Ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus once said, “You can never step into the same river; for new waters are always flowing in upon you.” Essentially, rivers are always changing, always offering new experiences even though they run in roughly the same channels.
This is something local kayaker Chris Evans understands about the Swan River this year more than just about anyone.
Evans ran the Wild Mile portion of the Swan River – just outside of Bigfork – for the 100th time on July 13, and was up to about 107 runs by the time a reporter caught up with him on July 19.
Why he does it should not come as a surprise to anyone who has found a passion in life. He paddles the Wild Mile over and over again because the consistency of the chaos that lives in whitewater just makes sense.
“It’s always a place I can go to; it’s just pure joy,” Evans said.
Evans has been boating in the Flathead for about nine seasons now, hitting the water three, four or five times a week with friends and fellow paddlers. Each trip to the river includes several runs, and the paddlers typically start in April.
They finish their season on the Swan in either late July or in August, depending on the waterway’s flow in the hottest months of the year.
“The Swan down here this season, it’s been great,” Evans said. “For the little snow that we had, I didn’t think it would last this long.”
The Wild Mile is a particularly popular spot for boaters, due to its relatively easy access points and the water release that happens every Wednesday in July and August. PacifiCorp, the company that owns the hydroelectric dam on the Swan River, releases extra flow, giving the Wild Mile’s rapids a boost for the evening.
Those nights, boaters are able to ride bigger water than they typically see in late summer, Evans said.
“There’s some really, really amazing guys and gals that come down,” Evans said.
This particular stretch of river is also home to the Bigfork Whitewater Festival, which takes place at the beginning of summer and celebrates the return of the paddling season. There are multiple events during the festival, and the overall winner is the person with the highest score of the combined events. Evans took sixth overall this year.
Whitewater kayaking is, at its physical core, a solitary sport. When a paddler hits the water, he or she depends on his or her own strength, skill and equipment to successfully navigate the rapids.
But ask most of the local kayakers about the sport, and they’ll tell you about a sense of camaraderie on the rivers. They keep an eye on each other and provide the support and companionship familiar to any type of team.
For his part, Evans said he would not be able to do as many runs of the Wild Mile if it weren’t for Mike Dezzani, a local kayaker who organizes the Whitewater Festival with his wife, Niki.
Dezzani said he typically averages 70 runs down the Wild Mile each summer, but there are some seasons when he approaches the century mark. He keeps coming back because it’s the best water located so close; Dezzani said the Wild Mile is within a half-an-hour drive for most of his paddling buddies.
Evans has likely visited the mile the most of anyone this summer, Dezzani said.
“I bet he’s run it more than anyone else this year,” he said.
Evans is adamant that Dezzani is his inspiration on the water, and said Dezzani is responsible for the duo completing the “marathon mile” in the mid-June high water. Dezzani challenged him to paddle as many laps in along the Wild Mile as possible in one day, and they ended up at 21.
With each run covering about 1.25 miles, Evans estimates they covered about 26.2 miles that day, the same distance as a marathon.
Evans isn’t sure how many trips down the Wild Mile he’ll make this year, but he acknowledged the end of the season is near. He’ll be out there, with his faithful dog Eddy watching from the riverbank, until the water drops too low to ride.
“It’s definitely getting to be near the bitter end and I always kind of have a heavy feeling in the gut this time of year, especially when it comes to saying goodbye to the Swan because I look forward to it every year,” Evans said.
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