The chief mission of Cascadia Expeditions is to connect with people and enhance their lives through professionally guided outdoor adventures. They offer a variety of Willamette Valley outdoor activities and trips and also lead experiences as far away as John Day. From paddle-boarding lessons to wine or brewery kayak tours, there is a plethora of fun options to choose from suitable for all activity levels and tastes.
The Crystal Lake Boat Ramp at the south end of town was our initial meetup location. Upon arrival we were greeted by Brett Gallagher, owner of Cascadia Expeditions, and our two guides for the day, Kat and Kevin. Brett took a moment to speak about the different activities that his company offers. His intense passion for the outdoors and his desire to get people engaged in it was obvious. Going on nature explorations in the raw wilderness was Brett’s religion, and he was ready to spread the gospel. I asked him why he thought people needed adventure in their lives and he was thrilled to respond.
“Adventure is missing in our culture, in our families, and certainly with our kids,” Brett said. “Adventures help us peel back the layers of the onion and discover our true strengths, challenges, and weaknesses. It encourages us to accept ourselves as we really are. The natural world doesn’t lie. Rivers won’t forgive you for not paying attention. So we expose people to risk and adventure and nature and we find that people learn to trust themselves. They learn they like being outside! This is why we’re doing this, the world needs it.”
We all nodded in agreement before going around the circle we had formed and introducing ourselves. We learned that Kat had only recently joined up with Cascadia, while Kevin was a seasoned three-year employee. Both are outdoor experts, and have a keen knowledge of kayaking and river safety. Their personalities were equally a perfect mix of outgoing and funny – exactly my type of people.
With only water bottles and sunscreen in hand, we loaded onto a shuttle bus and were driven to our put-in point: the Peoria Boat Ramp. Unloading was a breeze as Cascadia provided all of the specific activity gear we needed to do our trip including kayaks, personal floatation devices, and a dry bag where we stashed our valuables.
The Advocate staff lined up side by side at the top of the boat ramp and listened as Kevin gave us an entertaining info session about safety and communication protocols. We learned important things such as how to react if you just so happen to flip your kayak over and find yourself in the water and floating sans kayak down the river. Apparently, the thing to do if that unfortunate accident occurs is to turn over onto your back and float feet-first down the river until a rope line is tossed over to rescue you. They assured us that this was a rare occurrence, but I was grateful to know what to do in case it did happen. We also learned a few buzzwords, like strainers (a tree that allows water to flow, but not a kayak) and forward stroke (your main means of propulsion). After launching our kayaks into the cool water, and after a few paddle stroke tips from Kat, we embarked on our journey down the Willamette River.
The Willamette River is the life-force of the Willamette Valley. It is the thirteenth largest river in the contiguous United States, with an average annual discharge of 32,000 cubic feet per second. Kevin told us to imagine that the river was made of basketballs – that would be 32,000 basketballs passing us every second. The current did seem to be rushing by at a wicked fast pace as we entered the open water of the main channel with our kayaks pointed upcurrent in the recommended 45 degree angle.
Completely surrounded by nature, with no cityscape or noises in the background, the water was a serene and peaceful place. The sun was shining brightly in the vivid blue sky with an occasional white fluffy cloud floating by overhead. River wildlife made guest appearances, including numerous bald eagles, herons, and osprey. If we missed seeing anything, Kat and Kevin were quick to point it out to us, sharing their knowledge about the habits and behaviors of the creatures we saw. In the more shallow parts of the river I saw fish swimming underneath me. Some of them seemed enormous – or maybe that was just the sun going to my head.
A rougher section of water was the ideal moment to test our skills on something slightly more challenging. I opted to stay where the water seemed calm and safe as I watched my brave friends shoot through a choppy area around a strainer tree in the water. It must have been thrilling, as everyone who participated in that section had a huge grin on their face.
Eventually it was time to pull over on a gravel bar island to take a break and partake of some snacks. All of the delectables were aesthetically placed atop a table that seemed to appear out of nowhere. A red and white gingham tablecloth added the perfect touch. Our fare included slices of salami, some yummy local cheese, and crackers. Kevin surprised us by pulling out a growler of beer from Mazama Brewery. He knew a lot of information about the brewery and told us a tale of how India pale ale was first made.
After enjoying our break on the island, we loaded back into our rigs to complete our trip. The next stop would be the take-out point back at Crystal Lake where we had left our vehicles. Kat told us to catch the eddy (a loop in the current) at the boat ramp and paddle up to the bank. Easier said than done, but we all managed to make it.
It was a thumbs-up from everyone for having such an awesome adventure! Cascadia emphasized safety first and showed us everything we wanted to know. The route was well planned and totally doable for some of us first-timers. It felt like we were being guided by experienced kayakers and, most importantly, we were completely safe the entire trip. If you are looking for some fun in the sun and an outdoor challenge, Cascadia Expeditions has an adventure trip for you. It certainly was for us.
By Jennifer Moreland