Anything Worth Doing: New Book Captures Spirit of Big Water Boating


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According to river runners Jon Barker and Clancy Reece, anything worth doing is worth overdoing – which is exactly what led them to tempt fate on a flooding Salmon River in 1996 to see how far they could float Reece’s homemade wooden dory through the largest wilderness tract in the Lower 48 in 24 hours. The result, as captured drop by drop by former Idaho raft guide Jo Deurbrouck in her new award-winning book Anything Worth Doing, is a storyline every paddler who has dipped a blade in water can appreciate…

Anything Worth Doing (Sundog, August 2012) tells the true story of whitewater raft guides Clancy Reece and Jon Barker, whose love of wild rivers dictates their lives. Clancy’s motto, ‘Anything worth doing is worth overdoing,’ leads them into a decade of beautiful—and beautifully strange—river adventures. Then, on June 8, 1996, in pursuit of a 24-hour speed record they intend to share only with a handful of friends, the men launch Clancy’s handmade dory, his proudest possession, onto Idaho’s renowned Salmon River at peak flood of an extreme high water year. This time, however, the river gods aren’t so benign…

While the book is a well-written and even better-researched account of a rafting tragedy from the upper ends of the sport, it’s more importantly an inside look into the lives of a peculiar breed of American worker, the raft guide – in particular, the Idaho raft guide, where big water and wilderness call upon every river running skill available.

Consider the following excerpt, describing life at a guide camp along the Selway: “We called our home the Blue Ghetto. Each spring it accreted along both sides of a dirt road you could walk the length of in two minutes. Our scrap of road collided at one end with the backside of Three Rivers Lodge, the rustic resort that largely comprised the town of Lowell, Idaho. The other end was swallowed by a wall of dense, dark, dripping green: the Clearwater National Forest. Alongside, screened from view by willow and syringa, ran the Lochsa (pronounced LOCK-saw). This mountain river swells each spring with snowmelt and rainfall, pounds through dozens of powerful rapids in a handful of miles, and then, just downstream of the lodge, folds with deceptive peace into an even better known mountain river, the Selway.”

The world of river guides is a tribe like no other, and at the top of its pecking order were Barker and Reece, who, when not guiding, still take to the river every chance they get. After following them along a source-to-sea trip down the Salmon, Deurbrouck painstakingly describes, through careful interviews with the surviving parties, their 24-hour attempt on the Salmon. You can tell that rivers run in Deurbrock’s veins with her vivid details that anyone who has ever paddled high water can relate to – especially in her description of a run through Whiplash Rapid at 100,000 cfs. You’ll fill a need to check your couch to see if it’s wet.

Above all, the book makes you want to get back to Idaho and pull a permit for the Selway, Middle Fork, Main or other whitewater wilderness classic before, like Clancy, your time runs out.
Author David James Duncan calls it “a white-knuckled adventure classic” while Pulitzer finalist Kim Barnes writes, “Anything Worth Doing is a true drama whose characters will break your heart with their dreams, courage, vulnerability, and absolute determination to live life on their own terms, no matter the cost.”

PL’s bottom line? For 15 bucks, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better whitewater read or glimpse into the lives of a vanishing breed of boater that make our sport what it is.

Title: Anything Worth Doing
Subtitle: A true story of adventure, friendship and tragedy on the last of the West’s great rivers
Author: Jo Deurbrouck
Genre: Narrative nonfiction
Publisher: Sundog Book Publishing
Format: paperback, 212 pages
Price: $15.00



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