One could make the argument that it took some courage, or a leap of faith at least, to get into the Willamette at a juncture deep in the heart of downtown and float across with a massive flotilla of revelers (over 1300 participated) at last year's first-ever The Big Float. After all, the river's reputation for being dirty is pretty terrible, and it's not helped by the knowledge that when it rains too much, Portland's sewers overflow into it. I did it, but was extra careful to keep my mouth closed and above water. The ick factor seemed especially difficult for natives to get over, that fear being all that more deeply ingrained into their childhood wiring.
This year it's a lot harder to justify chickening out. The Big Pipe project has been successfully completed, and the river is no longer a regular dumping ground for the city's turd overflow. As TBF web site explains, "The Willamette River is approved for swimming, except in the now rare instances when Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) conditions are present. With the Big Pipe project now complete, it’s expected that a CSO will occur only once every two summers. You are more likely to see a whale swim up the Willamette than see a CSO in summer! Oregon DEQ states that when CSO conditions are not present, 'the Willamette River is safe for swimming and other recreational uses.'" TBF founder Will Levensen has made it his mission to restore the Willamette's reputation and he's even working on getting the city to make a swimming beach on Waterfront Park (he's an appropriate man for the task, considering his wife is Pamela Levenson of Popina Swimwear).
So there you have it. Plus, after you float across with your pals, TBF becomes a big party, with bands, food carts, and more. A couple of new attractions this year are the band Violet Isle playing on a floating barge, an "outlandish watercraft award," and a "paddlers parade" for kayakers, canoeists, dragon boaters, crew teams, and their ilk. Hit the web site for specific info on registration and other nuts and bolts info, and be prepared for the fact that all participants must wear a life jacket (which they can sell you at the event for $8 if you don't have one, down from the regular price of $14). And yes, that is firm. So firm in fact that the organizers made a video (the sequel to this one) to underscore their point, directed by Stephen Kurowski, and starring a few people that Mercury readers might recognize...
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