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Book review: 'Anything Worth Doing' is an adventure worth reading

Published: Sunday, Jan. 6 2013 3:00 p.m. MST

"ANYTHING WORTH DOING," by Jo Deurbrouck, Sundog Book Publishing, $15, 197 pages (nf)

"Anything Worth Doing" is an exciting story based on a true adventure on the untamed, enticing, unpredictable Salmon River in Idaho.

And while the reader knows almost from the start what must happen, it's still an absorbing, informative read that raises the heart rate and pulls one right into deep water.

As Clancy Reese and Jon Barker, who both have Idaho roots, move through the paces on their way to a dangerous and thrilling run from the eastern end of the river "that still dances to natural seasonal rhythms," for more than 400 miles to the west end, the reader picks up on why it matters.

They perfect their skills on the whitewater of the Snake and Columbia rivers, in Idaho and Washington respectively, running five 100-mile segments in five consecutive days, slipping past dams and through locks to do it.

They know the water. They master the tricks. They understand their foe — the holes, the eddies, the waves.

They glean facts from a Idaho hydrologist who can factor in snowmelt, the day's temperature and a river's history to tell rafters and boaters how fast and high a river will run. She tells them the Salmon is at historic levels, warns that it will be running at double its usual spring speed, 100,000 cubic feet per second.

So when they decide to risk a history making speed run on one of the last of the "West's great rivers" in a tiny wooden dory, it's no surprise.

It's just a little unsettling to realize the man the book basically idolizes makes some very basic mistakes such as launching at peak flood and failing to don a wetsuit.

Reese's mantra — "anything worth doing is worth overdoing" — seems foolish given the results.

But he's obviously adored by his friends and regarded as a legend, one whose dory rests today on the riverbank as a fitting marker to his story.

Jo Deurbrouck, who did graduate work at Boise State University, paints a clear picture of the book's heroes (Reese, Barker and a last-minute addition, Craig Plummer), the obstacles they face and the song that sings in their hearts. She obviously loves the sport as well and translates the obsession in the boatman's soul into an understandable need — one that brings them to risk their lives to assuage the call.

Her words are poetic and descriptive: "The Columbia's wind-built waves were not stationary. They charged upriver like lines of infantry.

"The wind stirred. Then it blew. And blew. Thirty miles per hour; 40, 50. For one implacable, impossible week. Every day and all night, day after day."

This is a gripping, true story of men who laugh in the face of real danger and sometimes die as a result.

While this book was not written for children, there's nothing in it that would offend anyone.

Sharon Haddock is a professional writer with 35 years experience, 17 at the Deseret News. Her personal blog is at sharonhaddock.blogspot.com.

Email: haddoc@desnews.com

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