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International whitewater rafting trailblazer Peter Fox now finds his thrills in Oregon

BEND, Ore. — Peter Fox still manages to get out on the water about 50 days a year.

No, he is not navigating extreme first descents of rivers in Chile and British Columbia like he did in the 1980s, but the longtime rafting guide and rowing teacher has settled in Bend and enjoys the rivers that Oregon has to offer.

“For me, rowing is my happy place,” Fox said. “I enjoy the art of rafting, the close connection with the river. So anytime I can get on the water I love to be on the water.”

Fox, 69, said he moved to Bend in 2015 because he loves to mountain bike and ski, but also because a number of friends with whom he rafted throughout the world in the 1980s had moved to Bend. He also started teaching downriver rowing for the Hood River-based Northwest Rafting Company.

“I came to a community of friends already in place here in Bend, which has been great,” Fox said.

Fox is known in the rafting community for his first descents of the Futaleufú River in Chile and the Grand Canyon of the Stikine River in British Columbia in the 1980s. He became an international rafting guide, spending time in New Zealand, Bhutan and Chile.

These days, Fox is more likely to be found on Oregon rivers such as the Rogue, John Day, Lower Deschutes or the North Fork of the Umpqua. He is also well into the process of writing a book about river rafting, with the working title of “The River You Choose: A Journey to the Cutting Edge of Whitewater Rowing and Back.”

“It’s a lot of the history of whitewater rowing, as well as my own career in terms of the pieces I had to put together to be able to be a part of those first descents,” Fox said.

Fox was raised in Massachusetts and started river rafting in California in his late 20s. He called the early 1980s “a really exciting time in river running.” It was a period of time between two eras of rafting, when self-bailing boats had just been introduced. Before that, rafters had to carry buckets to bail the water, preventing them from attempting sections of continuous whitewater.

“I was very fortunate to have some opportunities come my way to get into high water pretty quickly into my career, and then slip into international guiding, and ultimately take part in a couple of first raft descents in rivers that are still highly regarded today,” Fox said. “Near the end of my career, the self-bailing rafts first came out, and both those descents (the Futaleufú and the Stikine) were in self-bailing boats.”

Fox has been leading rowing schools for the Northwest Rafting Company since 2014, spending a lot of time on the Rogue.

“Just recently I’ve been exploring some of the canyons around here, the John Day, the Lower Deschutes,” Fox said. “There’s some beautiful canyons. The North Fork of the Umpqua is a wonderful little river that’s pretty close by. It’s Class III-plus and very enjoyable.”

Fox’s wife, Susan, is a yoga teacher, and much of the guiding they have done in Bhutan and Chile over the last 15 years has been based around yoga and rafting.

“She teaches yoga while I row a boat on a lot of our trips,” said Fox, who has two grown children and a granddaughter who is just a few months old.

Since Fox first rafted the Futaleufú, it has become a popular destination for kayakers and guided rafting trips. It is a powerful river with Class V rapids, but one that Fox said is doable with knowledgeable guides so people can have a relatively safe Class V rafting experience.

The Grand Canyon of the Stikine, however, has never been fully rafted and is too difficult and remote for rafts, according to Fox. But it has become a popular river for skilled kayakers to run the entire canyon in a day. When Fox rafted the river in 1985, he was doing it for a Toronto-based film company, and they had helicopter support to get in and out of the steep, rugged canyon.

Now, Fox is enjoying the somewhat tamer rivers of Oregon, and he is planning to teach some rowing schools in June and make some river trips with friends this summer. He also hopes to soon publish his book, which he noted is about his experiences but also about rowers finding their own unique joy in rafting.

“It’s very much an individual thing, and the most important thing is that people figure out what’s right for them,” Fox said. “It’s a real special relationship between a rower in a boat and a river, and it can be enjoyable at every level of difficulty.”

This story originally appeared in the Bulletin of Bend, Ore. ©2022 The Bulletin. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

This story was originally published May 12, 2022 5:30 AM.

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