But that's only one kind of summer. In this issue, we're focusing on the adventurous summer, the mosquito-bitten, adrenaline-pumping, life-threatening kind of summer. And there are few activities that deliver more of that heart-thumping rush than whitewater rafting. Fortunately, there are plenty of good rivers waiting for you within a day's drive and plenty of rafting companies willing to throw you down raging rapids and over jagged rocks with little but rubber and air to protect you.
If you live around Spokane and parts south, start with the Salmon River. "The River of No Return" runs 425 miles from the Sawtooth Valley in Central Idaho to its confluence with the Snake River further south. The 100 miles around the Washington-Oregon border and on through the Frank Church Wilderness Area are a whitewater hotspot, with deep, scoured canyons; pristine white sandy beaches; and tough rapids with names like Snow Hole, Sluicebox and Demon's Drop. Float past abandoned mines, Indian pictograph sites and Chinese rock houses on the largest undammed river in the West, then fight it out in Pine Bar, Bodacious Bounce and Eye of the Needle. These rapids should be especially boisterous this year, with a heavy winter snow pack giving way to higher flows this spring.
SALMON RIVER ADVENTURE offers one- to six-day excursions around Riggins and Lewiston, Idaho, with self-bailing rafts and riverside deli lunches featuring crab pita, deli turkey, cheeses, breads, fruits and dessert. A local professional photographer will take your picture at Time Zone Rapids, which straddles the Pacific/Mountain time zone and, on longer trips, the company will set you up a with Dutch oven dinner before you camp under the stars.
The company also offers a three-day historical trip, which follows the path of three soldiers dispatched by Lewis and Clark to fetch salmon and other food along the Salmon River. Beginning and ending in Moscow or Lewiston, the trip includes readings from the trip journal and several hearty meals. All you gotta bring are your clothes and a sleeping bag. (Visit www.salmonriverexperience.com.)
If you're less interested in 19th-century expeditions and more interested in 21st-century libations, try SALMON RIVER OUTFITTERS, which boasts of having "more wine-tasting trips than any river rafting company in the world." Combining wine-drinking and white water sounds about as wise (and practical) as taking high tea on a roller coaster, but it's not quite what it seems. On each trip, a Western winemaker (sometimes with family) accompanies rafters, leading them in wine tastings on the banks of the river during the evening meal. This summer, they'll feature wines from California's Chappellet and Oakville Ranch wineries and Idaho's Ste. Chapelle, among others.
The company also offers regular day and overnight rafting trips on the Salmon, with Dutch oven lunches and dinners at their private yurt lodge. (Visit www.salmonriveroutfitters.com.)
Once you've tackled the Salmon, try your paddle out on the Snake River, which meanders from Yellowstone Park in Wyoming, across Idaho to Hell's Canyon, just downstream from the Salmon. Class III and IV rapids swirl through the upper stretch of the 10-mile-wide canyon, some 8,000 feet below the surrounding mountain ridges. Elk, bear and bighorn sheep patrol the banks. Below the rapids, the water goes slack, providing good fishing for trout, bass and catfish.
NORTHWEST VOYAGEURS will take you on a three-day trip through the canyon, floating you through the still water, steering you through the rapids and leading hiking trips past ancient pictograph and petroglyph sites and on to abandoned homesteads and cabins. Then they'll ply you with gourmet dinners. (Visit www.voyageurs.com.)
HELLS CANYON RAFT claims to be the most experienced rafting company in the area, with 23 years of doing nothing but leading travelers through the gorge. "We know the Snake River and canyon like the back of our hand," they say, noting that a small owner-operated company can give you a much more intimate experience. We don't know about that, but their promise of Dutch oven Cornish game hens with rosemary (and their pledge to do the dishes for you) does sound nice. Based in McCall, they offer trips that range from three to six days long. (Visit www.hellscanyonraft.com.)
Of course, if you want to get really comfortable (and here we're floating back toward that mint-juleps-in-a-hammock kind of summer), look up HELLS CANYON ADVENTURES, based in Oxbow, Ore. They offer one-day rafting trips through the famed Wild Sheep and Granite Creek rapids, but they also rent out seats in their jet boats, where you can sit high above the water with your arm out the window, while the screen in front keeps the spray out of your face. (Visit www.hellscanyonadventures.com.)
For those living in North Idaho, however, the best bet is the Clark Fork River, which drains much of Montana's water into Lake Pend Oreille, pushing through the other side as the Pend Oreille River, which then heads for the Columbia. Most of the action here takes place in the Alberton Gorge section of the river, roughly between Missoula and Coeur d'Alene, where intermediate Class II and III rapids alternate with calm pools beneath high stone walls.
ADVENTURES WITH WESTERN WATERS is the original outfitter for the Clark Fork. They offer half- and full-day trips through the gorge, with plenty of rapid-running, a stop at a swimming hole and a float through a cedar forest. (Visit www.westernwaters.com.) Also worth considering are MONTANA RIVER GUIDES, 10,000 WAVES and ROW ADVENTURES, all of which offer similar day-long excursions, and all at prices lower than those you find on the Snake and Salmon rivers.
But even for the pricier expeditions, it might be worth it. How great would it feel to stomp onto your neighbor's front porch -- skin bronzed, hair bleached, muscles aching -- and empty all the river grit from your shoes right in front of him as he sits there in this seersucker suit, croquet mallet leaning against his chair, julep in one hand, reading the latest Dan Brown screed?