The Risks We Take

 

Dear Soleil,

It was June, 1997, and whitewater kayaking was experiencing a golden age. All disciplines of the sport were peaking, from freestyle to slalom racing, and at the front of the explosion was the newest and greatest – extreme kayak racing.

Extreme kayak racing pushed the comfort zone of even the most accomplished paddlers of the time. As opposed to traditional racing held on moderate sized rapids, extreme races were staged on the hardest sections of river possible. Paddlers would charge through class 5 hydraulics and over cascading waterfalls, often head-to-head against several other competitors.

That year your daddy was the head organizer of the most prominent extreme race in the country at the time, The Gorge Games. The race was to be held on the Green Truss section of the White Salmon River in July. In addition to organizing the kayak events, I also had every intention of winning the extreme race. For months I had been training, both physically and mentally. By June, I was in top condition and was training with my long time friend, Rich Weiss.

Rich was my hero. In 1991, while training together in Canada, I saw what real work ethic looked like. I taped his Champion Series race profile picture to my dashboard, and for the entire 1992 season I looked at it before every workout to get inspired. By 1997, we both found ourselves living in the Colombia River Gorge and again started paddling together, preparing for the Gorge Games. By late June the rivers were swollen with snow melt, and we were running them at levels that I’m certain had never been tried before.

On June 25th, the Green Truss section was peaking at 6 feet, over double the normal level. Rich and his wife Rosi showed up at Outdoorplay, my new kayak shop, in the late afternoon. He was carrying a photo of himself to add to the shop’s wall of fame, which he autographed. It said,

Tree – Keep smokin down the river
Your friend, Rich

We hung it on the wall above the cash register, I grabbed my kayaking gear, and we headed for the Truss. Rosi was along for the ride, or, more accurately, to drive our shuttle. She would drop us off at the top, and then wait at the bottom until we arrived. This was a regular occurrence, as Rosi hardly ever left Rich’s side. They were more or less inseparable, two of the most in love people I had ever met. Everybody knew it.

At the put-in, the water was brown and angry. Rich and I dropped in and ran a couple rapids. When pulling over to catch our breath, we questioned whether or not it would be runnable. We didn’t use its name. We didn’t have to. We approached the horizon line and pulled over on the left bank. It boomed like an explosion. We walked to the lip and caught our first glimpse of Big Brother, the 30 foot waterfall and crux rapid of the Green Truss section of the White Salmon river.

At double the normal water flow, Big Brother looked ferocious. The normal line on the right side of the river was completely closed out. The well-known and dangerous cave on the right side was being hammered by a torrent of water pushing in from the hydraulic at the base. Getting pushed into the cave at this water level would be ugly. Complicating the issue was another nasty 10 foot drop right below called Little Brother. The current was moving so fast at this water level that the chance of having to run Little Brother right after Big Brother was 50/50. Rich and I sat in silence.

After a while of staring at the drop, I started to see a line on the far left side. By jumping over a 3 foot pour-over leading into Big Brother, I thought I might be able to access the left side. With enough speed and a strong last stroke, I envisioned my boat clearing the hydraulic at the bottom, thus avoiding the cave. The distance between the pour-over and the main drop was small, maybe enough time for 2 paddle strokes. But I saw it in my mind’s eye.

I told Rich I was running it. He put on his big, Richie, ear-to-ear smile and said, “Good luck, I’ll watch from here”.

I don’t remember being nervous. I don’t remember being scared. I paddled aggressively into the pour-over and nailed the move. But the distance to the main drop was much smaller than I had anticipated. I had enough time for only one stroke. I paused, waiting to feel my boat right on the lip, then launched the most powerful stroke I could muster. It was quiet. I felt my boat falling. Then I hit the hydraulic at the bottom. The power of the water immediately flipped me over, but the speed I had generated from the last stroke carried me through. I rolled up and barely scratched my way into a small eddy just 5 feet above Little Brother. I gave Rich the thumbs up to let him know I was ok.

I looked up at Rich through the mist. He was staring at the waterfall, his hands tucked into his lifejacket. One minute passed. Then two. Then three. At the time it didn’t register, but looking back on that moment, I saw trepidation, something I had never seen in Rich before. He looked down at me, far below, sitting in-between two powerful drops. I was getting bounced around in the small eddy while clinging to a rock. It looked as though he was considering walking around it. I put my hands up and shrugged, indicating “it’s your call”. Then I pointed at my watch and tapped it, indicating “make the call”. Rich smiled at me, looked at the drop for another second, and then disappeared over the horizon line. That was the last time I ever saw him.

I watched the horizon line waiting for the first glimpse of Rich’s boat. Finally it appeared and as I watched him clear the pour-over my first thought was, “Oh no, he’s going way too slow”. He approached the lip of Big Brother with little speed and appeared to stall. I waited for the powerful last stroke, but he seemed to just fall off the drop. His boat was slightly off line, and he skipped off a shallow section during the fall. Upon hitting the bottom, his boat did a back somersault into the hydraulic and started violently cartwheeling toward the cave. Then it was gone.

I immediately marked the time on my watch, knowing the seriousness of the situation. I wanted to know how long he had been under. I stayed in my boat waiting for him to wash out. With the strength of the current I knew there would be no hope to rescue him before he was swept over Little Brother. But, if I stayed in my boat, I could follow him over the next drop and hopefully get to him below.

Then, in an instant, his boat shot out of the falls and pinwheeled over Little Brother. But there was no sign of Rich. He was pinned behind the waterfall in the cave. I climbed out of my boat onto a narrow, slippery catwalk of rock shooting out from the cliff wall and started throwing my rescue rope behind the curtain, hoping he’d grab it. Forty minutes later I gave up.

