Flushed: Doin’ It Duckie Style

My partner Steve Thomsen and I work together on field projects as a photojournalist team. Our gigs are often crossover affairs: mountain biking and fly-fishing on rafting trips, disc golf on a sea kayak expedition. Invariably, our diverse pursuits require a lot of gear.

For our latest trip—a scenic downriver journey with fly-fishing, fowl hunting and some canyoneering on the side—we pack all the typical necessities plus such eclectic luxuries as a Dutch oven, camp chairs, cooler, fly-fishing gear, SLR camera setup, espresso brewer, shotgun and shells, fresh veggies and down pillows. We are set up in the tradition of a classic safari and that’s how we like it.

Our cargo, stuffed into Rubbermaids stacked three deep, fills the bed of Steve’s Tundra truck as we roll past Boise toward the put-in for the Owyhee. Most groups run southeast Oregon’s mighty O during spring runoff, when 7,000–10,000 cfs create a three-day, class III run from Rome to Birch Creek and raft support, or a lean tripping style, is de rigueur.

We’ve chosen to run this 45-mile stretch of river in early October at a niggling 100 cfs, taking a leisurely week to do it. Because our payload is lean only in comparison to a fully loaded 18-foot Aire Cat, we’re paddling inflatable kayaks (IKs)—no raft support required, or possible given the extreme low water.

Canoes are out of the question. The first time we took open boats down the late season Owyhee, the canoes emerged so thrashed that the rental guy refused to take them back. We paid for that mistake in no small amount of change.

Without all our planned side ventures we’d probably be paddling the new crop of crossover kayaks: Liquidlogic XP10s or Pyranha Fusions, hard shell kayaks with hatches and space for a little extra—but just a little.

Steve and I know we’ll be leaving cool at the corner running the Owyhee in duckies, but so what? We’re the only ones on the river and we stopped worrying about cool a couple decades ago. Our goal is to get our butts and our swag through the canyon, and if IKs are the ticket, so be it.

Putting on the river in stellar weather, we bump inelegantly down the rapids dodging as many rocks as possible and bouncing off or sliding over the rest. Sometimes we get hung up—the beamy IK hulls refuse to go over—and have to wade out to haul the damned things free.

We drag ass in the riffles, line the boats down the messiest stuff and struggle over one truly miserable portage. We nail every lava nugget that more nimble river runners would easily slip past. More than a few times I think how fun it would be to slalom gracefully down a rapid that we’ve just pinballed through.

Still, we have no regrets. We are a different breed of boater.

We dig what meager performance we can squeeze from our rubber ducks, but our sights are set on the bigger picture: Eating Cajun-blackened quail from the Dutchie. Catching smallies on flies from stacked pools. Hiking up the canyon flanks to photograph the grandeur of the Little Grand. Exploring crumbling rock wall wind breaks built by Basque shepherds on the dry grass plateaus. Hunting for petroglyphs, partridge and bighorns. Playing a game of call-shot disc golf up the arroyo behind camp with a cold beer in hand.

When we roll up the IKs at week’s end, Steve and I agree we’ve found the perfect match to our tripping ethos. Next time we run the Owyhee, you can bet it will be duckie-style. Sure, the cool crowd would probably heckle us, but they won’t be there.


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