Cap'n Tony

This very unfortunate news came our way this evening:

One person died Wednesday evening in a single vehicle crash on State Highway 82 about ten miles east of Elgin.

On November 22, 2006 at approximately 7:10 p.m., a 2001 Toyota pickup driven by ANTHONY BRIAN CAMPBELL, age 49, from Milton Freewater, was eastbound on Highway 82 near milepost 30 when it failed to negotiate a sharp left curve and struck a guardrail. CAMPBELL was pronounced deceased at the scene.

I had known Tony for 12 years. Back in the Oregon days, I made friends with a group of boaters who lived for river trips. Tony was the hub of the adventures; the consumate "man with the plan." He was the trip leader who defied the odds and drew a permit for the Salmon River year after year, the guy who bought the groceries (thick steaks, fresh asparagus!) the night before launching, the experienced boatman who knew every set of rapids in Oregon and Idaho by name and could navigate them with both eyes closed. His laugh was loud and infectous and would echo off the canyon walls from the moment he arose to get the cowboy coffee brewing until long after dinner, when stories of past trips were re-told around the campfire below a star-laden desert sky.

The annual river trips included the Owyhee, the Umatilla, the Main Fork of the Salmon, and most recently, the Middle Fork of the Salmon. On our last trip, my raft flipped on a massive diagonal wave at Weber Rapids. My boat landed over top of me and I was trapped in a dark world of ice cold water and powerful hydraulics. I freed myself from my raft and swam to shore, after the other boaters were pushed out of sight by the swollen river- except for Tony. Eddied out a hundred yards or so downstream, Tony yelled for me to jump and swim to him. I jumped and a strong reversal eddy spun me backwards into a boulder. I managed to break free from the boulder and leaped again into the river. Tony backstroked against the powerful current and threw a rescue line. I credit him with saving my life- had he been pushed downstream with the rest of our party, I would have surely succumbed to hypothermia that cold May day in the Idaho mountains.

The balance of life hangs by a thread. One day you're here, the next day you're gone- so make your time on earth count and live life to the max. Tony understood that simple principle, and in his death, so do I.

Farewell, my friend. May the rivers run at good flow and may your raft stay in the upright. This spring, when we spread your ashes into one of those desert rivers you loved so much, you'll be there with us. And from the deep folds of the canyon, we'll hear the roar of your big laugh.

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