The River Guides (aka, Superchicken Gets Soaked)
Updated: Sep 13, 2022
This is a tale about two energetic quadriplegics from Oregon named Gary and Jack, who have, incredibly, ridden post-accident the adrenaline rush of a Class 4 rapid, and heard the “delicate splash of a water bead sliding off an oar,” as Gary so eloquently puts it.
This is ultimately a story of connection—what rivers and human beings do best—glacier to ocean, mentor to apprentice, Gary to Jack.
Says Gary Epping, a 59-year-old husband and father who was paralyzed at age 12: “Getting on the river… it’s spiritual to me. There’s nothing quite like the shhuuckk of an oar in an oarlock.”
Gary and Jack know the power of whitewater hydraulics, the thrill of a blue heron taking wing, the occasional magic of a bear or bighorn roaming the volcanic walls of a river.
My nephew Jack Hogan, an avid outdoorsman and engineer who moved to Bend and bought a house at 25, is one of the most courageous people I know. Jack is also a quadriplegic, due to a rollover car accident in October of 2020.
Jack has made incredible progress in the 23 months since the catastrophic injury to his C6 and C7 vertebrae. He has worked tirelessly to strengthen his shoulders and arms enough to push his manual chair uphill, ride an adaptive bike, paddle a kayak. This summer, Jack started driving himself solo in “the Spaceship,” his van. Jack is accompanied everywhere by his talisman, the Superchicken (with the eyepatch on the back of Jack's chair below).
As adventurous as he has remained, Jack figured it might be a while before he got back into a whitewater raft. In his early 20s, Jack had trained to be a raft guide on Oregon’s magnificent McKenzie River, so he knows how to read, and respect, a wild and scenic river. Jack knows you don’t take a river trip lightly.
But there he was, two weeks ago, using a rig created by Gary and his friends at a nonprofit called LEAP. Jack ran the Deschutes that day with guide Josh Makepeace (that’s Josh in the stern of the raft, with Jack on the oars in front).
LEAP’s mission is to create empowering experiences for those facing adversity and trauma by providing wilderness programs. LEAP offers its multi-day group whitewater adventures for free, thanks to its generous supporters. LEAP teaches its clients to run Class 2 rapids in inflatable kayaks. Then Class 3, then Class 4, over successive days.
Each night, LEAP clients gather in a circle to debrief the day’s adventures. Young people who have just come from Doernbecher Hospital, the Oregon Burn Center, or other difficult circumstances begin to reimagine their futures. Among LEAP's regulars are young adults from organizations like Friends of the Children and New Avenues for Youth. They know that in their paths, boulders and waterfalls will appear, but LEAPsters learn that they can navigate those obstacles, with the expert help of their mentors and guides.
You can probably see why SetPath is forging a partnership with LEAP. We plan to accompany LEAP clients as they create concrete goals for their future--after they leave the river. If a LEAPster is interested in working with a SetPath Guide to help them achieve the goals they set during their whitewater journeys, we will be there for them, serving as encouraging accountability partners. The potential for SetPath to amplify LEAP’s mission is enormous.
Gary is one of LEAP’s biggest supporters, financially and otherwise. Gary first met LEAP founder Jim Crystal when they were students at Oregon State, which also happens to be Jack’s alma mater. Since his accident, Gary has run a number of big rivers, including the mighty Rogue, usually with Guide Makepeace (my new favorite surname!) by his side.
Now, Gary is looking forward to serving as a mentor for Jack. Throughout his amazing life, Gary has opened all sorts of surprising doorways, including running his own construction business and pursuing adventures like scuba diving (As he told Jack, "In the water, you are weightless! And because I don't kick my feet, the fish just come to me!").
These days, Gary also manages his family’s foundation, providing support to more than a dozen Oregon nonprofits. Recently, Gary oversaw the construction of a brand-new, 25,000 square foot Salem Boys & Girls Club, which is coming to birth right on the Epping family’s homestead on Lancaster Drive.
The photo of Gary and Jack at the top of this blog was taken last week at the Boys & Girls Club, which will open for the first time in early October, 2022. As far as mentors go, Gary is tough to beat. Of his day on the river, Jack says, “The LEAP guides were chill, chatty, and accommodating, and shared really intriguing information about the Deschutes. It was so great to be on the river again.
Josh told me that he and Gary have been floating together for a decade. While I was rowing, Josh told me I was killing it. He may have even suggested that I was handling the oars better than Gary (haha!).”
Jack goes on: “During the second half of the trip, we stowed my oars and Josh took over entirely, guiding us through some Class 4 rapids. Once we shipped my oars, I could just sit and enjoy the beauty of the canyon and the river. That was my favorite part."
SetPath Guide Dayne Scanlon was along for the ride that day, as we explore our partnership with LEAP. Says Dayne, "The most impressive thing about LEAP is their care for those they serve. Yes, guiding on the river is a fun job. But everyone from Seth to the guides really care about the mission. I was blown away by the staff's care for bringing adventure to those who had been excluded from it by their life circumstances."
What a gift LEAP, and Gary, offered Jack. Here is a shot of the whole LEAP crew at the close of that remarkable day, including Jack's parents Mike (big white beard) and Kathy Hogan (middle right, just behind LEAP Executive Director Seth Truby, and in front of SetPath Guide Dayne Scanlon).
Rivers somehow speak to the heart of us—from Siddhartha to St. Ignatius to the felicitously named Jen Ripple. All of us, guides and apprentices alike, the wounded and the weary, grok the tongue of the river’s speech.
As Oregon poet William Stafford put it in a lovely poem entitled “Time for Serenity, Anyone?” which stands on a bronze plaque at the confluence of the Methow and Columbia Rivers:
I like to live in the sound of water, in the feel of mountain air. A sharp reminder hits me: this world is still alive, it stretches out there shivering toward its own creation, and I’m part of it. Even my breathing enters into this elaborate give-and-take, this bowing to sun and moon, day or night, winter, summer, storm, still–this tranquil chaos that seems to be going somewhere. This wilderness with a great peacefulness in it. This motionless turmoil, this everything dance.
Dear Readers: If you'd like to help SetPath to build relationships like the one with LEAP, we would be most grateful. You can donate at: https://www.setpath.org/donate
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Thanks so much, Paul Hogan, Chief Hope Officer, SetPath