Around 1982, at a time when runs like the Upper White Salmon were little known, and less paddled, I was a ballsy young kayaker with way more guts than skill. I met Bill one day on the Clackamas, and he agreed to help me hone my creeking skills and go paddle runs in the Columbia River Gorge. We spent a lot of time on the Upper White Salmon in the early 80s, even running it mid Winter, with a foot of snow on the ground, in wool sweaters and old-style paddle jackets. (Got the photos of us running BZ Falls like that to prove it.) Bill always aced his lines, knew when to say "no," and was the consummate team player. He was always confident, casual, aloof and good humored... yet skilled, knowledgeable, and safety conscious.
By the mid-80s, Bill and I were part of a group of paddlers out there looking for first descents. I was starting to put together "A Guide to the Whitewater Rivers of Washington," and Bill always had his ear to the river for new runs. He nailed the first descent of the Clear Fork of the Cowlitz, had one of the earliest runs on the Upper Cispus, and turned me on to other great runs, like the Ohanepecosh. He contributed immensely to my knowledge of Washington rivers, and I returned the favor by putting him on the cover of the 1st edition of the guidebook.
Once I started backing off of steep creeking and first descents in the mid-90s, I lost touch with Bill. Still, he was one of those old school dinosaurs that showed up at Class V rivers that most guys over 40 were too torn up to still paddle. Most kids probably wondered who the "trip chaperone" was seeing him at put ins, but the old school paddlers knew that he was one of those quirky legendary characters straight out of a surfer or skateboarding flick. Think you've found a first descent? Chances are Bill knew about it fifteen years ago! Think it's hard enough to paddle the Clear Fork of the Cowlitz in an eight foot boat? Try making the same moves in a twelve footer when no one else had yet probed that landing your staring at.
If I had one last chance to chat with Bill, I'd just say "thank you." Thanks on behalf of myself, and all the other paddlers who benefitted from your pioneering efforts. And, if you're listening now... paddle on, bro'!!
Steve from Alder Creek
Our deepest felt condolences to Corey and your children. Bill was a great guy and as Jeff pointed out, a old school boater with class. The paddle he's using on that cover shot, Jeff, used to be mine. I sold it to him. :-) He will be missed.
I remember when my friend Randy Castile died on the Sandy in '88 and Bill and crew were there to offer support to us after the first of now quite a number of river deaths.
He was one of Alder Creek's 1st customers in '86. I remember him coming by the garage (the 1st AC store!) and going out back to Alder Creek rapid for a 'test' paddle, like it was yesterday.
Life's dance is never done
I cannot begin to say how sad I am today. We lost one of the best kayakers the Northwest ever produced. I know many of you (us) have been greatly blessed to have paddled with Bill. Bill was more than a great kayaker, he was a good friend to all who wanted to learn the sport and always was there to give a quick pat on the back when you were having a bad day, or share a cold beer when you were having a good one. Please send your thoughts and prayers to his wife and children - they need our positive energy.
Bill, kayaking will never quite be the same for me, but I know somehow... your still out there looking to show us the way... down the river. Thank you for showing ME the way. I will miss you buddy.
I know we all are aching with heavy hearts after hearing off the passing of Bill. I 1st met Bill in 1998 on a trip down the Illinois. As with many of you im quite certain the name preceeded the encounter. He seemed to have an air of myth that he didnt much care for but accepted with a laugh.We shared many fine days on the river and at least one major debacle involving the putin to the supper slides run...we found the swamp and missed the run. Doh.
A teacher without words, I found it better to just follow him down and try to match him stroke for stroke. I seems to have worked and made me a better paddler for it.
Sending you unamountable thanks and gratitude my friend for the sweet lines and all the knowledge you droped my way.
Im glad I got to see you before I left for Spokane and thanks for your words of encouragement.
May the holes be soft, the lines straight and the boofs sweet. Forever in my thoughts.
I met Bill on the Illinois. I loaned him my boat to paddle. I remember doing a self support down Deer Creek with him. He didn't have any oil so he fried up his onion in peanut butter. He said it didn't taste bad. I always said that I liked Bill because he was so strange he made me feel more normal. When one guy took half an hour to scout a rapid, some boaters would have gotten impatient and told him to hurry up. Bill took off his gear and stetched out on a rock to take a nap in the sun.
I paddled Truss with him just a few weeks ago. I told his friend Scott that he was an awesome creek boater and that there are few people I would rather have backing me up on the river than Bill. Wishing the best to his family.
Although, I didn't know Bill as long as some he made quite an impression on me. I can easily say Bill was the total package. He was the best most ego-less kayaker I have known. I, as many probably do, feel blessed to have had the opportunity to get to know and paddle with him.
He was a really special guy and I will miss him.
