It’s been going on months now that me and Junker Chris have been sitting at our beer drinking spot on the banks of the Duwamish; watching the wildlife, talking about conservation, speculating on the upcoming runs, and runs past.
One time while we were down there, this bum showed up on a bicycle. “You young fellas wouldn’t rob an old man would ya?” We laughed and talked with him a bit, at some point he volunteered that he had an aluminum boat for sale up the river, tied off to a tree. It could be ours for $100.
Wisely we didn’t take him up on the offer, but it may have planted a seed.
“We oughta get a boat and float this thing someday”, said Junker Chris staring across the shimmering water.
Well the other day, “that day” finally came, Junker Chris got his hands on a canoe, and we were set. Initially we wanted to do a longer float for our first foray, however my work schedule wasn’t having it, so floating would have to wait until the late afternoon.
Our plan was to put in at this sandy bar near Southcenter, and take out at Ol’ Riverman Dan’s house next to the South Park drawbridge. We picked up the essentials along the way (beer), and were off.
The put in required a short walk down a fishermen’s trail that began in a hotel parking lot right off of the West Valley Highway. The beach was a nice place to launch, and we were afloat in little time.
We paddled upriver for a short way to reacquaint ourselves with canoe handling. Looking into the shallow water was to look directly into the urban soul of the Duwamish; Beer cans, hubcaps, traffic cones. I joked that we could make a good living here bottom trawling for aluminum, but I may have been serious.
Soon we were heading downstream, floating under the I-405, Southcenter Blvd and Interurban Ave S.
The river is a very curious mixture of everything. There are moments when you feel totally isolated, only to have that illusion shattered by a thunderous bass-mobile mad thuggin’ overhead.
Passing near Fort Dent, the commuter trains were flying by, but we could only hear them from our vantage point. Interspersed were the grunts and yells of an intense soccer practice, maybe the Sounders.
Upstream we saw a man barreling down on a jetski. It was Riverman Dan. “How the hell you guys doin?” he jabbed, pulling up alongside. The wake jostled our canoe.
Dan told us that the remnant of the Black River was just ahead, and maybe we should take a look. Before he left he let us know that “if we needed anything, just call”
The Black River
We approached. The Black River was a little muddy opening not much more than 10ft wide.
At one time it was here that the Black River and the White River met to form the Duwamish. However as a result of early public works projects, the White River was diverted southward, and the Black River has all but gone extinct, a consequence of Lake Washington being lowered 9ft or so following the construction of the Lake Washington Ship Canal.
Paddling up the Black, the water was murky and shallow. We passed garbage bags languishing upon snags, slowly liberating their contents. Occasional pieces of mud encrusted furniture now formed part of the Black’s bank.
R&B music came from somewhere in the distance, right around the time we spotted an ancient rusted crane of some kind obscured amongst the alder. Later, only silence as we passed a very well established homeless encampment under a huge concrete roof. Eerie. Then we set eyes upon the Black River Dam.
Signs warned us that if we came within 100ft we could be destroyed by water releases at any time. That threat didn’t keep us from entering the stagnant lagoon.
Honestly as far as dams go, this isn’t much to see. It looks more like an over-sized Sears tool shed than it does a dam. We didn’t stay long….
Back on the Duwamish
Back on the river we passed the Tukwila string of riverside casinos. Most of the bank was dominated by debris and blackberry bushes. Not long thereafter though we were passing through the Foster Links Golf course. The river was decidedly more serene here. At one point we observed a golfer drinking a can of Guiness, while another hopelessly searched for his ball.
Soon we were in earshot of the I-5 and the smell of a bakery filled the air. A neighborhood was to our right, and I observed a familiar looking man talking to a woman smoking a cigarette atop a riding lawnmower.
“Hey! Aren’t you the guy who used to sell beer at the North Park market?” I yelled. The man looked out upon us, using his hand as a visor to block the sun. He started laughing, “Yeah, how the hell have you been!?” He yelled.
Small world sometimes.
The I-5 was soon above us. BNSF switch engines were moving around intermod cars to our right, while the freeway blocked the sky. Between the freeway spans was a chainlink net spattered with chunks of road debris.
“I wonder how many people ever realize they are driving over the river?”
The river was either deep, dark, or both here. If it wasn’t I wonder how much shit you’d see along the bottom.
We continued drifting along, the sun low in the sky. We were in Allentown, passing by the Allentown Superette, and a single island. “Allentown Island!”. We pulled in close to investigate, and determined it to be an old bridge footing.
Now we were drifting near the drinking spot where the idea for this adventure was formed. The river widens greatly here, a rotting catamaran marks the spot. It’s also here that the river becomes decidedly industrial, the Superfund site begins.
We spied a small channel marked by a derelict vessel to the south and decided to investigate. First we stopped to visit the beached craft. It was an olde boat, probably from the 70s, I imagine. It was halfway flooded, with it’s engine compartment exposed, an oil rainbow hovering atop the submerged motor.
Moving on, the muddy banks narrowed until finally blocked by low hanging growth. It was far enough though…
The bank was a cross section of buried garbage; plastics, old vehicle parts and clumps of chemical sludge seeping out where they could get out. The mud exhausted a chemical stench. Maybe it was getting late in the day, but the whole area just seemed… dead and dark. We left speedily.
At this point, tidal forces were in control which meant that we’d be paddling our asses the rest of the way. We passed rotting creosote barges, rusting steel scows and Paul Allen’s yacht, or so we thought, who knows. If it was Paul Allen’s yacht, I can safely say that it is bigger than all of the houses I’ve ever lived in… combined! He should be ashamed of himself.
Just as the sun was setting we made our destination; The South Park bridge. We decided to first make landfall on a “new” beach created by the “dredge and cap” remediation project.
A sign warned us not to play in the mud due to pollution….
Stay Tuned! More Duwamish Floating to come!
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