The Sirens’ Song
Tied Fast to Whitewater Boats
Story and Photos by Link Jackson
It started out innocently enough. I enjoyed day trips in my youth with friends on the Payette River in rented rafts and our kayaks. Then came the South Fork of the Payette River. Then the Salmon River. When I was about eighteen and got a permit for the Middle Fork of the Salmon, the sirens’ song of whitewater began to engulf me.
I assembled an expedition of friends with little experience to run the mighty Middle Fork. For me, this experience turned out to be the pinnacle of living. It was a grand adventure into an unknown wilderness filled with rapids, hot springs, fly fishing, hikes, jumps off bridges, and completely free of the rules of parents and authorities, with the exception of the US Forest Service. I rowed a big, sluggish, and rather overloaded raft on that trip. To this day, I think it may have been part of the cause of a slipped disk in my back that required surgery years later. Or it could have been from all the whitewater kayaking I later did, or the backpacking, or the hunting. Anyway, rowing that big barge of a raft left me wondering about boat design and performance. And such pondering became a constant companion over the next few decades. To my surprise, the challenges of boat performance became a driving force in my life.
Actually, I had been dead set against moving to Idaho with my family when I was in fifth grade, because of my newfound love of skiing at Alta near our home in Salt Lake City. But once we arrived in Boise and I took a good look around at all the mountains, wilderness, rivers, and such, it quickly became home. My sisters and mother were up for the occasional camping trip and my younger sister Andrea even joined Dad and me in a duck blind now and again, but for the most part, the backpacking trips and constant pursuit of fish, game, and backwoods adventure fell on Dad and me. He was simply driven to go, he was willing to take me, and I was always ready.
In 1982, when I graduated from The College of Idaho, the economic landscape in the great Northwest was anything but good, and I found myself facing dismal employment opportunities. After a trip to Europe and a season as a packer at the Shepp Ranch on the Main Salmon River, I wound up in Texas wearing a suit and tie, pursuing a career. But the mountains called to me and a few years later, I headed north again. After stopping to visit a friend in Colorado Springs, I found myself employed by, and later partner in, a commercial construction company. Times were good. We grew like crazy and built buildings all over the West. I got married, we had children, and the business made it possible to build a log home along the banks of the Gunnison River in Colorado. That’s where my passion for boats really took shape.