Short Final on the Deschutes

“Short Final” is aviation-speak for the very last phase of a flight, by the way. I probably didn’t need to say that, but have never been one to under-explain.

Back to Bend, and it feels like home.  I keep waiting for the bomb to drop, where we discover some seedy underside to the picture perfect downtown or the dirty secret that its ostensibly happy residents have been coerced to hide.  But no, our fourth visit in the third season (we’ve yet to get there in Spring) was, if it’s possible, even more pleasant than the other three.  If Bend has a dirty secret, it’s its not-secret-at-all isolation.  It’s a tough place to get to, and there’s really no getting around that.  I suppose the presence of active volcanoes just upwind of town might qualify as well, but that’s a dice roll it shares with most of the Pacific Northwest, so I’m willing to live with that.  Most places are a massive natural disaster away from total ruin when you look hard enough.

The aforementioned Check Engine light intermittently flashed itself all the way into town, but after Davista got us to Bend safely we opted to forget about it while we played.  Not only did we have a river to float and some hiking and biking to do, but we had rented a house for a few days and invited my parents up (unbeknownst to the kids) to celebrate Firebolt’s 9th birthday with us.

Opting not to break with tradition, we headed out on night one to Crux Fermentation Project’s al fresco playing field / dining area.  Despite some parking issues they’re battling through and what appears to be a significant renovation / expansion in progress, the place was packed as usual, and we set up our picnic blanket, ordered some beer and food, and dug in. 

As Keeper joined in to the impromptu soccer game that some of the kids had gotten going and the girls bobbed and weaved around the field like they tend to do, Tacco and I once again looked at each other and agreed that this does not suck, not one bit.

I managed my first flying commute out of the local airport (Redmond) to Boston in order to fly a two-day trip, and though it took quite some time, it wasn’t bad at all.  The Redmond airport is tiny and impossibly easy and relaxed, at least in good weather.  I connected to Boston via Denver on the way out and Seattle on the way back.  Took the majority of the day both directions, but no hitches.  Noted.  Though my intention, should we live there, would be to fly trips out of Los Angeles / Long Beach rather than the East Coast, it’s helpful to know that a commute across the country is at least doable, if not preferable.

Upon my return, my parents and I converged on Tacco and the kids playing at one of the riverfront parks just about simultaneously, and Firebolt’s expression once she realized that her birthday celebration just got larger and more joyful was priceless.

As the weather was perfect and most of us had been cooped up and sitting for most of the day, we took a short hike along the river, letting the kids show their Grammy and Papa what cool things they’d discovered about our possible soon-to-be hometown, including the white water park, the riverfront “casting course,” and the panoply of river floaters on tubes, paddle boards, and inflatable flamingos, meandering through the scenic Old Mill district.

Resolving to float the river ourselves the next day, we headed back to our rental house to settle in.   Ideal, as expected.  Quiet neighborhood near the river, criss-crossed by walking and biking paths, and infused with the scent of the plentiful ponderosa pines.  A few deer strolled by as if on cue, and at one point we spotted a large owl silently eyeing us from just under the roof on the next house over.

Though we had floated the Deschutes last Fall, that was several miles upstream, in Sunriver, and a much more serene undertaking given the location and time of year.  In downtown Bend during the Summer, it’s pretty much a party on the water every day.  There’s a shuttle that runs floaters and their tubes / inflatables between the put-in and the take-out, and we took advantage of it, as well as the tube rental company that operates at the shuttle stop.

Most of the float is gentle, and people tend to attach tubes into mini flotillas as they meander through town.  There’s lots of jumping into the clear water and swimming from tube raft to tube raft as well.

The whitewater park sits at about the midway point through town, and is a relatively new feature, replacing a semi-inconvenient portage under a bridge.  The river is divided into three sections there – a “natural” section down which floating is prohibited, a “serious” rapid section on which there are four sizable standing waves on which kayakers (and even surfers, I noted) can play & practice moves, and then the main tubing section, on which they’ve made about 10 smaller drops over which everyone can float.

The smaller rapids are fairly gentle, but they’re still rapids, as the tube rental folks were careful to emphasize.  They suggested beginners might benefit from taking out at the portage and watching how folks on tubes navigated them prior to doing it ourselves.  Sound advice, which we promptly ignored.  For my part, I was surprised to discover how easy it is to flip over in a tube.  The natural tendency, when seeing a breaking wave looming in front of you, is to lean back, bringing the front of your tube up a bit to meet the wave and hopefully get over it.  This is actually the exact opposite of what you should do, which is to lean forward into the wave to keep your momentum moving with the current and prevent sliding back into the trough of the wave, where the current wants to push your low/back side down and forward, and the breaking wave wants to push your front/high side up and back. 

