter continued to have splashy lines all day. Scott continued to watch his daughter with pride, and check in with his father-in-law with loving concern. They paddled every single day of the trip, either in the paddle boat or an IK, and the stories continued to accumulate. “We’ll remember this for a lifetime,” Scott mused thoughtfully on day four.
Rocky brought his two daughters and their families down the Snake River through Hells Canyon because he loves going on multigenerational family adventures. The 11 of them played, floated, trash-talked, and loved their way through five days of whitewater. His daughter, Megan, told me as she watched the cousins try to knock each other off an upside down inflated kayak without touching each other in a rousing and competitive Ducky Wars tournament, that her dad always prioritized outdoor trips. “He passed that love on to me…onto us,” she said, gesturing to the gaggle of giggling Ducky warriors.
Listening to her tell stories of their adventures growing up reminded me of river trips with my dad. He, too, prioritized outdoor adventures. And he loved to kayak Hells Canyon, so for me, a trip down the Snake is a trip through literal and familial time; it contains native relics that span 10,000 years and it is strewn with visceral childhood memories. There are pictographs, petroglyphs, and pit depressions. There are Chinese mining ruins and still-standing homesteads. There’s also the eddy at Hominy where dad spotted me as I practiced my kayak roll, and where a decade later, I tried to teach Becca. There’s the hike at McGaffee Cabin where I took Benadryl for the first time and then accidentally slept through a Class IV rapid. Too, there’s the stretch of trail below Hominy Bar where Megan and I got out and ran because we were so cold. We rewarded our sprint with hot chocolate we made in the jet boil on the bow of our moving boat. There’s all the historical signs at Kirkwood Ranch that dad made me read, which felt awful for a 9th grader on summer break, but that 29-year-old me feels grateful for, just as he knew I would. The beach with the storm, the flipped boats, the swims, the camp fires, the bears. The conversations, the laughs, the deepening of relationships.
Hells Canyon was the first trip I ever brought a boy on. He had combat rolls and wet exits; he pulled his skirt and swam rapids. He floated miles of flatwater next to my dad. It was the second time they met, and side by side in their blue and yellow kayaks, they watched the layers of rock unfold and the current swirl downstream. Seven years later, the current keeps swirling and they keep paddling downstream, side by side.
I don’t have close relationships with my extended family, but watching Rocky and his family, I know with certainty that had I spent time with my cousins in a canyon, those relationships would have the depth that the Snake has carved through basalt. Carter quarreled with Beckham, and Landon rolled his eyes at Colten, Skylar, the oldest cousin, groaned at them all. Too, they cheered each other on in the IKs, they worked as a team in the paddle boat, they skipped rocks together and re-lived old family stories. I watched them become closer than they already were, just in five days.
So it made perfect sense when Landon, 9, Megan’s son, told me just how excited he is to spend time with his grandfather on a Grand Canyon rafting trip next year. I love that he likes river rafting enough to come back. I love that he likes to adventure with his cousins. But what struck me the most, was that he loves spending time with his grandfather.
Three generations sorted out today’s slang and practiced around the campfire. Three generations will remember Beckam almost tumbling from his IK and Carter saving him. And in seven years time, when Carter is 19, Landon 16, and Rocky 78, the current will keep swirling, and they’ll keep paddling, closer than ever.
Photos: Megan Sexton, Kendall Mackintosh, and Dylan Silver