January 12th, 2009

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
This is where our readers tell their stories . . .

The Wiles of the Wenaha Wilderness
I'm Not Lost As Long As There's Oatmeal
By Shawn McGinn and Jeremy Yates (but mostly Shawn McGinn)
(That's Shawn McGinn The Petty, ESQ.)

Author's Note: The following tale is TRUE. And how would you know that? Because it's published in a FISHING MAGAZINE, and everyone knows that the words TRUST and FISHERMAN go together like Donnie and Marie. Like Butch and Sundance. Like George Bush and Poetry. You can believe this story as it has that very same gritty reporting found in the likes of the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Wikipedia. The facts are, I'm pretty sure, well-researched, and recalled with the tenacity of a Frat guy recounting what happened last Saturday night. The details, however, of many of the events can be attributed to a medical condition known as Fisherman's Memory (FM).

This is a psychological disorder in which one finds himself accidentally, well, sort of…lying in order to hold the audience's interest (you can see the end CLEARLY justifies the means). So while everything that happened is fact, the way it all went down is a wee bit foggy. FM is incurable and progressive (or so my friends tell me), and is far more dangerous to those listening to a fishing story told by one who has contracted the disease. Side-effects to the listener may include fake snoring, Tourrets-like shouting, and Abruptly Walking Away. Plato himself was among the first with this disorder, positing that, "Truth is the beginning of every good to the fishing gods. And, the beginning of every good fishing story has a quote by ME."

The problem with planning a big fishing trip is that the moment you start thinking about it, you are already on vacation. The resultant plan is typically about as good as Alexander the Great's invasion of Persia if he had first gotten drunk in a Macedonian border town, lost a game of truth or dare, and charged off screaming bloody murder with five of his pals, the barmaid's bra for a helmet, and a broken bottle and happy hour menu for a sword and shield.

Nonetheless, Jeremy and I were stoked (that part is true) when the time came to execute on our annual fishing plan. We were about to head into the Wenaha River Wilderness in the North-Eastern tip of Oregon for a few days of hunting brook trout and rainbows. We tend to seek out the hard-to-reach places where we'll see fewer people and more fish, and we enjoy a good hike. A copy of a map we had from an article about the river gave us the general survey of the area, and we had planned our route, making the requisite call to the man who would shuttle our car to a spot about five miles downstream.

For those of you out there thinking of relying solely upon a map from a magazine, please remember that cartography is a real job and should be respected. The phrase "not drawn to scale" should be read with utmost reverence. Finally, GPS and such electronic sundries are to be elevated to "fishing code orange" status (which, translated in Nebraskan, is "pretty darned important"). Proper GPS usage involves quickly pacing to and fro (and back to "to") looking at the device occasionally, but with great concentration. You can even leave it turned off, just stare at it, look around and nod a few times to give your fishing buddy the facade that he should listen to you when you are trying to decide which way to go.

Pretty sure this was a fishing story, so let's talk for at least two lines about FISHING!

The fishing was incredible. It was hopper-dropper time and we hooked into rainbows up to 16 inches. It was amazing. It was heaven. Until we got lost.

If you look up "Lost" in the Fisherman's Dictionary, it will read:

    1) Be there soon. I just saw a rise over there, and am not quite ready to think about how lost I am.

    2) Be there in 3 beers, and in a GREAT MOOD!

    3) Be there in 6 beers (but I won't remember how to get back).

    4) Can't find anyone to ask and am too stupid to bring a map.

    5) Smart enough to bring a map to the car, too stupid to pack the map in the backpack.

    6) Lacking in general sense of direction (and if "Really Lost," include the senses of sight and smell).

    7) Sense of direction sucks so bad I'm surprised you found this word in the dictionary. Oh, and you should have listened to your friend when he said cross the river back there.

On down the trail, Jeremy decided to work a hole and I started to clamber up the cliff side to fish the opposite end. I scaled up quite a steep and sheer section, and was in a bit of a precarious position that must've looked a lot like I was trying to kiss the rock as I was holding the rod, carrying my backpack and balancing on a ledge that must have been 50 feet up (FM adjustment: subtract most of that height).

All of a sudden Jeremy let out a hoot! He had hooked into a big momma! It took off downriver and Jeremy took off with it. Or started to. In his haste Jeremy slipped and ate it pretty hard, and I'm sure the East German Judge gave the fall a 9 (they're tough). To his credit, fishing fans, he kept his rod tip up. I stopped kissing the rock to take a look (but was very polite about it and the rock felt supported and understood my need to see this important event). Now if you've ever seen your buddy fall down, compassion pretty much exits the building and you have to laugh. It's certainly not, as many women suggest, that men never grow up, it's just that we're nostalgic.