My hands were now shaking. All of a sudden the canyon felt dark and unfriendly. Getting back into my boat and running Little Brother, alone, was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. After that drop I was able to scale the cliff. From the canyon rim I looked into the river and saw no trace of Rich. I ran through the forest, heart pounding, until I came to the road. A truck picked me up and took me to a pay phone where I called 911.

Next came the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life. From the pay phone I walked across the street to the take-out where Rosi was waiting for us. She looked surprised to see me. With my stomach in my throat, and on the verge of tears, I told her that the love of her life, her soul mate, and the father of her unborn child, was dead.

Search and rescue arrived, and eventually found Rich’s body pinned on a tree downstream from Big Brother. They rappelled a 200 foot cliff, and by 11:45 pm they were wheeling the body into an ambulance back on the main highway where I waited. Rosi squeezed her 6 month pregnant body into the back of the ambulance with him, and the door slowly closed behind her.

The funeral came and went, as did all the questions of how and why. A couple months later Rosi gave birth to a baby boy and named him River.

I buried the pain and fear and shame in the deepest place I had, and Rosi and I never spoke again.

=====================================================

After Rich died I continued to kayak, and despite having some of the best river experiences of my life after the event, it was never the same. I put my focus into climbing instead, and over the years I continued to cheat death more times than I probably deserved.

So why am I telling you this story my sweet Soleil? I don’t know. I really don’t have an ending to this. But since you were born, those feelings seem to be creeping up from the deep place I stuffed them.

I have tremendous envy for friends I know who have had kids, yet continue to push the limits in their pursuits.  In the same breath, I have seen too many of them perish. And I can’t bear the thought of leaving you.

I often wonder what was going through Rich’s mind during the long minutes he stood alone, so uncharacteristically, at the top of that waterfall. Did he know? Did he sense it? What was he thinking? What was he feeling?

Aside from your birth, the most magical times in my life have been the suspended moments in which time and thought stop, and pure life begins. Waterfalls. Big walls. Remote adventures. Solo missions. This is where the moments that defined my life were found.

Now I find myself struggling to answer questions.

  • What am I willing to give up? What am I willing to lose?
  • At what point do the risks I take no longer enhance my life, and how do I find the balance?
  • And most importantly, what do I want to pass on to you, because I already see the crazy in your little green eyes.

These are the reflections I’m having as I process what I’ve done in my life, contemplate what I have left, and prepare for what you may choose to do in yours.

Perhaps in teaching you how to measure risk without the extra weight of ego and fear, I will learn to find the balance myself, and together we will get the most out of this already too short life.

All my love,

Daddy

 

=============================================================

Big Brother shown at low water. The ledge of rocks above the waterfall seen in this photo created the pour-over we used to run the left side line at high water.

Another low water shot showing the normal line. A truly beautiful and magical place.

 

 

 

Comments

  1. cheryll says:

    Oh honey, that must have been hard to write. I hope it was cathartic. My heart is aching.
    Yes, you live life on the edge. It is one of your many wonderful traits. I know you possess the skills and maturity to find a sweet balance in the amount of risk you are willing to accept at this point in your life. Your life has evolved and you now have a beautiful wife and precious daughter to consider when making this important decision. Trust your instincts…if you get that hint of “trepidation,” back away. See your loved ones and know your priorities. Your skill level is at the very top…no shame in easing up a bit.
    Beautifully written piece, Tree.
    Love you.

    • Tree. I love you. Your courage, your crazy, the balance you hold while making decisions, your taste in women and the voice you answer to. This was so beautifully written. My heart aches for all of you who were touched by Rich. You’ve carried this long enough, truth and shame cannot coexist. You’re free. My initial thought was that through this experience, Rich saved your life. Maybe many times over. Who knows what brand of crazy you would have expressed had this experience not seeded itself deep into your heart. Not all lives are long ones, but they should all be lived fully. You and Rich shared that truth. You’re lucky. Reach out to River someday. He’ll want to hear this story.

      Your a wonderfully brave and beautiful soul. Thank you for sharing your story.

  2. gaiatender says:

    Astounding…straight from the heart via the gut. Scary stuff has a way of surfacing during some of life’s most profound moments, here’s to the bravado addressing/questioning it. You will do exactly what you need to do. Your letter will be a beautiful gift to Sol & Stevie. Sol will treasure it.

  3. Great post, TREE. Can’t wait to talk it through over a couple bottles of Argentinian wine…

    Dave

  4. Sin palabras Tree…
    H

  5. heart breaking read… thanks for sharing that story

  6. Teri Hogan says:

    Wow Tree, how tragic, it made me weep. Must have been cathartic to write it down. Beautifully written, thanks for sharing and last but not least, those are excellent questions you are asking yourself. You will come to the answers, the more you look in those little green eyes.
    Abrazos

  7. Tree.. Thanks for releasing this. I never had the courage to talk to you about this. Can’t stop the tears from flowing right now. Life is short, live it to the fullest.

    • And so far the fullest I have felt is watching my kids grow and thrive. But don’t get me wrong. I love adventure. Just a bit more picky when choosing partners/adventures.

  8. What courage it took to write this and to relive it. Beautifully done. Soleil is a lucky little girl.

  9. mamatuyas says:

    “It began in mystery, and it will end in mystery,
    but what a savage and beautiful country lies in between.” (D. Ackerman)
    I honor you Tree, for seeking always to live your Truth. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  10. Great Aunt Debby and Great Uncle Barry says:

    Dearest Tree, Beautifully written post, you dug down and shared deeply from your soul. All the amazing adventures you have had in your life have taught you so much about who you are and who you can become, helping prepare you for one of the greatest adventures you will ever have…Being Sol’s Daddy. Now you have an ongoing, ever changing opportunity to teach Sol the many things you have learned over the years and for you to learn more about yourself in the process. The saying…The Best way to Learn is to Teach… is so true. You are an awesome Dad!