A pile of empty beer bottles litters my floor, relics of a long hard night with just me and my memories. An old friend, Bill Bowey is propped up in the corner of my thoughts and is my only company for the evening. Like always, he's matching me beer for beer.
We take a long ride in his old pickup, cruising down the highway of laughter and philosophy, Bowey-style. Prophetic rantings at their very best. River tales with an edge. His boat hanging out the back, held precariously close to the edge by nothing more than gravity. A dinosaur of tattered plastic and braided webbing, all held together with copious amounts of "Bowey grease". Bill himself, the mild-mannered cowboy with his ten gallon hat cocked on his head and barely fitting into the cab, holds court. He waxes on poetically about the effects of river depth and gradient, obstruction and constriction. "Fun and games for the whole kayaking family." A jovial laugh and a glimmer in his eye.
Tears mixed with beers as I'm sitting there shotgun. Riding my last shuttle with a dear friend. I'll miss you, man. Now and every time I see water rumbling over rock.
Wild Bill has taken his last stroke and a vital part of kayaking has died.
The last time I saw Bill was at the Gorge Games. Typical Bowey style, he was wearing his tall cowboy hat, steel-toe boots that come up to his mid-calf, no socks, shorts and no shirt. He slowly and casually says "So when are you going to run the Truss? You should run it. It's a great run." I responded, "Soon, really soon." Ironically, I was running the Truss when Bill was on Stevens Creek. All the times I talked about the Truss with Bill, I never knew that Bill was one of the founders of the run. What an amazing guy. He will be missed.
Bill Bowey was a legendary name, not only, in this area but all of kayaking. He pioneered several first decents that many of us have come to enjoy (thanks to Bowey and the pioneers). He was a great man to follow down any river or creek. Although he could have "bragging rights" above and beyond all others, he was very humble.
Bill would probably cringe to see his name and the word "rafter" in the same sentence, but besides being an amazing kayaker, he was also a great rafter. Bill and Jeff Allen were the first ever to raft the Ohanepecosh, and I think that he was just as silently proud of that accomplishment as any kayak run he ever did. He was also taking friends (i.e. non-boaters) down rivers like the Green Truss section of the White Salmon and Crooked long before anyone else. I got to know him while raft guiding at AAA Rafting for Jon Hall on the White Salmon.
Bill had ice in his veins when on a river. While I was scouting every big rapid during our 1994 raft run of the North Fork of the Payette, I wondered how he could remain so calm. He had run it before and refused to get out of the raft once to scout, but said no words of complaint every time that I stopped to take a peak. Eventually, I acquiesced, and we just ran the river without stopping. He had incredible instincts, and he knew that he could rely on them to get down the river safely. After one big drop, we plowed into a huge rock in the middle of the river. Somehow, Bill hopped onto the rock and saved all of us from a long, painful swim. To this day, I still have no idea how he so quickly prevented us from flipping. Although I was in the back of the raft, I got a strange sense that Bill was really guiding the boat from the front, and that we were all in better hands because of it. Because of his extraordinary talent, I paid close attention to the only words he said to me all day about the run, which were to point the raft into the huge lateral in the middle of Jacob's Ladder and the side of the river on which to be for Jaws. To say the least, those few words of advice proved to be very helpful that day.
Bill was unique in many ways. I had never before met anyone who would place a can of beans on his exhaust manifold before the drive to a put-in, so that he would have a hot meal upon arrival. He was fun to be around and made paddlers of all skill levels feel good about themselves. I will miss him.
One of my favorite memories of Bill was my first run down Canyon Cr., Washington. I was in a raft with Bill, Marc Strabic, and Chad Belvill. Nobody except Bill had seen Canyon Cr. but we had heard plenty of stories. For some reason we figured a raft would make things easier. Everyone but Bill was a little freaked out and pleading with him to guide us down the river. His response, an easy smile like he was saying "You guys can figure it out yourself." At the time this added lots of stress to the trip but in hindsight I think he just wanted us to experience the thrill and satisfaction of working out the challenge on our own.
Another trip it was the Farmlands at high water. Bill was inadvertantly swept under my raft while finishing the portage around Lava Dam. While I was desperately trying to pick the raft up off him from shore, Bill kept trying to roll but the raft was holding him down. Finally after about his 4th attempt, he was able to get all the way up while the raft was still on his head! His reaction, "Now that's a roll!", with a big grin on his face.
Bill really opened my eyes to what was possible in kayaking. He really drove home for me the fact that even really good boaters can still boat for the pure joy of being on the river and not just for the adrenaline of the rapids. Eventhough I didn't know Bill nearly as well as many others, I had so much respect for him as a boater and a person it is still hard to believe he isn't out there somewhere. He touched a lot of people, even those he only met once or twice. Very, very sad. He will be missed.