So I was cracking up. I was rolling. He was rolling. The fish was rolling. We were all rolling. By the time he brought in the fish I don't know which of us was the most exhausted, but I had the camera up the cliff and couldn't get down in time to snap the shot (come on, it was really scary up there) and Jeremy was looking at me with that "and-you-call-yourself-a-friend" look because "this-is-the-biggest-fish-I'll-ever-catch-AND-you-owe-me-20-bucks-too-pal." It was a beautiful Brook Trout of 20 inches (And you know that's true, because I didn't add FM after it).

We fished awhile longer, of course. Jeremy and I can occasionally work stretches with speed and precision, though we often lollygag a bit and have been known to cover all of 300 yards in 8 hours. Pokey at best. We think of it as "thorough." After a few hours we packed up and decided to head on down the "trail."

We'd been hiking with our fully-loaded packs for 2 hours longer than our "map" suggested. We were supposed to take another trail, ford the river, and head up the southern slope to the car's new location. The trail was supposed to be marked. It was supposed to be back behind us— could it still be up ahead? Murphy's law CLEARLY states that as soon as you stop looking, you'll find it. Well heck, I'd stopped looking 2 hours ago and I was really ready to friggin' FIND the sucker. I'd probably find MURPHY before I found the stupid trail.

It was right about that time I saw the first one. Rattlers are a bit scary when you're far from a hospital – A bite meant considerable danger as I couldn't find a helipad anywhere and I was fairly sure my cell didn't have coverage (This was before Verizon's Angler Package that guarantees coverage in valleys and even under water to 30 feet deep).

The first rattle shook one step behind me and made my heart jump into my throat while increasing to the tempo of that old swing classic Sing, Sing, Sing. We froze for a moment and slowly moved on. The second rattle shook only about 300 meters later. I wasn't entirely sure I'd packed my lucky shamrock. This one was on the trail and we were very close before I saw it. Jeremy's eyesight and trail focus are both keener than my own so he took the lead after the third one, not that I have any issue rendering control or anything, and then, Murphy's Law 2: Defanged – we saw no more snakes. If he didn't make such a lovely stout, I'm pretty sure I'd strangle Murphy.

Back to the story: The trail was terrible. This particular trail had hopes of becoming "poorly-maintained" if it worked overtime and holidays for a year. Not that I'm complaining. It's just my way of saying I was stupid for only bringing shorts as all those briars made their presence well-known to my shins. The good thing about a poorly-maintained trail is that difficult access means big fish (and we all know that in every cloud of angling tribulation, we have memories of 16-20-inch silver linings.) However, the bad thing about a rough trail means big brush and sign-obstructing branches. We were in a bind: going back to the empty car lot and hiking out, crossing the river and hoping to find the trail up the slope (should we head upstream or down?), or forging ahead on our course to the far-off town of Troy.

After some more hours of trailblazing , we were "bushed." We had questioned and argued enough that we'd advanced down the path to the point of no return, so on to Troy it would be. We decided to take a dip in a little tributary pool and that lifted our spirits (meaning we could have conversations again without saying things like "You NEVER know where we are," or,"I TOLD you we should have gone back." Good buddies, given a long-ass trail and no beer, can finely hone the art of bickery). More hours and more hiking up grades, along narrow bends, and many hilltops afforded beautiful vistas of this river that had given (many fish) and taken away (our car, dignity, and cheery dispositions —we were downright pissy).

We came across a few campers and asked them where Troy was. I wondered if we'd be hiking to historic Troy in Turkey. Perhaps we were in Idaho? I hadn't a clue. I knew the sun was going down. I knew I was tired. I knew that I would kill anyone who said Troy was more than 60 feet away. Ok I'd probably let them live, but I'd at least use profanity. Ok, I might not swear, but I'd at least give them a VERY sour look and nod as I walked away like "that's what I THOUGHT you'd say."

Well, they told us it was just over the next hill, and they were wearing camo, so you know they know what they're talking about. They were right; the end of the trail over the next hell, I mean hill, and was marked by a small barbed-wire fence. Fences like this are built to rub it in that I didn't make varsity basketball. As I was all wrapped up in 17 razor-sharp wires like Steve McQueen in The Great Escape, I finally asked Jeremy for help, which he only agreed to dispatch after I signed a legal document saying I wouldn't whine so much. Jeremy and I read a trail mileage sign posted just past the Demon Fence. It said that we had hiked 27 miles from the car, and we estimated 20 that day. Not a bad day of hiking!

