Stand Up and Die

The River’s Out to Get Me

Story and Photos by John O’Bryan

What Allison said was, “I didn’t ask you to go at first, because I didn’t think you’d be able to do it.”

What I heard was, “You’re too weak and feeble to do anything like float down a river with me, old man.”

“I want to go,” I said, and the click I heard was the sword of Damocles breaking free from its precarious position overhead. Had I really just committed to floating fifty miles of the most remote river in the Lower 48, the Owyhee, with my daughter? Yes, I had.

I was terrified even before I learned that someone had died on the river that spring, even before I envisioned the flotsam and jetsam of a shattered boat held by the pressure of what amounted to two full-grown cows pressing it against a rock wall.

At the moment, all I knew was what Allison had told me, that there are no roads in or out and you must leave nothing but footprints and take out nothing but your bodily fluids. I was worried (and a little grossed out) by this statement, but the event was still months away and a lot could happen between then and now.

Nothing did.

A bunch of others would be on this father-daughter trip, for which my daughter was a third-year guide, but clearly I was the one who would die on the river. It would be hard on Allison to have to pull her dad’s lifeless body out of a rapid but I didn’t care. She had asked me to go and it would serve her right for goading me into coming.

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John O'Bryan

About John O'Bryan

John O'Bryan was born in southeastern Alaska, moved to Moscow in 1984 to attend the University of Idaho, and never left. He is a husband, dad, granddad, photographer, and fly fisherman—in that order. John can often be found with a camera around his neck, or chasing steelhead on the Clearwater River, or fly fishing Idaho’s blue-ribbon trout streams.

2 Responses to Stand Up and Die

  1. DeAnn Isenberg - Reply


    Awesome story. Great father/daughter, we can all relate story!

  2. Paul Spence - Reply


    As a guide, I always find it educational to hear a participants view of events that had recently transpired. Very funny indeed, I had a good laugh. But John our guides never use the word died or dead that’s a no no. For editorial sake, I believe the rapid you were describing was Bulls Eye, hard to say but Read it and Weep is on day 3 and down stream of the Weeping Wall. Read it and Weep is a more intimidating name, I’ll give you that. Really enjoyed the article and will share it with many others who’ve struggled in the beginning of the trip.

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