  11. I am sure you will find balance, Tree. Life ebbs and flows and changes as we grow. Thank you for sharing.

  12. Bill Hearn says:

    Tree, Thanks for writing about the toughest stuff. This will help lots of us with closure in Richies death. It helped me today. Changing your algorithm for risk calculation is the key to a full life for you and your loved ones. Stay strong in body and mind.
    Best, Billy

  13. Old Timer says:

    Very beautifully written!

    I’ve been there. And when parenthood was upon me I made the choice to optimise the chances my kids would have a daddy as they grew up. No judgement on those who continue to take risks, but it was not for me.

    Funny thing, though. What I learned is that I enjoy the river more when I have no plans to take excessive risks. Instead of obsessing on the line I’ll take at the hardest drop, I explore all the lines of easier drops, with joy and a light heart, and spend far more time just appreciating the beautiful cathedrals that were created by waters flowing and carving throughout geologic history.

    In doing so, I came back to my original love of rivers, leaving behind what were less-than-healthy desires to prove myself.

    We all die sooner or later; it’s how we fill the antecedent time that counts. I’ve had 19 wonderful years as a parent, which so far have been far more rewarding that all those years I popped off waterfalls and tumbled down manky boulder-choked canyons. We are all different and thus make different choices. I am happy with mine.

    Thanks for taking the time to write this!

  14. Zach Davis says:

    I don’t know you…I only read this post, because a good friend linked to it on Facebook.

    I will offer, though, that the longing will pass. I have two sons, 5 and 7. During the first winter of my first son’s life, I lost the urge to risk death for fun… rather, I should say that I realized that I preferred the company of my son to the company of impending doom.

    2 years before that decision, I had strapped into my snowboard on the West-Buttress of Denali, while my wife was at home having a miscarriage.

    I am imperfect. I have no way to describe my fascination with danger other than to say that I have to find a way to “take the edge off.”

    By prioritizing my responsibilities as a father, I know that I am committing a far greater act of bravery than many will ever know.

    The one other thing I can offer is that there are other things we can do. I have friends who hunt wild boar with spears. Personally, I’ve found my way to jiu jitsu and submission grappling. Looking back, climbing (and I suspect kayaking as well) is an amazingly selfish and useless sport 🙂 I’ve had enough fun for one life, and now I enjoy enriching the lives of my sons.

    You will be happy with the choice you are making. I promise.

  15. Great writing. Very inspired.

  16. Peggy Ditch-Langdon says:

    Beautiful I say as my tears run as the river….

    Peggy

  17. We all took & continue to take some risks because it makes us feel alive. However when another comes along and makes us feel alive, then we find we don’t need to take as many risks. Richie was a hero of mine as well, thanks for sharing Tree. Stay strong.

  18. Wendy Linn says:

    Blink. I believe we know in an instant most of the important stuff. We spend the next period of time talking our frontal lobes into or out of the thing. Love is like that. The following few weeks I saw Rosi in Durango. The race had a huge hole in it. We all missed Rich, but mostly we knew that a great love had passed from us and we all take the bond far less seriously despite our hopes that what they created could be our destiny too. I believe it is Rosi’s talk that day that changed me forever and the possibility of acceptance and celebration of such a love representing itself in your post. Love well. Raise other people’s children. We are all children like Rich, Rosi, and River.

  19. Richard Hallman says:

    Incredible insight – I remember when that happened – don’t stop the writing or the adventures – Love u bro!

  20. Jock Bradley says:

    Tree – my heart goes out to you as it always has during these years since Rich passed. Your penance is over and I hope because of Soliel and this dialogue, you are able to heal and finally be free. As our children grow, so do we. Soliel will bring you to new heights of personal discovery. Some lessons will be hard and some will be glorious. Bravo to you for having the courage to embrace them all.

    Be well amigo.

  21. Rfort Fotos says:

    Amazing read, and thank you for the history lesson, that i should have known, but didnt know until now. Our paddling club, the Chilliwack Centre of Excellence, runs a whitewater slalom race every year in April. It is the Rich Weiss Memorial Race and is part of the North West Cup Whitewater Slalom Race series.

    A very tough letter to read at the end, but important for the child(ren) and yourself. I lost my dad, at the age of 10, and think of many things i missed out on without him, but also realize what an amazing mom i have that has raised me to be who i am. I have very few tangible memories of myself with my dad in, thus why i take every opportunity to make memories with my sons today. Thank you for sharing the letter.

  22. This is an impressive piece of writing. As a lifetime paddler and slalom racer, this story obviously has circulated more than once. Your honest and forthright perspective sheds light on it… very well done. Your honest statements of not exactly knowing all the answers, this is also refreshing. You are going to do good with your son. Keep having fun!

  23. Rusty Sage says:

    Thank you for sharing, amazing reflection. It was great having a memory of Rich through your eyes.

  24. Mike Du- says:

    Your Life,My Life,Our Life ,His Life !

  25. Gary Edgeworth says:

    Thanks for sharing that was a very tough year for many people. Be safe Tree

  26. David Mackintosh says:

    Thank you so much for this, Tree.

  27. Dru van Hengel says:

    I have been thinking so much about Rosi and River these last few days. Thank you for sharing your experience of Richie’s death. It helps so many of us touched by it.

