PAT NEAL: Voyage of the Doomed

There are no mental wellness days here at Hoh River Rafters, because you’d have to be crazy to work here. We are in the trenches in the tourist industry. Tourism is a pipeline for a forced migration of desperate travelers seeking someplace cool in our heat-stricken nation. These are the climate refugees whose hometowns are being deep fried with an unseasonably warm triple-digit heat wave that has them fleeing thousands of miles north.

There are so many Texans here now it makes you wonder if there is anybody left in Texas. Arizona, Nevada, Utah and California must be deserted for the same reason. People want out of those ovens — if only to come here to complain about the weather.

“Is the weather always like this?” The tourists ask.

To which we, as ambassadors of the tourist industry, must reply that, no, most of the time it is a lot worse. This is in keeping with the goals and objectives of the tourism industry, getting the tourists to go home.

Another goal and objective of the tourist industry is to keep the tourists from killing themselves by doing stupid stuff. Perhaps it is a symptom of the dumbing-down of this great nation or a byproduct of social media that has people risking their lives so that the internet will like them.

Like the young man who asked my advice about paddling his pack raft, an inflatable craft that is, ironically, about the size of a coffin, through 15 miles of open ocean from the mouth of the Hoh River to La Push. I advised him, (it’s always a guy coming up with these ideas) to check on that life insurance policy.

They all seem to become defensive at this point. All that is left is to plead with these would-be adventurers to not make people come and look for them.

The fact is, we really and truly care about the health, happiness and welfare of our tourists because if they kill themselves doing stupid stuff, it jacks up our outfitter insurance rates. That is why we have a waiver form where prospective rafters declare that they are physically fit to engage in the activity. It is usually after signing this document that the prospective rafters share the intimate details of their medical history.

We’re not sure why people who’ve just had back surgery, are recovering from a major heart attack or recently escaped from a mental institution for the criminally insane would think river rafting is a good idea, and we don’t care. We sell raft trips.

If we only floated healthy, happy, well-adjusted people down the river, we would seldom be employed. We are dealing with tourists after all.

Our sympathies go with the children, our brightest and best hope for the future. They would rather be playing video games. Instead, they are forced into river rafting with either the “lawnmower parent,” who enables and smooths the child’s path through life or the “helicopter parent” who asks the child if they are “OK,” every 15 seconds, or both.

Today’s children are like hot house flowers.

One mother insisted her daughter was allergic to water, so she gave the child Benadryl as a precaution should the child get accidentally splashed on a raft trip.

The other child was hyperactive, so he was on a different medication. While the little girl nodded out, the little boy was bouncing around screaming and making animal noises.

Mom was obviously zonked on something else, so I kept the Narcan handy. Dad just wanted a cold beer in the shade.

It’s all about quality time with the family.


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

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