Oct 08 2015
Who has a good word for potholes? Certainly not urban commuters, whose drive to work often resembles a gymkhana, with the only prize on offer being a chance to keep the car out of the tire and alignment shop for one more day. And what about cyclist commuters, those hardy iconoclasts whom you sometimes glimpse though a rain‑streaked windshield, darting among the phalanx of creeping cars like nervous herring swimming through a pod of killer whales? They play the game for even higher stakes, since dropping a wheel into a pothole often means a sudden, violent flip over the ‘bars, with mild concussion perhaps the happiest outcome.
In short, potholes don’t have much of a fan club. But there’s one exception: paddlers. Of course, hitting a pothole at speed when shuttling cars is never a good idea, particularly if your boat isn’t securely tied down. But river potholes are a whole ‘nother story. They’re scenery, not traps for the unwary. (Well, most aren’t, at any rate. Some are big enough to capture a boater, however. Read on.) I have fond memories of long days spent exploring the potholed cliffs along the river that ran past my grandad’s camp. I can still recall my wonder at finding water and pebbles — not to mention an occasional listless trout — in sculpted hollows many feet above the river’s surface. The sense of wonder even survived my disappointment in learning that flash floods had deposited the trout and pebbles in these cliff‑face aquaria, and not some mischievous river sprite. In fact, it was the realization that natural processes were responsible for the apparent miracle that engendered my nascent scientific curiosity.
And, in due course, this same curiosity gave birth to an article for Paddling.net. Which, in turn, gave rise to an influx of reader mail, much of which drew my attention to the paucity of illustrations. “Why didn’t you have more pictures?” my interlocutors demanded. The answer was simple: I wrote the column before I’d got my hands on a digital camera, and my stock of slides simply came up short on potholes.
That was then. Nowadays, I’m a digital girl through and through. Farwell is of a different mind. He keeps threatening to unearth his father’s old Smith Corona Sterling portable typewriter, leaving his computer to gather dust on a shelf. (No worry about power outages. No broadband fees. No helpful reminders that he’s using an obsolete browser whenever he checks a reference. Only words on paper. Hmm… There might be something in it.) Still, I’m not ready to go back to the future just yet. So let’s head down to The River for a virtual field trip. But first, we’ll pause on the riverbank for a short, illustrated course in pothole formation… Read more…
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