by Sharon Spence Leib


rafting the Nooksack RiverPlanet Earth has areas so gob smacking beautiful, they captivate the humans living there. At any given moment, Bellingham Washington residents are hiking, biking, bird watching, fishing, river rafting, sailing, kayaking, skiing…. or sipping microbrews at funky pubs while planning their next adventures. With stunning mountains, wild rivers, mystical forests, and the beckoning Pacific Ocean, staying indoors is pretty impossible.

In “Bellingham and Mount Baker,” author Mike McQuaide explains his twenty-year love affair with the city: “If I had ever imagined my perfect city and surrounding area, it would have been a place remarkably like Bellingham…. I could kayak and watch stunning sunsets, but also scale the heights and snowboard into May. Since I like to run and bike and hike, a place laced with miles of forested trails where I could lose myself in my thoughts…. I’ve always had a wildlife jones for critters like orcas, bald eagles, and owls, so it’d be a place that had some of those thrown in as well…. I welcome you to Bellingham and Mount Baker and I think you’ll agree: It’s a special place.”


“Every time I breathe this pure air, my life gets longer,” smiles Dylan Tougas, our Nooksack River guide.

Dylan coaches our group of six for an adventurous ride, in a royal blue rubber raft.

Swathed in fleece, a full body wet suit, and rubber booties, I’m not convinced this churning aquamarine river will lengthen my life. In fact, Dylan’s “safety talk” warns us that wildly magnificent places are also dangerous.

“Make sure you stay inside the boat. This river is snowmelt- if you go overboard and get hypothermia you won’t care about saving yourself. If you do fall out, float downriver with your feet out front and kick off the rocks. We’ll rescue you with this rope…just don’t get tangled up. Do all of you get my message? Stay in the boat. It’ll be great!”

Six almost brave river rats wedge our feet into the boat corners, hunker close, touch paddles for good luck. Seconds later, the Nooksack’s in charge, rockin’ and rollin’ us into whirling waterholes, ramming us into jagged boulders.

“Keep an eye out for cougars and bears,” yells Dylan. Wiping away a face full of icy river water, I spot an eagle soaring overhead. Our boat spins in crazy circles. My world kaleidoscopes into cobalt, emerald, terracotta. Where am I? What day is it? Do I care? Is a bear laughing as silly humans play in his back yard?
Rocketing down the shimmering Nooksack, soaked, I’m transformed from scared stiff to exhilarated and silly.

“I love my Planet!” I shout to a cloudless sky, and a boat full of grinning paddlers.

“She’s a river rat now, ” Dylan says.

An eagle feather floats into my outstretched palm. I’ve got to keep my wings ready for whatever adventure comes my way.

More Photos

Sharon Spence Lieb is the creator of THE GLOBETROTTERS, 65 first person travel/photo features about her "Intense Encounters on Planet Earth." Read her adventures, published monthly by The Moultrie News in Mt. Pleasant, SC: www.moultrienews.com. Click Travel, scroll the page, then plan your own adventures! Sharon is the author of guidebooks on Chicago, Trinidad, Santa Fe, Seoul and Florida. For additional information on Bellingham Washington, visit www.Bellingham.org.

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