  28. Jack Kennedy says:

    Tree,
    Thanks for sharing. The story of what happened that day, Rich’s memory, has probably saved hundreds of lives over the years. I was in your shop for the first time about a year after that day, running Truss for the first time with great friends. The gift of paddling great rivers and the memories of paddling with great friends is something we never lose. I look forward to sharing the gifts I’ve been given with my own kids as much as I looked forward to paddling great rivers with great friends in the past and will again in the future. A piece of Rich lives on in everyone who’s read this article, knew him, or heard the story. My hope is that I’m around long enough to pass that spirit and knowledge and love on to my own kids by sharing with them the love of rivers and friends and life that flows in me. I just do it a little differently now.
    Much Love

  29. Michael Doyle says:

    The rare individual, traveler, adventurer; a pioneer in using technology to support lifestyle, opens up the darkest and brightest places/the truths and the questions in his soul for his baby daughter and then shares them with the world. A stunning, chilling, and mind-expanding read. Beautiful, Tree.

  30. Interstate Motor Co says:

    TREE (and the Sprinter life posse),

    Introduction => I’m part of a colorful ‘motley crew’ including: a miniature pinscher (as adaptable as Kiki)…an unearthly athletic and fearless (often misunderstood) daredevil husband who could be your soul-twin (until me, he also celebrated birthdays alone in meditation & shares so many of your ideals)…and myself. We’re all about the same age. Like Stevie, I’m a dreamer and an intellect, born Dec. 16, embrace life’s tribulations, love (love) red wine – and adore my unique husband as equally as (or more than) life itself (and vice versa…so rare). I even ruined his MacBook two weeks ago (but owe him much fewer massages thanks to my ridiculously good math skills, which included tax/tip). Irony or coincidence? I’ve been wondering for months… It’s those common threads that have (privately) kept me reading about Sprinter Life, to the extent that I slightly worried when you guys re-defined ‘procrastination station’ with a 13 day hiatus. Chagrin?!?

    History => I found your blog around March (this year) while researching Sprinter Van living (also rare). A near death experience of my own that month (in the midst of holding an executive level position in corporate America, where human life seems cheapened) led to a ‘mid-life crisis’ (not a bad term by raw definition!). Our instinct/reaction was Thoreau-like by all means => to live the rest of our days deeply & deliberately, front essential facts, publish the meanness – and the sublime… Our ‘things’ went into storage, we sold the rest, bought a Sprinter, set an uber tight budget – and took a year off to nomad around the Pacific Rim and otherwise. Like most young nomads (again, rare), we’re hoping the year turns into forever.

    Comments => so daring for you to publish such incredible content on this post (as well your and Stevie’s past posts), yet threaten on your prior post to shut this blog down (I’d stick a ‘remember here’ if I knew how). You and Sprinter Life are an INSPIRATION even to those you may never know about…or hear from…or meet physically. That label comes with grave responsibility – artists (whether by song/writing/drawing/etc) are the cause of such stimulation and evocation! You’re both artists, by all accounts…

    Learn, grow, feel, teach. Learn, grow, feel, teach. Those are IMC’s own simple goals for this short life. I don’t know you or Stevie personally, so am in no position to ease your pain, make recommendations, or give advice – or even comment extensively. However, I felt compelled (for selfish reasons perhaps) to show face – because of the unlikely connection we seem to share…because of the untamable spirits deep inside we also seem to share…or simply to say => I hope Sprinter Life stays alive – I immensely enjoy reading what you’ve learned, how you grow, how you feel, how you teach. Profound!

    Either way – thank you…thank you. “Never look back unless you are planning to go that way.” (Thoreau)

  31. Ross Henry says:

    Thanks Tree, I had always wondered what your thoughts were on that day and
    Today. I found my self part of the recovery mission on that day. At that time I didn’t know what
    Running class V meant. None the less the love of the river was in full throttle in my soul. At the young age
    Of 19 to see someone not alive due to kayaking was shocking!!! What was the reason??? What was the lesson??? How could this happen??? All of these thoughts circled in my head. A sport that brought so much
    Joy and happiness to my life could be taken in one moment and it didn’t matter that you were the best paddler
    On the river. I remember being surrounded by the elite kayaking community that was forming in the gorge. Sitting in a circle at trees house. I think I asked why? It seemed that most felt it was the 99% rule.. Meaning that 99% of the time the dice will roll your way and you will live to see another day. That was hard for me to understand and still is. I think we can always learn from the experiences of those around us. I feel that my risk to fun ratio is one I can rest at night with. None the less I too want my daughter to know that i do what I do to live life To its fullest and hope to share that feeling and embrace with my daughter as we both grow together. I do think that’s important to celebrate rich’s passing by listening to the inner voice we have inside. Much love to all the boaters that have passed to soon. May we gain wisdom from their passing.

    Thanks tree for remembering.

  32. Larry Norman says:

    Tree,
    It’s probably been a couple years since I last thought about Richie. Then yesterday I noticed that the blades on a paddle I was teaching my 11 year old daughter with were salvaged from one of Rich’s old Schlegel’s, his name still visible in sharpie on them, then home today to see this post. His life changed the course of many of our lives as we trained with him in Chilliwack. And his death changed the course again. Put simply, any racer head out there who was running hard stuff assuming slalom skills were going to be enough had to face the fact that if the River could take Rich, it could take anyone. On some level, we always knew it, but after that day we all felt it.
    It changed the way I approached risk, and that changed again when my first daughter was born 5 years later. At the end of your piece you ask yourself about balance, and that is the right word I think. It’s not a topic that absolutes will work for. Easy to say “I’d never risk my life now that I have kids” and I’ve probably said it. But who wants their kid to have a role model who treads fearfully around every adventure in life? So we struggle with it and find some place we are comfortable with, or at least make peace with our discomfort.
    Thanks for writing this.
    Larry

    • Larry, you should consider sending that paddle to Rosi, for River. It would most certainly mean the world.

      thanks -TREE

  33. Thank you so much for sharing this. I hope you find the balance.

  34. Caroline Eastburn says:

    Thanks for this, Tree!

