They roll into Sliters Pak around 7 AM blasting music.
“I’ve gotta’ find some way to get pumped,” says 33-year-old Nate Wilcoxen. After him a pick up truck pulls up with 30-year-old Cody Olszyk and then a car with the Meyers brothers. Whether it’s tools, car-seats, or books in the back seat, they all have kayaks, paddles, and life vests in the trunk. It’s Dawn Patrol, a run down the river before the day starts it’s grind.
“It wakes you up to a different degree,” says 17-year-old Dave Meyers,” it’s not like getting a cup of coffee.” Dave hit Dawn Patrol a couple times his freshman year at Bigfork High. Now, as a junior, he’s there daily before class.
For Dave’s 22-year-old brother, Jon Meyers, this particular early shift is a reunion. Jon now goes to college in Colorado and competes in kayaking competitions at the professional level. When Jon was still a student at Bigfork High, he too set his alarm early, drove into Bigfork, and plunged into the Springtime Swan River to run the Wild Mile.
“It is kind of an effort,” Jon says, “but usually all day during school or work, you’re looking forward to [kayaking]. This way, you’ve got it done. It’s better than a shower.”
As soon as the skiing stops, and the Swan River starts to swell, these guys don dry suits and start the early morning charge down the Wild Mile. Wilcoxen’s been doing Dawn Patrol for 15 years, this is the second year for Olszyk.
“Last year I ran it, like, 50 times,” says Olszyk, “these guys would bang on my door yelling for me to get up.”
They hit it early not just as a replacement for coffee or a shower, but also because when the sun’s rising, they can face the rapids with the sun at their back.
“After work, you’re going down stream and the sun is in your face,” explains Jon. On this particular morning it’s raining, so the sun isn’t as much of an issue. They kayakers leave one rig down at Sliter’s Park, the take out, and carpool up to the Pacific Power and Light South Shore Access at the Bigfork Dam. Standing on shore requires a hat, rain jacket, gloves, with capilene underneath it all. But they just lift their kayaks overhead, carry them down to the rivers edge, and slip into the barely unfrozen surf. A mile down river they ride a wave, do a couple rolls, and then get out to start the rest of the day.
“Dawn Patrol was good today,” says Jon.
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