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Swimming down river

For Robert Glen Wooldridge, middle names seem to run in the family. His father, John, preferred Henry. Robert felt more comfortable as a Glen, and so, Glen he was, even on the bronze plaque that marks his final resting place.

Glen was a “river rat” who got his start as a toddler, wading in Foots Creek — his grandfather, Robert Cook, always nearby. Cook told him about the salmon coming up stream to lay eggs. “When the eggs hatch and the time is right,” he said, “they swim away.”

“He told me they went down the creek to the Rogue River and moved on down the river to the sea,” said Glen’s friend, Florence Arman. Arman would write Glen’s story in the book, “The Rogue: A River to Run.”

The salmon story fascinated Glen for years. Imagine — swimming all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

When Glen was about 7 or 8, the family moved to Grants Pass and lived in a house on the banks of the Rogue River.

“I was drawn to that river,” he told Aman. “It was alive! Things were happening under its surface. I’d get up in the mornings before the family was awake and fill my pockets with cold biscuits and meat, then sneak off down to the river. I’d belly flop on a big flat rock, studying the water.”

Glen and the river were inseparable. Swimming, fishing, talking with anglers and learning to float and row a boat was fun. For a boy who didn’t really care much for school, who could ask for more? This was an education that really meant something, an education that would guide him for the rest of his life.

Early in 1915, 19-year-old Glen was river-experienced far beyond his years ,and he had the usual adolescent certainty that without having to worry about anything in his world, he could do anything.

“I was standing on the Sixth Street Bridge one day,” Glen said, “when Cal Allen came along.”

Cal was a well-known fisherman in the area who, although he had never been convicted, had been charged with illegal fishing a number of times.

“We started talking about how we both wanted to go all the way downriver to the coast.

“ ‘Why don’t we build a boat and go?’ ” he asked me.

The wise, old river rats they talked to said it could never be done.

They pooled their money and built a heavy, 20-foot long boat made of cedar planks and 2-by-4s.

On Sept. 15, 1915, they pushed off.

“We were just a couple of green kids, didn’t know half as much about boating as we thought we did,” Glen said, “but we sure learned.”

After 120 miles and five days of floating, pulling oars, swimming and occasionally hauling their boat around obstacles, they reached Gold Beach — the first humans to ever make it to the Pacific Ocean from Grants Pass by boat.

In 1947, Glen was the first to reverse the trip, traveling upstream with help from a 22.5-horsepower outboard motor, featuring three propellers.

Robert Glen Woodridge spent the rest of his life on the Rouge River, and on any other river that caught his fancy.

He became a river guide, taking countless celebrities and everyday adventure-seekers on river excursions, while telling fascinating stories they would always remember.

Glen passed away in 1976 after living life his way and by doing the things he loved the most.

“I never had a lot of money,” Glen said, “but always had a lot of fun.”

Writer Bill Miller is the author of “History Snoopin’,” a collection of his previous history columns and stories. Reach him at newsmiller@live.com or WilliamMMiller.com.