I traversed the section the first time connected to Woodsprite and her tube, completely unaware that flipping would be a possibility, and full of assurances to her that while we would most certainly get wet (welcome in the 90 degree sun), her nervousness about flipping over was completely unfounded.

Well.  Very fortunately for me, my credibility with her wasn’t destroyed for life, as we did emerge unscathed and laughing.  But I’m glad she didn’t look over at me while cresting the last wave, on which I went wide-eyed when we came a hair’s width from going inverted. 

Firebolt, on the other hand, was another matter.  Though her horizons have expanded immeasurably on this trip, she still possesses an innate skittishness beyond that of her siblings.  Certain things frighten her, and when she gets it into her head that she doesn’t want to do something, she doesn’t budge.  The rapids were borderline for her, and required some cajoling.  Her initial plan was to take her tube out and walk through the portage while we had our fun.  We were, however, able to talk her into navigating them attached to one of the adults, which she did, and enjoyed immensely.  Victory!  Until the next float.  We actually floated the river one more time after the grandparents had left, having enjoyed it so much the first time, and Firebolt, flush with confidence, opted to hit the rapids solo.  On the last rapid, the one that almost claimed my credibility with Woodsprite, she initially got stuck in the wave.  I happened to be standing nearby, having just gone through with Woodsprite again, and could see the panic beginning to register in her eyes as I waded toward her.  What happened next was a bit unclear, and transpired very quickly.  A tuber behind her either tried to help by nudging the back of her tube with his foot, or simply collided into her due to the current, and the contact was all the tube needed to flip her over backwards and put her underwater in the wave with the tube on top of her. 

I pulled her up almost immediately, but between the confusion, the rushing water, and the fact that she had hit her head on the rocky bottom when flipped, she was terrified and inconsolable.  Poor girl.  It was all we could do to get her back on her tube to complete the float, even though the rest of it was flat water.  She informed us that she would never tube or kayak on a rapid again, and I almost believe her – of the three kids she tends to be the most serious and resolute about this type of pronouncement.  But still, I think she’ll come around.

Mishaps notwithstanding, floating the Deschutes was a huge success, and planted even more let’s-live-here seeds in all of us, as if we needed them.

One of Firebolt’s birthday requests was a hike (!), so we of course obliged her with another walk to Benham Falls, this time with my parents along.  It’s so easy and appealing to imagine doing this on a whim in the future, particularly when confronted by a casual “I’m bored” from one of the kids.

After my parents left and the celebrating ended, we relocated to the RV park in Sunriver where we had stayed the previous year.  We found it to be much busier and more “resort-y” in the summer, but also discovered that we definitely prefer Bend to Sunriver.  Nice to know it’s nearby, but there will be no temptation to look at Sunriver houses during the home shopping phase, should it come to that.

Overall, Bend hit it out of the park once again.  We spent a decent amount of time exploring neighborhoods when we could, and again managed to have our expectations exceeded.  Everything looks well-planned and thoughtfully appointed there; there were no ugly neighborhoods, only pleasant and frequent surprises.  “Look at that, another insanely well-appointed local market!  A cidery!  A charging station in the middle of the park!  Sculptures in the middle of the traffic circles!  More bike paths!”  and on and on…  We didn’t have a chance to look at any houses, but do feel like we’re homing in on a few neighborhoods on which to focus, should we move.  And the kids are even more enthusiastic about it than they were after our Winter visit. 

We’re still not 100% there, and of course we technically still haven’t sold our house, though our intention is to fly back to Annapolis in a few days in order to complete our pack out / storage and finish whatever else needs done (which is quite a bit, it turns out) prior to the closing. 

It’s a strange feeling, to have everything seeming to come together, yet still feel a universe away from settling down, despite its being our goal.  We’ve drifted in and out of a similar phenomenon over the past year, where whatever groove we’re in begins to feel familiar and “normal” and then we’re abruptly jolted back out of our comfort zone when confronted with some combination of the reality of what we’re doing and a change in our situation.  It’s difficult to describe, though I would imagine similar to what one would think (and what we thought) when considering the idea of doing what we’re doing now.  It seemed utterly overwhelming.  Extremely cool, but ultimately impossible.   Well, stopping what we’re doing and actually living somewhere now seems the same way.  It’s like we’re completely aware that it’s possible and could tell you how to do it, but the actual getting from here to there seems insurmountable and on some level terrifying.

And on that note, we leave Bend again.   

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