    • Anonymous says:

      I remember reading about this in AWA back in ’97. It was one of the saddest stories in paddling that I read. At that time I was just beginning to get at the top of my game. He was a friend of my best paddling buddy. I have been involved in whitewater over 30 years. I have seen people die on the river and there is nothing you can do even when there were a 100 people trying to help. I have paddled with some folks and to learn they died a week later. I also recently learned the first guy I ever paddled a kayak down a whitewater river died. I totally get what you are saying. It sits with me heavy and interferes with my paddling. Life is precious but rivers make you feel more alive. Tree I think this was a great article you wrote, but I have concerns it seems like the younger generation is moving up the scale too fast compared to 10 years ago. Kids running the Narrows in a year. Granted I think our safety awareness has increased, but there isn’t enough focus on the importance of experience. Thanks for writing a great article.
      -Wise boater

  35. Tree – I don’t know what to write. I don’t know why I’m writing. I suppose to just let you know how appreciated these words are by so many. As I read the comments above, it seems you’ve also opened the door for others to help process what happened so many years ago. I can also say, personally, your story has helped guide my closest person and soul mate as he has always held dear what you taught him. I met you a few years after Rich’s passing, but his legacy was very much a part of my life in HR and the reality of risk was learned by many. Be well friend. And please, please don’t disappear off your blog. What makes this stellar is the mesh between you and Stevie and seeing things through both of your eyes. Please reconsider. With love – Hoop

  36. Anonymous says:

    I just wanted to let you know how deeply I felt the blog you wrote about Rich. I have known, since it happend, how this event weighed on your heart and haunted your spirit. It is pretty amazing how a 25 pound, green eyed muse inspires you to dig deep and launch into the bravest thing I have ever seen you do. Keep writing to her Tree. For this blog is more courageos than any wall you have climbed or any rapid you have run.

  37. Mick Evans says:

    Tree – read your heart rending account of Rich Weiss’s demise on the White Salmon. I hope writing this has helped you, I’m sure you’ve experienced survivor’s guilt, and still do. Hear this – you did everything you could have, and really, when it happened, you were still evolving in our sport, Rich was way more experienced, so you are not responsible for his choices…..

  38. Dude, truly an amazing letter to your daughter and one that I shared with my wife. I have struggled over time to balance as well but the sheer thought of my 3 kids and a wife I love with all my heart would be alone grounds me and let’s me realize what I have. I still like to have fun and we experience a lot even today but I am also at a point of wanting to share experiences with the kids and let them start exploring and coming into their own. You have a way with words my friend and I really enjoy watching you and your family grow.

    Josh

  39. Arlene Burns says:

    beautiful tree.. now i am sure you feel it in a whole different manner.. and feel rosi’s pain even more profoundly, being in love in your life …

    you da man..

    much love and deep respect bro..

    ps.. peggy will be with me in august so it will be great for you guys to see her too..

    xxxx

  40. Lorenzo says:

    Wow buddy that is a deep post. Really hits home for me. I am in no way pushing the sport I love but deff am pushing my personal climbing goals. There is a risk in every day that we wake. How do we balance our passion and our love for our family’s. in a lot of ways people that have a passion for serious sports respect the balance of life and love far more then anyone who never expresses them self in such ways. People are not all given the same talents. Some can write and some can make amazing art. ??? These things that we find personal peace in are the building blocks of our soles. They are the things that gave us freedom from the masses. Were they find happiness ,that is how the inner person was created so that they could become the people that they are and why others fell in love with them. In my opinion having a family is a great responsibility and is a great gift. Just like being lucky enough to find that special thing which a person can find personal strength. These thing are who we are and why people love us and can be trailered a bit but you cannot take them away. Guess I’m selfish but I hope all the love I give will make a diff. in how I will be remembered someday. Rest in peace Tao !!! Lots of love and respect for all !!!!!
    P.S. see you in or homie. 🙂

  41. Shinpaugh says:

    I remember asking you about the incident on my first kayak lesson Tree, unbeknownst to me,Rich was your best friend, and with you on that day. You’re one of my most trusted friends, and if anything were to happen to me on an adventure with you, well, I’ve already had that conversation with my girls, and hopefully they accept that I would be at peace with such an outcome.
    love you Bro!

  42. Losing a close friend and fellow paddler in ’92 was the most transformative day of my life, and with few exceptions the boating community seemed curiously silent, even unsupportive at the time. I lost my friend, a river, connection to everyone who was on the trip with us, and my love of whitewater all at once, and mourn those losses still. Thank you, Tree, for expressing your grief aloud, and raising those (to me unanswerable) questions to the paddling community.

  43. Tough questions you are asking. I think even tougher answers to accept. I love you Tree.

  44. This is a great read… Thank you for sharing Tree… I had an office at the takeout that year… and remember that day well… I will never forget that day… or that drop… My friend Jim was the first to run it in a raft… with me running safety… thinking about you and Rich every moment… Another good friend Bill Bowey who later passed in a boating accident ran that drop behind me one day and broke his nose… I have hung off a rope in that cave running safety for the races… and this moment you had always hung in the back of my mind… After loosing Bill boating was never the same for me either… THANK YOU FOR SHARING>>> We are all with you in spirit.. . Stay strong and live life as you do so well! Tom

  45. Anonymous says:

    Tree- LOVING the article ” The Risks We Take”… well written, very touching.. also, I grew up in Washougal, and would often hit the whitewater that came in the spring on our river in our beat up Canoe, ” A River Runs Through It ” style, knowing that we were going to tip, and doing it anyway……. such good times. Neat to know that you were so close. I used to spend a lot of time in White Salmon, and on the river.
    just have to thank you for sharing that. I just finished the story, and it was truly moving. It also was very important for me in some personal matters that I can’t fully explain, but ….. thank you.

