This Biggest Float

The whole concept of hundreds of people submerging themselves into Willamette River, once rumored to be "toxic," sounded a bit like the opening sequence from The Day After Tomorrow—horrifying. As a newcomer to Portland all I’ve heard about Willamette are the dirty details of its dirty history. I’m not suggesting this is a routine conversation. However it’s a conversation that ultimately generates interesting personal accounts of outbreaks of rashes,and or other miscellaneous instances of feeling…“off.”  And so after hearing all of this gossip, I decided there was only one thing left to do…get in the river.

I recruited a lovely member of our group, Kienna, to accompany me on this journey, and we settled on these floating docks off the river. They bore nostalgia for my childhood summers in Maine. We eventually submerged ourselves in the river, after witnessing commercial boats coming to and fro adjacent to our makeshift tanning bed. The water appeared enticing, which made the initial plunge not a terribly difficult feat. However it was the exiting the river that proved to be especially challenging. As the current was constantly changing, it was harder to exert every muscle in my body to free myself from the rivers clutches. After multiple tries, I was able to achieve the beached whale flop back onto our safety dock.

While that was my first encounter, which I did take some creative liberties in embellishing, my second submersion was a different and more joyous affair. This past Saturday marked the 7th annual Big Float—a project put on by the Human Access Project, aka a group of zealous endorsers of the “riverlution.” They promote increased recreational activity in the Willamette. Decades ago, Portland began to find ways to prevent excess sewage and waste from entering the river, and as recently as a few weeks ago the government's website deemed that it is safe to swim in the river.

The festival was like an environmentalist's Coachella. Subaru had an especially big sponsorship and was able to put one of their forester car models on a floating dock, which was hilariously upstaged by the eclectic array of musicians that were circulated throughout the event.
My second time dipping in was significantly more populated, as I played bumper cars with other participants of the float, who had quite the collection of inner tubes masked as other modes of transportation.

–Moira Peterson