Friday, March 20, 2015

The Falls of the Willamette..... and Zombies

The Falls of The Willamette

The thing about Zombies...... they can't swim. I mean, it isn't just the motor center coordination thing, though that certainly helps, it is the general lack of fatty tissue and the commonly occurring holes in the gas bearing parts of the torso. Zombies just sink. So if you stay in your kayak in deep or fast moving water, the suckers just can't get to you.

Load up Quietly

My clan went on a scouting and skills practice today up the Willamette River to the section just below the falls of the Willamette in the area that was called Oregon City before the sickness. We came in quietly by car and met at the Clackamette park. We had all brought our emersion gear and our Subarus and our kayaks. Funny, when you are some of the last living humans on the planet you tend to have really nice kayaks. Not sure why we hold to the Subarus. Perhaps it was because of how the all-wheel drive got us over the piles of bodies during the first 2 weeks of the sickness.

Dressed For Zombie Encounter

Can you see them there?

Out in the water we quickly ran into several boats filled with Zombie Fisherman. A strange effect really. These guys were probably infected with the sickness before they went out for the day and the change came over them on the water and so there they stayed. If we paddle close enough to a boat to attract them... close enough that they can sense our brains... then they might jump out of the boat and come after us. Since fisherman seldom follow the safety rules, the creatures probably won't be wearing Personal Flotation Devices and will just sink out of sight. Even if they are in a PFD, they will just float with the current and so bob past us with hands waving slightly in the air and grasping. Can be fun.

Zombie Fishermen. Don't get too close.

Anyway, today we wanted to get quickly up to the falls and do some current work in the main flow and eddies around the abandoned power plant at the old site. It is a strange feeling to paddle through a post apocalyptic site like the falls. I guess this place was strange even before the sickness. Whatever possessed the living people of Portland to take the most scenic and wonderful sight in the local area, and put a dam around it and convert the entire thing into a commercial area? And not clean commercial, no no, the place is a toxic disaster that was once listed on the so called Super Site list. Then it was abandoned factories and ancient generators and useless canal. Now, well, now I guess it is the same.

Post Apocalyptic Oregon

The falls of the Columbia were also submerged and destroyed by a damn project on that great river. But the Bonneville damn failed just a year after the sickness in the big rains we had that winter and the newly surfaced Cielo falls are actually quite beautiful. I wonder how many centuries it will take before the Willamette Falls area is beautiful again? It will have to be something that nature does by itself since I doubt that humans will ever rebound enough to undo our damage.

My Partner makes a fast water crossing, through the ruins.

Our leader made sure that we were far enough away from the boat zombies to give us time to rescue each other should we need to and then he started showing us how to manuever in the turbulent waters that boil beneath the falls. The currents shoot around and boil off bolders and such below causing upwellings and rapidly changing swirls. As the currents shoot past a cliff outcropping, it creates a readily visible eddyline. On the other side of the line, where we sat, the river is realtively calm and innocent. This gives you a chance to ready yourself for the transition that occurs when you push your bow across the line into the swift moving current. A potentially dangerous transition. The water will grab your boat and pull you sideways and then try and roll your kayak by shooting the botom out from under you. The way to prevent this, we learned, was to edge away from the current. This means you want to extend your down stream leg and pull in your upstream leg and tilt your kayak such that your butt is facing the current. You moon the current. This brings the large flat part of the boat out of the water and helps it not catch the stream so much and it puts you leaning out to the side that allows you to counterweight the current's desire to flip your ass over.

Do you see the Kayaks Head? Or did a zombie go over the falls.... again.

Before the sickness I did some practice trying to learn how to ride a breaker in the surf at the ocean in a kayak. For that you learn to moon the beach instead of the wave. What is going on with that? Why would the 2 operations be completely different from each other? I asked our leader. He explained to me that I was confused on the physics of the matter. You are really doing the same thing in both situations, you moon the current. It's just that in the situation of the wave in the ocean, the current is not the wave. The wave pushes you toward the beach, but the ocean itself is not moving, so the apparent current as you slide is coming from the beach. So you always moon the current. It is so much easier for me to understand how to do a thing when I understand the science behind it.

Not sure why I am smiling
Who knows what comes out of that pipe?

