Every year hundreds of rafters, kayakers, and spectators flock to a remote area in northern Idaho. One of the few places in the continental United states where an internet connection or cell service is more than an hour away. To the urban crawler this may seem like madness, to the whitewater community it is madness, Lochsa madness.
Memorial day weekend is big news for northern Idaho as Adventurers and thrill seekers alike run a 9-13 mile stretch of the Lochsa River just outside of Lowell (population 24 23) Idaho. The collection of license plates from places as far as Iowa, New York, Minnesota and British Columbia can attest to the popularity of the madness that sweeps through the potato state. This year was my first descent into madness and my fourth stretch of river in Idaho in the past ten months.
I managed to talk my friend Ford Play into coming up with me. He ran Gray and Deso with me the year before. On the Thursday before we piled in the car and began the ten hour trip to the Wilderness Gateway Campground at 2 am.
We arrived early in the afternoon on Thursday and to our surprise almost every camp site was reserved or already taken. The only loop that wasn’t taken was loop d which was reserved for people with stock animals. Ford still had his horse mask from our rafting trip the week before, and our creative side was bored after the long car ride, so we did what any highly creative, yet bored, rafters would do, we decided to mess with the ranger.
Ford put on his mask and we drove through the campground looking for the ranger. We found him parked on the opposite side of the road. We crossed the median pulled up next to him and rolled down the window. “Are we allowed to camp in loop D?” I asked. The ranger said it is reserved for people with stock at which time I pointed to Ford. The ranger suppressed a laugh you could tell he wanted to say yes but ended up saying the correct answer is no.
We made one final departing drive through the campground and found a campsite that had just been vacated. We quickly jumped on the opportunity, set up camp and paid the $40 fee that would cover us for the next 4 nights. Once this was completed we headed down river to scout the rapids we would be running the next day. After a quick scout we ran to Lowell, a town of a population of 24 no 23.
Both Ford and I work on the internet and we were hoping to find an internet connection or cell service in Lowell, unfortunately there was neither. We decided to stop and eat at the small cafe there. The food wasn’t great but it wasn’t bad and is always better than a meal you have to cook yourself. We found out the nearest town that would have cell service and wi-fi was Kooskia, a name that just rolls off the tongue, some twenty something miles away. Being a little on the desperate side we headed there anyway.
The next morning we set up the creature craft for a tandem run. Neither of us had rowed the river before so we followed a cat for the first run and played it conservative. The rapids were fun, and pushy, they really reminded me of the Murtaugh section I had done earlier in the year. It was very much like the Murtaugh with a lot more people, an audience and a longer drive. Unlike the Murtaugh this is a stretch people run every year.
Saturday morning brought significant changes to the Lochsa Madness atmosphere. Similar to a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat, Lochsa pulled numerous whitewater enthusiasts out of thin air. The amount of people had almost doubled, the launch area was packed with people preparing their rafts, and the viewing area at Lochsa Falls was completely filled. As if the previous atmosphere wasn’t vibrant enough, now it was teeming with more color than the Hindu color fest. Ford and I established that he would do the first run and then I would do a second run.
After launching Ford, I headed to the viewing area at Lochsa Falls. There was no parking left so I parked to the side of the road behind a long line of vehicles who also came late to the festival. It was here that we experienced the only bad luck of the trip. As I was walking from the viewing area back to the car, I stepped awkwardly in my already disappointing Chacos, and twisted my ankle. For the rest of the afternoon, I was forced to sit at the river bank with my ankle in the cold water. It’s almost good this happened, because i got to experience the unique culture of the people who just sit and watch the rafters come through. At one point looking up river, it was cataraft after cataraft and kayak after kayak. It looked like a colorful trail of skittles for as far as the eye could see.
On Saturday night many people flocked to the pavilion to watch videos compiled by the Idaho Whitewater Association. Midway through the presentation the announcer stopped the presentation and pointed out the northern lights that were visible in the sky. Ford complained that he spent money and time to travel to Alaska to see the Northern Lights and never got to see them. All he had to do was come to Northern Idaho.
After skipping my run on the river Saturday because of the injured ankle, I was excited to do another run early in the morning on Sunday. Two days before some people expressed disappointment that we didn’t hit the major hole on Lochsa in the creature craft. Usually when people see Creature Crafts, they expect to see something crazy and Friday we let them down. My plan on Sunday was to hit the big hole on Lochsa sideways. This would most likely be the only way the creature would get rolled decent enough to make a spectacle fitting for the viewers.
As I approached the big hole I lined it up perfectly so I could turn it at the last moment when I started to drop in. The biggest challenge I had had previously was Pair of Dice on the Murtaugh so I was a tad bit nervous. Once I got to the lip and looked into the chasm below, I pondered whether I should have gone into it straight instead. The drop in immediately flipped me upside down, turned me around and shot me out where I righted the boat, and then proceeded to hoot and holler, much to my own embarrassment. Once I finished the run, I let Ford run the creature, when Ford ran through Lochsa Falls, he stopped to put his horse head on and proceeded to take the easy line. Considering he could only see out of the horses nostrils it was more by accident than desire.
Sunday night once again we met up at the pavillion, where we watched videos, they held a raffle and an award was presented for the best flip of the weekend. We stayed up late, and met a lot of new people. As we walked back to camp we made an elaborate plan to return the next year.
It’s common in society to associate Madness with negative feelings and emotions. However, I can say I have been touched. I look forward to next years and the years to come with a new Memorial Day tradition.