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A Smith River Tale

Our alarm sounded on Thursday in the pre-dawn hours which is saying a lot for Montana this time of year when the days are long. At 5:15am we met up with our friends who pulled the permit for our trip. Every year Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks conducts a lottery, allowing nine groups to embark each day on the Smith River from Camp Baker. May 14th was our designated "put in."
We joined two more members of our group at Camp Baker where they had literally camped out the night before to ensure we got our pick of available campsites. Campsite sign-ups begin at 7:30am the day before the scheduled put in. We packed our three rafts (I mostly wandered around Camp Baker with Miriam, making new friends) and were glad to leave behind the impatient fellow rowers anxious to assume their positions on the ramp once we departed.
photo credit: Krista Koljonen
We designated this trip in honor of Love146's Tread on Trafficking initiative so our raft bore the Love146 logo. On our last day, John heard a couple guys reading the banner as we floated by. Perhaps they will look up Love146 when they return to cell service. We said goodbye to handheld devices for the duration of the trip, glad for the forced disconnect.
Thankfully our first day began under sunny skies. Sometime that afternoon, we saw the sun for the last time on our trip. The sky clouded over by the time we set up camp but we enjoyed delicious carne asada tacos and a belated birthday celebration for Krista then a campfire.
Sometime on Friday, rain began falling. We arrived at camp and I promptly did 10 burpees to warm up. It was that cold (I hate burpees). Miriam and almost-four-year-old Bode enjoyed the mud and we even broke out the hammock as a diversion. Dana served up tasty tri-tip steaks and we sat under our group canopy, trying to avoid raindrops. An "interesting" latrine experience greeted me the next morning. I got to experience sitting on a sloping latrine exposed to the elements as I struggled to keep the toilet paper dry and not slip off the seat.
Although I didn't envy John's steering responsibilities on the raft, I envied his rowing as a way to maintain a moderate body temperature in the cold. My temperature Saturday morning was 95.4F. Rain and headwinds met us on the river. We stopped midway at Heaven on Earth Ranch for a cup of hot chocolate and a dry place to eat lunch. The group that stopped before us opted to spend the night in the ranch cabins. Good call! Once we landed in camp, I gave Miriam to John and went for a brisk hike uphill to warm myself. We erected our tents in the rain and wind, trying to keep things dry even though the constant rain had saturated our water-proof rain flys and filled our tents with puddles of water. We set up our group canopy over the fire pit and attempted
to shield it from the wind but ended up getting smoked out. We hastily ate chicken and rice and washed dishes (it is bear country, after all) before trying to get warm in damp sleeping bags. Sunday, we awoke wet and cold, there was ice on Jed's tent, and it began snowing. We rowed 11.8 miles to our next designated campsite and, with no anticipated break in the weather, decided to row another 12 miles to the take out at Eden Bridge. Thankfully, the camp host allowed us to call Abram's and Jed's parents to shuttle our cars to us so we could head home. We finally saw sunset Sunday evening.
Three themes featured prominently in our trip: 1) crummy weather, 2) good food, and 3) great company. The trip description captures the crummy weather and a bit of the good food. In addition, we ate hot breakfasts every morning with scrambled eggs, pancakes, bacon, sausages, fruit, and coffee. Dana had a full kitchen setup including a two-burner stove, a couple propane tanks, and a prep table. Since we ended our trip a day early with food left over, we met up tonight for a ribeye steak dinner to finish it off and that leads me to the final theme of great company. Krista nicknamed us the Smith River Survivors because we truly underwent a trying, difficult experience yet everyone maintained good spirits. No complaints uttered, not a sharp word spoken amongst our group, many jokes told, and lots of songs sung. Jed pulled the permit and opened the trip up to anyone willing to join. His wife, Krista, displayed her outdoorsy-ness by hauling load after load of gear to and from rafts with her waders in the pouring rain. She also ably managed a high-energy Bode who was thrilled to reel in his first(?) fish on the trip. Krista's sister, Carrie, shared stories of international adventures and her heart for people. Jed's brother, Abram, kept us laughing with his running commentary on our "free range" food and the brilliant weather we were having. Dana organized and prepared all our food and camp and basically ensured we survived (with some fun along the way). John was SuperDad, especially on the last day when he rowed 24 miles with Miriam on his chest in the Ergo the whole way! Precious Miriam was a trooper. We sang a lot of songs while floating to keep our minds on pleasant things and Miriam sang along, stopping to admire the many goslings along the riverbanks. Our amazing crew of Smith River Survivors "made" the trip for me and I thank God each of these people floated in our group.
During the pelting rain, wind, and snow I reflected on the work of Love146. The children they serve have often undergone harrowing experiences. They are survivors in a more profound way than the Smith River Survivors. One of the most beautiful things about Love146 is the dignity with which they imbue each child. You will never see a girl in chains or depicted as helpless. Instead, Love146 comes alongside these children, empowering them to break free from exploitation and receive love and care. Purely instilling in kids their inherent worth encourages them to dream and grow and love. In Love146's Round Home, for example, girls are once again allowed to be girls. In American schools, males learn that they can go against the flow and view females as people rather than objects to be exploited. Though traveling down the Smith River in honor of Love146 doesn't directly benefit Love146's work, our trip thankfully provided the impetus for many to give in support of Love146's work and that directly impacts what Love146, as an organization, can accomplish. If you gave, thank you. It does make a difference.

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