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Commentaries and editorials

Author Makes Kayak Journey
from Idaho to the Pacific

by Rich Landers
Bellingham Herald, April 18, 2008

(Scott Spiker photo) Fishermen on the Columbia River. Spokane writer Mike Barenti is not the first person to boat from the headwaters of Idaho's Salmon River downstream to the Pacific Ocean. He's not even the first to write a book about the journey.

Yet, "Kayaking Alone: 900 Miles from Idaho's Mountains to the Pacific Ocean," is a fresh look at a river system critical to the region's history and future. Barenti comes to Bellingham on May 12 to talk about his book.

It explores dams — no journey on the Columbia River system could avoid them — as well as endangered species and other issues that unite and divide the region.

This is a good book about paddling, and an even better book about the salmon, science and the politics up the Columbia, updated from any similar books for this critical period of court decisions that could eventually, so to speak, change the course of the rivers.

Barenti, 43, applies the instincts of a whitewater paddler, lifelong angler and former full-time reporter in a 2001 trip from May 28 through July 18 and concluding with years of research and writing that culminated in a master's degree from Eastern Washington University and the book published this year. "I went into this with an open mind," he says, noting that

his book is distinguished from several other similar books because, "I don't really have an agenda. I keep the journalist persona, looking at all the issues in the debates."

From his start at Redfish Lake, salmon are in the spirit of his experience, the inspiration for sound reporting on their biology.

The book flows with Barenti's interesting random encounters along the way, including the chance meeting and conversation with a botanist who was fishing at Wawawai near the inundated site where his father was born in 1912.

"I couldn't have planned some of that or even my experiences with the Corps of Engineers," he says, hinting at the lure of adventure travel.

Barenti, who often plays in the rapids of the Spokane River, shifted gears from a cramped whitewater kayak to a sea kayak at Lewiston.

"Loading the bigger boat each day was much easier than having to cram everything into a little boat, and I could take more food, which always makes me feel better," he says.

Of course, life is not so good for salmon as they enter the unnatural dam-created flatwater reaches of the rivers.

"It's interesting that I felt more isolated downstream on the Snake than I did up in the wilderness stretches," he says.

"Rafters, hikers, fishermen, jet-boaters are in and along the upper Salmon because of its beauty. From Lewiston down to Ice Harbor, I didn't see much more than the occasional powerboat or barge."

Barenti said a paddler can't help but learn something in a 900-mile expedition, but the education bloomed exponentially when he employed his reporting and research skills in the effort.

"The writing takes you to places you can't discover on the water."


Rich Landers is a reporter for The Spokesman-Review in Spokane.
Author Makes Kayak Journey from Idaho to the Pacific
Bellingham Herald, April 18, 2008

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