The John Day River drains the Strawberry Mountains of central Oregon and meanders for 284 miles before it empties into the mighty Columbia River. It’s a pretty little river, the second-longest free-flowing river in the United States. My wife, Diane, and I had floated the John Day many times before without incident in our two-person raft. But on this day I had no idea the river had the heart of a dragon.

It was sunny with temperatures in the low 80s when my son Pat and I reached the little town of Spray, prayed, and started out. I was at the oars while Pat fished. The current didn’t seem overly strong as we started down the river, and I had no idea that danger loomed ahead.

For the next three and a half hours everything went smoothly. We ran a few rapids and looked for good holes for Pat to fish, and we had great conversation as we took in the spectacular beauty around ... »
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