  46. Hey Tree,

    I just wanted to let you know I read your blog about Rich truly fighting back tears.

    That accident and others made me scale back my limits to the point the only boat I climbed into for years was a play boat. Returning to creeking or classV just took time but I am solid, I just am really fussy about levels and who I am with. Man kayaking is a head game for beginners and experts I guess because most of the time boaters are smart and weigh their options. I don’t climb but I bet it may be similar.

    Anyway, your story is so powerful and courageous. I truly hope by telling it, you gain by it. So if you gain then so will your family.

    I am looking forward to reading your whole blog as it looks incredible.

    And again, thanks for letting me “demo” that white Glide back then, those trips to the trestle wave were just epic.

    Take care out there,

  47. Tree…just wanted to share that your blog post to your daughter and the recount of that day with Rich really hit home. I remember it well, too. When I heard the news that day I couldn’t believe what had happened, and what you must have felt..having children does indeed change everything. I’ve been in your shoes. I was in Australia shooting and keep a journal very similar to yours…I never had been hurt shooting, but the surf was different and I knew it was a matter of time. At home in the states, I had my second son waiting..just 12 weeks old..something inside of me felt my time of risking my life for ‘The” shot was coming to a close. That day, out shooting, a board flew off of a rider right into me…by God’s grace I had my camera up and the board went straight into the lens…knocking me into the water..black eye..dazed…it put a one inch deep cut into the board it hit so hard…had the camera not been up I probably would have been killed. It would have hit under my helmet almost directly in my eye. I came back, held my baby, and said it was time to move on. The risk/payoff benefit..its tricky…but now that I’m 42 with three kids, I don’t regret my decision one bit. Every day with them is my ‘adventure’…they need me..I need them. Stay safe. Stay True.

  48. Tom Sherburne says:

    Tree, thanks for sharing about Rich and yourself on sprinter life, I have always wondered what happened but have been unable to ask you or anyone else out of respect. So thank you for opening your heart and feelings. I totally understand where you are. About week after Laurel was born I was up in little river canyon, I walked a lot that day just wanting to get home to see my baby. To this day on any river trip of any significance I walk one for Laurel. Hold on tight they grow up fast!

    Tom

  49. I hadn’t seen this post, but Ryan told me about it today. This had to have been so hard to write. As always – I am floored by the person you are. Rich was a hero to many – that will always be. You, however, are one of my heros too and its not just because of all your inspirational highs, but also how you have handled the horrific lows. XOXO Sarah

  50. Thank you for writing this. May God watch over you, and protect your family and friends.

  51. Oh man, this takes me back. I was in the BZ parking area to pick up my shuttled van after my friend Dick and I had done the BZ to Husum run, when a fire engine came roaring up to us. A fireman leaned out the drivers window and yelled “is this where the drowning is?”. Dick and I shook our heads – we didn’t know about any accident – but then I looked over and saw that Rich’s pregnant wife, who had been waiting there in her car reading, had overheard our exchange. She was just horrified, it was really heartbreaking. At the time I didn’t know it was his wife, but after I saw her reaction, I knew she was waiting for them. Very sad, very sobering.

  52. James Mole says:

    Tree.
    As a young paddler Richie was an inspiration to all us young guys training at Tamahi. He was everything that you have said and a role model for so many reasons. He was a superhero…
    These are risks we have all shared. We all know why we should and should not.
    I am both relieved that the weight of an experience like this has never come down upon me and heart fully sympathetic of what you have had to carry.
    James

  53. Corbin Crimmins says:

    I finally read your blog Tree. It’s a heavy subject for sure. What is the point to our time here? I think it’s pointless to try and save up on life, but now after having my Nicholas, it’s my plan to share as much as I can and still have as much fun as my 42 year old body can handle. We need to teach, love and live.

  54. Nancy Tholstrup says:

    Thank you Tree – You and Stevie have a magical way of expressing emotions and actions.

  55. Thanks for taking the time to write this. It is a sad fact that whilst kayaking brings out the very best in people and allows them to feel more connected and alive than at any other time, if you paddle long enough you will eventually lose friends to the river. Last year was particularly tough on the paddling community and I had a similar experience to yours; I don’t know if I’ll be able to write about it anytime soon, but for now at least, paddling gives me great solace and allows me to think of my friends that I’ve lost and be grateful that I had that time with them. I’m sure the risk-reward ratio changes constantly for all of us and I think the key is to do what you love because you love it and not out of fear or ego.
    Your story was also a stark reminder of the fact that those last few moments where everything goes from being awesome fun to nightmare stay with you; there are no words that can take that away and I’m not sure I’d give up those memories now that I have them because they remind me to be humble on the river and let the people around me know that I’m grateful for them being around.

  56. Gareth Marriott says:

    Tree, thanks for sharing. Being out of the loop and a long way away, I didn’t really know what had happened when Rich died. If you had not successfully run the drop, Rich would probably be the one feeling guilty. It’s not your fault mate. When my daughter was born I found it brought clarity to my life. It was easy to see what was important and what wasn’t. I’m sure Sol is bringing you another step closer to being a grown up! Look me up if you ever make it to England

  57. Tree,
    We have only met once and it was just a short visit. Stevie and I go back a decade or so. It was no mistake you found each other and life IS short. I look forward to your blogs and would be sad if you stopped keeping us (those of us who for whatever reason cannot just turn nomad) Up to date.
    I feel as if I’m getting o know and admire your honesty, courage and your writing is really getting better in leaps and bounds. I have a tragic story involving one of my best friend and the Colorado River.

