River of No Return
Wilderness, whether mountainous, water or desert is the backdrop to mystery novels, scenery in poetry and the pixie dusts of cinematic theater. These untouched stretches of glory across America bring me to my knees every time I’m fortunate enough to wander through them.
This decade has brought professional satisfaction and tremendous personal joy as I’ve worked on the Climb to Fight Breast Cancer, benefiting Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, on the banks of Lake Union in Seattle, Washington. It’s been an honor to kick steps up the most picturesque, magical sites the mind can imagine, alongside the most amazing philanthropists I’ll ever meet.
Last summer brought me to the bottom of a canyon, rather than the summit of a peak. My best friend of twenty-five years invited me to join her family and friends on their annual raft trip. We spent the week in Idaho, immersed on the Main Salmon River in the Frank Church – River of No Return Wilderness Area. This stretch of paradise is the second largest protected wilderness in the lower 48 and covers six separate national forests.
Four years after its creation, Congress honored Idaho’s US Senator Frank Church, the visionary who lobbied for its protection, adding his name to the region. He was suffering from pancreatic cancer. On March 14, 1984, President Reagan signed the act into law just weeks before Frank Church lost his cancer battle at age 59.
I’m grateful to pioneers like Teddy Roosevelt, John Muir and Frank Church for campaigning for the creation of national parks, national monuments and wilderness areas. These crusaders have allowed me to share outdoor experiences with my family. We’ve made memories hiking near grizzlies in Yellowstone, floating in Glacier National Park, exploring Hoodoos in Bryce Canyon and sleeping under shooting stars in Yosemite.
While on the Salmon River, we were surrounded by silent painted canyons. It was the most relaxing week of my forty-three years. The only sound was the whitewater, birdcalls, and the welcome conversation between rafters.
Each day brought with it a new landscape, unique wildlife and another floral sunset. Sleeping to the hypnotizing sounds of the current was surreal. Yes, there were a few bugs – literally, not figuratively. By week’s end, I didn’t notice the yellow jackets, the poison oak or the number of hours it took my expert oarsman to row us to camp. I soaked up the silence and celebrated my pristine surroundings.
When you discover something you love, you want to protect it. You fight for it. Senator Church fought to protect what he loved, so future visitors like me, can fall in love too.