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 crowds and the traffic did not improve anyone’s temper.
The tourists were tired, hot and cranky.
They got lost and fell off rocks.
Someone started a forest fire, keeping our wildland’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 2 and every other raft company in the country was doing it, so we did it, too.
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.
That is their Constitutional right as Americans, and another reason why, with only 4 percent of the world’s population, we have 25 percent 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.
Not that it matters.
The river speaks for herself.
We watch her moods 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.
These are the days when you really never know what will happen.
Like when a quiet young couple sat in the front of the raft.
We watched an eagle circling high above us.
Then another eagle caught a fish in the river just downstream and landed on a log to eat it.
I told the people we were just going to watch the eagle eat the fish, if they didn’t have anything better to do.
They put down their paddles and moved 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.
Just another day on the water.
It was the best raft trip this summer.
Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing and rafting guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.
He can be reached at 360- 683-9867 or by email via [email protected].