    My story is similar and many of the same thoughts and feelings have been with me since the day.
    Thanks for sharing your experience but mostly the way you (after all this time) put pen to paper and did some soul searching. You will never know how much healing you have shared and souls you have touched.
    Thank you,
    Willy

  58. Lisa jacobi says:

    Tree- I love you. And I understand the need to express, but the more I read the more I hurt. I couldn’t stop thinking about River having to see this in print for eternity, because once it is on the Internet, it is forever. I suspect that Rosi doesn’t venture here and won’t have to relive the horror over again and again by way of this and hopefully River will only know of all the previous days of Rich and not his final terrified moments in this realm. I do love you so much, but this, for me is one of the times that perhaps here amongst a readership of strangers … Is not the place to express the most intimate details of friendship for Soleil to learn about her papa. Said with gentleness and care, I am your friend LxoJ

  59. Anonymous says:

    this blog post touched me. thank you.

  60. Living on the edge; dying on the edge. Hopefully he wouldn’t have had it any other way. Although, the child and the loves he left behind will grieve forever. Peace be with you all.

  61. Tree, I don’t have the words to say…I don’t know if anyone really does…or can relieve the pain you’re going through. I’ve never had to experience what you went through and I hope I never do. This was so well written it reminded me of a couple of heart breaking stories you are probably familiar with…the Tony Kurtz tragedy on the EIGER, and John Long’s story “Requiem for Ronnie,” (Ronnie Hart). You may know John–or knew Ronnie–personally, but, maybe what Long stated at the beginning of the story will allow you some identification that you are going through: “Requiem for Ronnie provides a glimpse at the personal dynamics that often fuel adventure prodigies: the stoney past; the physical genius and mental steel; the need to touch death to feel alive; and the prodigious passion that can only find expression where ‘delight and danger grow on one stalk.'” My thoughts are with you, Stevie and Soleil….I hope this helps…may your friend RIP….

  62. Cathy Hearn says:

    Best.ever.Tree.

  63. Anonymous says:

    good, great, …..

  64. John Welcher says:

    I read the story silently to myself & then TRIED to read it aloud to my sweetheart of 29 yrs. I had to pause several times to regain some composure, deal with the lump in my throat & whatever was caught in my eye. We’ve raised 3 daughters who each have their independent gifts / talents. My middle daughter is the “Adventurer” of the 3 & follows daddy’s love of whitewater, mountains etc… We had a close call together on the Kern during a high water year. We were separated for a while & she thought she lost me & I thought I had lost her. The feelings of helplessness came flooding back as I read your story. Thank you for sharing. I cherish the memories made & experiences yet to come with my own daughter. They have been some of the biggest highlights of my life.
    Much love, joy & peace to you and your lovely family.

  65. Dick Murray says:

    Being friends with Cornelia and Edith, I had the opportunity to meet Ritchie and ski with him. I was in Hood River carrying my infant son in a backpack and I saw two obviously kayakers walk by,(puffy arms and chest) I was thinking, damn, that looks like Ritchie, but he wouldn’t be in Hood River. Later I saw his obit and realized it was him. His father died bodysurfing in the Canary Islands, with Edith on the Beach and Cornelia in utero. For some reason I have a german sweater that belonged to his father, I would love to pass it along to River if anyone knows how I can-

  66. What an AMAZING INSPIRATIONAL article!

  67. Peter Sturges says:

    Tree – Thank you for this. I know you must question the wisdom of opening up the floodgates of comments but this is a great thing you have done. We all have to learn to live with “Life’s great sorrows” and a piece like this can only be viewed as a positive thing for those of us left behind. It has moved me and helped me live with my reality.

    • Thanks Peter. I’m sure these are questions you have pondered deeply, both with your own experiences and with those of Rush. He sure rips it up. You did good.

      take care, TREE

  68. As boatmen there are times it feels as though we are connected to the water. There are times that emotional attachment to our love of water outweighs logic, physics and hydrology. While this story brings sorrow to my heart it brings joy as well. Dying a premature death is tragic but how glorious it is to leave this earthly world doing what fuels you. Today is a gift and tomorrow is not promised living in the moment defines those who truly live. This brings back memories of a fellow boatmen who lost his life on a first ascent in a volcanic creek in Hawaii 8 years ago. To Tom Dallanger and Richie may the sun be at your back and you be upright and pointed downstream in the paddle to the other side. We will see you soon my friends and await the paddle along side you in heaven!

  69. Anonymous says:

    Tree – While we have never met, know that I have benefited immensely from this recounting of your experience and will pass it on as I teach others this sport I am passionate about. The responses to your post have given all who read them so much to think about and draw from. I agree with another response, the complexity of risk taking in boating needs to be discussed more, especially with those who quickly accelerate from low consequence boating to high consequence boating without the experiences to humble them in between. Sorry to hear of your loss; know that it is not in vain.

  70. I read this to only find myself wiping away the tears . My husband was looking at me wondering why I was crying while he was cooking me dinner. I let my dinner sit there and get cold because I had to read it again to Steve. Wow, what a story. I can’t imagine how difficult it was for you to quit throwing in the rope and continue down the river. It’s an amazing feeling when you do have kids that you will think twice about doing something that can potentially rip you away from your loved ones. Peace.

  71. Hudgens says:

    Thanks Tree. And also to old friends and acquaintances whose replies have been just as poignant and profound. Rich was the first kayaker I knew who died on the river, I had only met him once. These questions you pose Tree…I’ve had them on my mind as a father too. They deserve to be asked.

    See you on the road somewhere bro…
    Matt

  72. Anonymous says:

    You open souls, Soul-Searcher.

