As of Saturday, Dave Jackson had floated the Spokane River 154 times this year, and he’s not done yet.
“The water is cold, but I float until the air temperature gets too cold,” he said. “I usually stop around mid-October.”
Since 2014, Jackson – a retired lawyer and current criminology and legal studies teacher at Lewis and Clark High School – has floated the river daily, often multiple times a day, from late spring to early autumn.
He puts in at Red Band Park in Peaceful Valley and floats to San Souci. Then he totes his tube to his nearby home, hops on his bike, and rides back to Red Band to pick up his car – or float the river again.
“Lately, I’m the only person on the water – it’s calm, peaceful, serene,” said Jackson, 65. “I pray. I think.”
It was his neighbor, Spokane River Keeper, Jerry White, who prompted his passion.
“I hadn’t floated the river since college,” Jackson recalled. “When Jerry got his new job in 2014, I asked if floating the river was unsafe or dangerous. He said, ‘No, just always wear a life jacket.’ ”
Since his initial outing, Jackson has racked up hundreds of floats, keeping detailed notes of dates, temperatures, and water flow.
“This year my first float was May 16 and the water was 8,000 cubic feet per second,” he said. “On Friday it was 750 cubic feet per second.”
“That’s the difference between a 20-minute float and a 90-minute float.”
Jackson calls his floats “RIC” (River in Charge) rides. Regardless of the rate of the flow, riders need to be alert. When the flow is fast, planning ahead helps.
“Some corners you have to plan for early on or you’ll be pushed to shore,” said Jackson. “At 750 cfs, it’s a different challenge. Now you have rocks to worry about and channels you don’t want to go down.”
Either way, he finds it exhilarating.
“It’s fun. You have to be on your toes!”
Speaking of, he keeps his toes in the water.
“I want to be part of the river – I want to feel it with my butt and feet,” he said. “It’s an amazing thing to be moved by the river.”
He delights in introducing others to his passion.
“Last year I took close to 70 people who’d never been on the river before. This year I’ve taken over 30.”
His guests are usually stunned by the easy accessibility to the treasure that runs through the heart of our city.
Over the years, Jackson has gotten to know the twists and turns of the river, as well as the wildlife that surrounds it. He calls one particular eddy just past the Sandifur Bridge, “Big Edward.”
“I have too much respect for it to call him Eddy,” he said.
He’s learned the whistle-squeak of the merganser ducks that paddle beside him as he floats. He’s named a pair of blue herons, Gary and Sharon. And the moose he had a close encounter with this summer?
“I’m a David – he was a Goliath,” Jackson said.” “He had a gigantic rack and he was right in my path.”
The bull moose was munching on some willows two days in a row, at the spot where Jackson exits the water, but Jackson managed to quietly and carefully make it to the metal stairs.
While that encounter got his heart pounding, what he usually finds on the river is absolute peace – especially in the past two years.
As a teacher, he grappled with online learning and the stress all that entailed during COVID, and as one of the five founders of Hoopfest, he’s been dismayed as the event has been repeatedly canceled.
“I’m still super involved with Hoopfest,” he said. “It always kind of launched my summer.”
He’s found solace on the water.
“Five years ago, I floated 71 times. In 2020, I floated 152 times. I’ve already floated 154 times this year. I wonder if I’m grieving the loss of Hoopfest over the past two years.”
For Jackson, the river is a sanctuary.
“My son, Henry, sings in St. John Cathedral’s junior chorus and I often sit in the cathedral in the evening,” he said. “The peace, the serenity, the quiet, the vastness of that beautiful space, I really feel that same peace on the river.”
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