Swimming in the Snake River at Asotin

Asotin is separated from the state of Idaho by the Snake River and, with summer weather baking the valley, it has been a popular destination for boaters, jet skiers and rafters. I don't own any of the above so I opted to swim. There are little inlets up and down the riverbank, some set with safety markers to keep the boats out. Paddling about in the safety of the cove isn't my style though. Someday my style  is likely to get me killed.

I made my first attempt to swim down the river, starting two miles upstream from Asotin. I will admit that I am more than a touch rusty on my long distance swimming since it has been nearly a decade since I used to swim in the La Jolla Cove in San Diego, which has a protected marine preserve.

Long distance swimming at the Cove was always play time - a good workout while admiring the fish, kelp, sharks - whatever came along.

The river is a totally different environment from ocean swimming - far more challenging and, I think, much more dangerous.

The water temperature was a comfortable 72 degrees when I slipped into the Snake River at a little sandy beach but was much murkier than I expected - recent rainfall had added a lot of silt.

The plan was simple - take off from the beach, check in with my wife at the first mile if I made it that far and out of the water at Chief Timothy Park in Asotin if I continued. That plan, as they say, was good until contact with the enemy - the Snake River.

First, I chose to enter the water above the lake. What we call a river is actually a dammed lake separating Idaho and Washington, Lewiston and Clarkston/Asotin. As you move further from town, you get closer to the river in a more primitive state.

It's faster and sneakier - rock outcroppings hint at the turbulence below the surface but slamming into a boulder - pushed by the weight of the whole river - is a shocking reminder that you only have partial control.

At the time of impact -I bounced off more than one submerged rock before getting braced against one to puzzle out my next plan - I was already getting tired. Muscles that were neglected for too long were running up the white flag.

Sensible people pay attention to such things. I headed for the channel and the choppy current, mindful of the boaters ripping past, prows in the air as they headed up river at speed.

I almost preferred the boulders. Getting sucked into the flow of the river as it heads for Portland. Escaping it required a lot more work with already tired arms and lungs that were severely over-taxed.

In salt water, especially with a wetsuit (I was wearing it for buoyancy - my mother was right when she said I have lead in my ass), you can rest, slow your stroke count, take a breather.

Try it in the river and you'll drown.

So no breathers - I drew an imaginary diagonal to a beach and started to swim to the upstream side of it, expecting that the river would push me toward it. Darn near pushed me past it but I did manage to get my feet down and, gulping some much needed air, had to decide whether I was going to re-enter the water or finish up on land.

I chickened out and the folks in the fancy houses overlooking the river had the opportunity to laugh at the skinny guy trail-running in a wetsuit through the wildlife refuge south of town.

My feet? No problem. I had picked up a pair of boat shoes to swim in just in case I needed to exit the river on rocky surfaces. They handled the surfaces - broken rock, sand, brush - without a problem.

Challenging myself (and Mother Nature) means planning. I knew that I was getting in over my head - literally - and built my contingency plans for that. Taking risks doesn't mean being stupid - though that is sometimes a point of discussion in my household - it means pre-planning what you can, adapting as best you can and accepting your control is imperfect because life and nature just don't care.

You do get to chose risks. Sitting on the couch eating potato chips carries its own risks - I'll take a trail or river, bear or rapids, any day.

Run gently, friends.