  73. Jennifer Jordan says:

    Don’t know you Stevie but met Tree 15 years ago in Hood River (Skip Brown is my SO). Shared the post with Skip after finding it on Steve Fisher’s FB page post Shannon’s death. We live by the Potomac. Beautifully written. Touching the edges. I’m a paddler, a little less now as I have 3 kids, spent three years living on the road as a nomad (pre-parent), so I felt kinship with your blog. Parenting opens up a beautiful albeit new door into existence. I appreciate that Tree and you can name these things, allow a little softening of the ego, a bit of vulnerability. Honest. Real. Keep it coming.

  74. Thank you everyone for your heartfelt comments. Stevie and I read each and every one and they were all amazing.

    I’m glad this post was able to touch so many people, especially in light of losing yet another brilliant kayaking star on Great Falls last week. Rest in peace Shannon Christy. You will be missed.

  75. Steve Jordan says:

    Beautiful piece Tree! Rich was very special to all of us. I’ll never forget that sad day. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and feelings with the world.

  76. Hi Tree,

    It was a very sad time for so many. Rich was a big part of my life from 1984 until he retired that year from slalom. I came to race the Gorge Games that year and running Big Brother for the first time was interesting. Hmm… Is it worth it? Yes, was my answer, and I decided I wanted to be the person I wanted to be, whether I was a father or not. I think it is a good lesson to kids when the parent shows how to live your life according to your own dreams and not make the kids the reason you compromise yourself. That empowers your kids to be strong and not assume that you can’t be who you want to be, I think. Meanwhile- watching Emily and Nick give birth to my grandson, I hope to share lots of good times with him!

    As for River and Rosi, River is such an amazing kid, very impressive. Even though Rich isn’t with us himself, River is very much Rich- reincarnated. Impressive. Rosi is also doing amazingly well.

    EJ

    • Dick Murray says:

      Guess I should clarify, I have a German sweater that belonged to Ritchies father, Rivers grandfather. I would like for River to have it if it’s appropriate . Dick M 206-769-3425

  77. Walk away to play another day

  78. Sam Elias says:

    Thanks amigo. Proud of you. Your daughter is going to appreciate this immensely one day. All my love.

  79. Tree-

    This is incredibly well written, and opens a wound that will never completely heal. As others have noted, Richie was a hero to so many people. Brilliant, focused, funny, and always fun to be around……I face many of the same questions, still paddling thirty years into it…..and with four kids. My youngest has the paddling bug, full bore. I worry…..but the joys we experience, the places we go, the incredible partnership that is part and parcel of paddling good whitewater, these are all parts of an experience that, for those who love it, could not truly live without it. I think of Richie, often, still. He was the rarest of heroes. This just blew me away today…..thank you so much for sharing this.

  80. Mike Donovan says:

    Thanks for the article, Tree. Very well said. I was Rich’s band director at New Mexico Military Institute, where he attended and graduated high school as valedictorian and two-time state wrestling champion. I am currently compiling and editing a memoir of reflections from classmates of Rich’s at NMMI, for Rich’s son River. I hope it will be meaningful to him.

    On a different note, I had a close friend and fellow NMMI graduate (I attended the school and later taught there) who was supposed to come to graduation to visit me from Oregon in 1980. Due to circumstances I won’t go into, he couldn’t come. On graduation day, he was fishing from a small boat on a lake in Oregon with his wife. A storm suddenly appeared, and my friend Bob was knocked off the boat. Many of the lakes in Oregon are volcanic and are extremely deep – Bob’s body was never found.

    While our two stories are far from the same, and I was not there, I did experience profound loss. Bob and I had cried in each other’s arms when I left Oregon for NMMI – “Go get ’em and make a difference!” Bob had said to me. Now retired, after teaching for 36 years (23 years at NMMI), I am so happy to say to Bob, “I did my best, Bob!”

    Teaching Rich was easy and an honor. He was always bright eyed and positive. He had a great countenance and drive to succeed, evidenced not just by his wrestling championships and perfect grades, but by the friends and relationships that he formed in his years at “The Hill”. I for one will always be proud to have known him.

    Thanks again for your heartfelt letter to your lucky daughter!

  81. Edith Weiss says:

    Tree,
    Thanks.
    Hard to read for a mother. I wanted so much to talk to you in Steamboat, but …
    Last year I met River for the first time, what a wonderful young man.
    Should our paths ever cross, would be a big blessing for me.

    • Anonymous says:

      Hi Edith, We would love to see a picture of River if you have one and to get contact info for Rosi. Lots of Love!

      Leslie Weiss Boyette and the whole Family..

  82. Leslie Weiss Boyette says:

    Wow, somehow I was led to find this article today. I’m not sure how I got here..This is about my cousin Rich Weiss, who I was able to meet during the ’96 Olympics. The whole Weiss family was able to join in the thrill of watching his Olympic runs and to spend time with him and his wife Rosi afterwards. We had a blast telling family stories and catching up. He died too soon in an accident, but was lucky enough to be doing what he loved. I hope that one day we can reconnect with his wife and meet his son, along with his kayaking buddies that miss him so much. RIP Cousin. You will be remembered.

  83. michelle says:

    My only child, my son, Logan Cole Jauernigg lost his life in this same spot, same cave on 5/15/15, he was just 20 yrs old. He possessed the same passion for adventure, he always did, since birth, he never stopped. He was an expert rock climber, extreme telemark skier, and an expert kayaker. anything he set his mind to, he gave it 110%. IT WAS WHO HE WAS IN HIS CORE. Logan was born and raised in Vail Colorado, by age 5 I was raising him alone, and although i knew the risks, I could never , nor would never hold him back from his passions in life. My heart and soul are crushed beyond repair, but I am the proudest mom there ever, ever was. I get it…………
    #LIVE LIKE LOGAN 5/4/95-5/15/15

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