Take killing zombies, for instance. Why is it so important to destroy their brains? What could possibly be animating the corpses that the brain synapses and connections from the brain to muscle remains operative? It just doesn't make sense to me. I mean, take those zombie fishermen. They have been sitting in those boats for almost 3 years. The clothes are falling off their bodies, hell, their bodies are starting to fall off their bodies, but the dead horrors still manage to site their upright in their boats. Through wind and rain and sun. They sit there and turn their heads ever so slowly and scan for something to attack. Some of them still hold their fishing poles, perhaps there is a long dead zombie salmon swimming down at the other end. But how do they stay moving? What is their energy source? Why don't they freeze in the winter? If I only knew the answer to these things perhaps I could figure out a way to fight them more efficiently.

Our leader encouraged us to work our way closer and closer to the falls as we felt comfortable. I didn't feel comfortable much beyond the first little set of currents and eddys but others in the group paddled on up until it looked to me like they were lost in the mist and cataracts of the base of the falls. Our leader had insisted that we all wear helmets and emersion gear. Easy to understand why. If one of us flipped over in that more shallow water it would be very easy to bang your head on a rock. And if you hit your head hard while upside down, you would end up a very strange looking upside down zombie floating down the Willamette to the Columbia, forever locked in your inverted kayak.

After a while we headed back down the river. On the east side we passed the place where the sea lions would pull out of the river onto some old but still floating dock. Some of the old huge bulls still have the branding numbers that were burned into them by scientists that marked them to track them and decided whether they were eating too much salmon to be allowed to live. The joke was on them, as all of the scientists and fishermen are long dead and the sea lions now get all of the salmon. The giants eye us warrily and give us some barking, but they seem to be able to sense that our time of domination has passed and we are not of the living dead and can thus be safely ignored. At least until the local grocery stores are out of canned goods and we have to wander up here with our rifles in search of easy food. I am not looking forward to that day.

Stern Wheeler. But a fake one. There are 2 on the river that I know of. WTF?

We coast back down the river. We take the little side current that leads us around Goat Island. The island is not a completely safe from zombies haven since it is accessible, even now, across water that can be waded. In the high summer, it is really a peninsula. So we won't go ashore. Before the sickness I had come this way and counted 14 Great Blue Herons in nests in the local trees. Now the rookery has grown to more than 100. I guess not everything in nature is upset about the current change in human affairs.

In my previous life, my partner would have suggested that we pause at the end of our paddle to walk up the Clackamas River and search for agates on the rather substantial gravel bar just past the old 99E bridge. We pulled a lot of fist sized agates from there, back in the day. Today, however, I can see 3 zombies, in fishing waders, shuffling around the little island. Maybe we will go clear it off one day.

So instead, we just form up. We need to clear out the 10 or so monsters that had stumbled in from the highway, like so many homeless with their hands out asking for donnations of human flesh. We do this quickly, and then help each other load our boats up on our Subarus and off we go.

OK. Enough Zombies.
I wanted to give you a few real details about the trip.
The mouth of the Clackamas really is a good spot to launch kayaks and hunt for agates (don't tell my partner I told you). I think it used to be a much more busy spot but (in addition to the occasional zombie) it is currently not suitable for small boat launching because of some unsettling of the gravel under the ramp plates has made the boat ramp itself unstable for large trucks and such. Because of this, there is a LOT of unused and free “trailer only” parking that is avaiable for anyone who can hand carry their vessel to the water.

I got the entire “idea” for the zombie apolypse from the very real wreckage and abandoned machinery that sits right at the base of the falls. These are remnants of a paper pulp mill and a still partially operating electric power plant. There are very real but non-operational locks that lead to above the falls. At one time, the water rushing down the drop of the falls supplied a signicant portion of the electricity that powered Portland. Not only the lights, but a lot of electric trains and trolleys that operated in the area. In fact (and this I learned while reading up on Waldo Lake) the company that owned the generators also owned the water rights for the Willamette to such a degree that farmers could not take water out of the river for irrigation because that would impact the available water at the falls (presumably this was mainly a problem in the summer). The availability of the electricity allowed for the Eastside Railway to be the first interurban railroad in the country to be powered by water generated electricity. Well, the first one that was painted red and powered by electricity.

The “leadership” and suberb safety and training for this event were provided by OOPS. A spectacular club and very dedicated to training, safety, and fun (and almost totally devoid of Zombies).

History of Oregon City

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