I had just got done driving my daily route mail route when I received a text message from Pat Sullivan, “Can you drive a Middle Fork of the Salmon River shuttle for me Sunday?”
I replied immediately, “Yes, sir. When are we leaving?” I had just been thinking about playing in a local golf tournament that Sunday. Shuttling cars would save me money and humiliation. It would also give me the opportunity to see Bear Valley, Boundary Creek, the Sawtooth Mountains at Stanley, Highway 75, the Main Salmon River down to Cache Bar, and most of the Lochsa River. This was going to be a marathon…
I’ve been on many private whitewater rafting trips. Vehicle shuttles just happened. I would get to the take-out and all the vehicles would magically be ready and waiting. I never thought too much about the shuttle drivers who made it all possible. I would get the chance on Sunday to learn by driving for Central Idaho River Shuttles.
4:00am: Grangeville, ID
I had no idea it would be so light outside this early in the morning! There hadn’t been many reasons as of late to justify a 4:00am wake-up. Shower, coffee pressed, cats cared for, sandwich made, Red Bulls chilled, camera gear checklist… checked. I was out the door and met with the crew at 5:00am. I was introduced to the other drivers: several local teachers staying busy during summer vacation, a risk-adverse independent insurance agent, and a rural carrier for the United States Postal Service (me). Pretty good company for a little 18 hour Sunday drive.
20 Minutes Out from the Shuttle Vehicles
I was handed a paper form for the shuttle truck I would be responsible for from Boundary Creek (Middle Fork of the Salmon River) to Cache Bar (Main Salmon River). This form, completed previously by the client, contained all the information I could ask for: make and model, color, license plate number, location of keys, existing condition of vehicle, special instructions, etc.
I read through the form and Pat Sullivan began to explain his company policy for transporting vehicles:
- No eating or drinking (except water) in customers’ vehicles.
- The vehicles with the trailers lead (this would be assumed to be the slowest vehicle, the “pace car”).
- The lead vehicle holds the responsibility of signaling to oncoming traffic how many cars were in our convoy on the narrow dirt roads leading out of Boundary Creek and into Cache Bar.
- All drivers be aware of wildlife and potential dangers along the roadway. When spotted, the driver engages their turn signal in the direction of the hazard. Each driver following follows suit and engages their signals for the car or truck behind them.
- Each driver keeps ample space between their shuttle vehicle and the one ahead of them. This allows for civilians to pass each vehicle, one at a time, safely on the highways.
- Drive each shuttle vehicle with the same care and attentiveness that you would with your personal car.
Boundary Creek: Middle Fork of the Salmon River
We arrived at the parking lot. I found my shuttle car and the hidden key compartment within seconds thanks to my detailed vehicle form. I cleaned the windshield with the company squeegees, checked tires, lights, signals, etc. Pat Sullivan came to each driver and went through a standardized checklist used on every shuttle.
I started the vehicle and turned off the radio excited to use this 5 hour drive as an opportunity to practice a part of Stoic philosophy I had been contemplating lately, “Do one thing at a time”. Driving alone without distractions would be a perfect time to sharpen my focus and immerse myself in the present moment. As we began to drive away from Boundary Creek a thought kept running through my mind: Today is the best day ever, because it’s happening right now.
We stopped only twice on our way from Boundary Creek to Cache Bar: once to double check all vehicles (gas, trailer, hookups, lights etc.) before getting on Highway 20, and once again at Salmon, ID (gas, windshield wash, another full vehicle check). Many of these miles were along forks of the Salmon River. I itched to jump in one of the many rafts floating along, but was my turn to facilitate another’s river therapy. That thought, and A/C, was enough to get me to the 97 degree Cache Bar.
Cache Bar: Main Salmon River
With all the shuttle vehicles safely parked near each other, Pat Sullivan began making the rounds to check each driver out of their respective car. An exit checklist was marked which included: a full vehicle sweep for personal belongings, one last windshield cleaning, and keys hidden where the client specified. Lastly, a soft personal cooler with ice and two drinks (chosen by the customer) was placed in each vehicle as an extra bonus to thank the customer for their business… Genius! Nearly every multi-day rafting trip I’ve been on suffered the horror of running out of cold drinks. Few things could possibly be better than an ice-cold beverage at the take-out.
The Last Leg: Return to Grangeville, ID
We all piled back in the same suburban once more and began the journey home. Conversations about local school sports, Game Two of the NBA Finals, and discussions of our favorite films took us nearly all the way back to Grangeville, ID. It had been 772 miles and nearly 18 hours.
I went to bed that night imagining what it was like for our clients that night under the stars. Were they camping at Ship Island? How was their run through Pistol Creek? Next weekend I’ll be the one on the water. Maybe I’ll run the Goat Range on the Lochsa. Possibly fly-fish from my inflatable kayak on the Selway. There are no bad ways to spend a day just outside of Grangeville, ID. Except possibly another soul crushing day of golf.