We could see the town below and started to chatter like a couple of nuts about the cheese sticks and beer we would soon devour. CIVILIZATION! What a relief. Hmmmm. Looked pretty small. Looked like a little trailer park, a small hotel and the restaurant across the street. We ran down to the restaurant (which is what it felt like to us; it was really more like a lame hobbling). The place was CLOSED! Oh man. We were bummed – we set up the tent and took a look at our food supplies: two packets of oatmeal. Sounded like a REALLY YUMMY DINNER. I mean, nothing says "feast" like oatmeal. I hear it might replace turkey at Thanksgiving. Perhaps I'll start an oatmeal drive thru. Mmmmmmm Yeah. I could get venture capital from the wealthier turkeys. Perhaps I could make Oatmeal Pizza. I heard many of the Amish-Italians went for it in early New York. I stalked off, dejectedly, in search of water.

Around the opposite side of the building I found a hose. I was blissfully and gracefully in mid-chug when Jeremy sauntered up and said – "Hey man, this sign says here's Ecoli in the water here." WHAT?! I was certain the beast from ALIEN would burst from my guts in my sleep and say, "Dude, you are an IDIOT!" and laugh maniacally. It's just not fun, as I'm sure you've heard a million times, to get laughed at by an Ecoli Alien.

We knocked on the door of the trailer host and it turned out that the couple living there was in charge of shuttling vehicles, and had moved our car a few days before. We went with Herb in his truck to get the car, but in yesterday's windstorm (WHAT WINDSTORM?), a tree was knocked down across the road. I was thinking "No CAR? THAT'S SO GREAT "(as you're probably reading this out loud, please read the preceeding phrase in the tone known as sarcastic). Herb said he had some work to do in the morning, but would make a few calls to see if someone could give us the hour-long ride to the car.

After a few minutes a woman came by walking her dog, and introduced herself as Betty. We relayed our tale of the day, and it turned out that she was the owner of the restaurant and would fix us up! HALLELUJAH! I wouldn't say I was crying, but that there was something (big) in my eye. Betty returned with two big buckets filled with sandwiches, chips, and beer on ice. JACKPOT, BABY! We lazed for a bit, laughing about how our luck had changed, and sipped our brews. We stargazed, which is the technical term for "Pretty sure that's the North Star. G'night," and hit the hay.

I woke up paralyzed. How did my eyelids get sore? My ailments appeared to be comprised of "20 mile-fisherman's leg (eventually curable)," WhinerFace (probably not curable), and a very annoying scratch on my butt from the Demon Fence (cured by lying to 6 people about getting the wound by saving an old lady from attackers). Mornings like this, well, mornings in general, but especially mornings after a Demon Hike and Demon Fence (Did I mention the fence?) drive a man to sarcasm, and so Jeremy and I, in mutual understanding, reserved our right to remain silent. We checked out the river nearby and came back to camp as a man in a blazer (Chevy, not tweed) came up to our site and said he'd take us to our car this morning, as Herb had other business. The downed tree had been cut away (Great Job, Forestry Homies and Wood Elves)!

Larry had brought a chainsaw just in case and as we turned off to a little sideroad, there was another tree down! So Larry cut the main trunk away and finally, we made it to the car. We followed him to his place (we followed real lose-like - it was a MAZE up there — it's so intricate the GoogleEarth guys have free therapy). We had some coffee and a stroll – the Wenaha valley is a gem to behold. We went back into town for a thank-you to Betty and an ice cream. The generosity of the people out in Troy was overwhelming. Each local we came across gave to us in food, time, information, and I'm pretty sure Betty gave Jeremy a backrub.

We were pretty beat, so we headed up the road to take in a film. You won't believe it, but we'd had enough adventure for a while! Jason Bourne's butt-kicking in The Bourne Ultimatum allowed for plenty of vicarious living, and we limped out of the theater, drove straight to Mount Ranier, and summited that day (FM5 or so)! Actually, we drove as fast as our tired toes could tap and headed straight back home to Seattle and I'm pretty sure I slept through an entire season of LOST (get it? See, it's a play on words because…Oh. I see. You do get it. It's just not funny. Ok.).

It wasn't long before we started dreaming of our next trip — big fish and wild times would beckon soon. They always do. This time it would be different; we'd be prepared! We'd bring what we needed in the first place: Ok, probably a map, yes, but more importantly, Band Aids! I mean, Jeremy couldn't find Oregon on a map if Vanna White laid a vowel down on the Willamette River. (Oh yeah? Should probably bring a globe for you, McGinn, so you can at least find the right CONTINENT! Oh REALLLLLLLY? The only continence you find is when you drink a bottle of PEPTO! OH YEAH? Well YOU… ) To be continued - forever, I'm sure. I guess that's way friendship works. It's good fun and ultimately about giving — they're always there when you really need 'em. When you can't think of a great ending to a story, you just ask your friends and they help you find one that includes them saving you. ~ Shawn McGinn and Jeremy Yates

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