Thursday, November 13, 2008

How I Spent My Summer Vacation: On the River Days 3 & 4

This is where I once again belatedly recount - in ridiculous detail - the story of my August vacation. Do you feel like you are trapped at your neighbor's house after dinner and they are droning on and on and on about their family trip whilst showing slides and you are huddled on the couch with a cup of punch wondering how long you have to stay before making an excuse to get the hell out . . . Has that really ever happened by the way? Do people (or did people) really trick their neighbors into watching vacation slides at their house so often that it turned into a joke? Anyway, if that is how you are feeling, please feel free to resume your blog browsing. I'll try and put something more titalating up in the near future (do I ever post anything titalating . . . I'll do my best).

Since the majority of the people in our group wanted to paddle the bulk of the time, everyone had to bow out and take a rest day at some point and hang out on one of the oar boats with a guide at least once during the six days. Given my slightly traumatic swim and strange narcolepsy experience from the day before, I decided Wednesday - the halfway point - was the best day to relax in the oar boat.

I rode with the one female guide with whom I had a surprisingly lot in common. We are about the same age, both divorced, both lawyers . . . actually, she had just graduated from law school and taken the bar exam. I really enjoyed hanging out with her one-on-one that morning. At lunch time one of the quieter teen-age girls joined us and shared one of the most exciting rapid runs of the trip with us. A rock slide just a week or so earlier had changed the course of the river and created a new - and very difficult - rapid that only one of the guides had maneuvered previously. There was a backlog of river companies with multiple boats and solo kayakers "parked" just before the rapid so everyone could scout it out. I took some pretty good video of several of the boats making the run and even captured a kayak who wrapped a rock and swam through most of the rapid. Unfortunately, since my camera was encased in its waterproof shell, I didn't realize the video was on some sort of weird setting that results in everything being replayed in uber-fastforward mode. I keep hoping to sort this out and figure out how to make it play normally but I'm just not techy like that. . . So, take my word for it, this was a rough rapid! All the kayakers had to get out and walk their kayaks around the rapid.

My guide was definitely nervous but totally rocked it. She went a slightly different route than others had cut and it actually felt very smooth! I filmed that too . . . it is also in hyper fastforward playback mode.

That night we camped at my favorite spot of the trip - Camas Creek. It was beautiful in every way. The camp was situated where Camas Creek ran into the Middle Fork of the Salmon which means we were at the widest part of the mouth of an incredible canyon cut by this powerful creek. The camp "kitchen" was set up beneath the low-hanging boughs of a giant Ponderosa Pine. I had an ideal tent spot backed up against the smaller shrubbery and trees running along Camas Creek with just a few short steps down to the creek. Meaning - private loo!

Since I spent the whole day lazily sitting on a boat, I decided I needed a big hike. The guides told us we would be taking a hike back into the canyon and after I set up camp I told them I would set off early. He explained where the path was and I was off.
The trail started fairly steep and then rose and fell with and away from the creek. I became more and more enamored with the trail with each bend and dip and even the steep ascents. I kept a brisk pace and unleashed my mind and allowed it to wander in whatever direction it chose. I took photo after photo and experimented with the lighting. Oddly enough, I occupied my mind by keeping an eye on my watch and attempting to estimate my distance based on my pace - comparing my treadmill pace and distance and the 1.3 miles I walk to work each day in 20 minutes with what I might be doing. But trying to be conservative. I also factored in the times I had to stop and just soak it in:
Throughout most of the hike I kept expecting to hear distant voices and the trudging of other hikers. I didn't see a single sole. I was enjoying myself so much I failed to consider the return trip and each bend in the trail held out the promise of a more striking scene. Finally, I realized, after consulting my watch, that I would need to turn around soon in order to make it back to camp for dinner. So I chose a spot to sit and rest and rehydrate and snacked on trail mix. I pulled out my notebook but was too overwhelmed to capture any of my thoughts in words. I figured I had come five, maybe six miles. As I sat there, I expected the other hikers to come upon me at any moment. After waiting about 15 minutes, I decided it was time to speed hike back. So I pulled out my ipod for the first time of the trip and listened to my nostalgic Red Rocks playlist which was inspired by my early college days hiking around Southern Utah. I refrained from singing out loud but the music definitely propelled me along. At some point I started to notice a number of varying footprints imprinted in the dusty trail walking in my same direction that hadn't been there before. This was my only evidence that others from my group made the hike.

I returned to camp with enough time before dinner to stretch my legs and feet in the sand on the bank of the Middle Fork and cool my feet in the river. People inquired as to how far I had gone and I estimated a 10-12 mile circuit. I was exhausted but I believe that was one of the absolute highlights of my trip.


The next morning I woke well-rested but still contemplative and spent the early morning hours exploring some more and meditating before heading back onto the river with the group. I spent the day paddling with a fun mix of people and before lunch we tackled another hike. This one was steep and switch-backed and for the first time on the trip I struggled to carry a conversation as I followed the guide up the gravely path without pausing to capture the stunning view as the river fell far below us.
The hike was short and the view from the top was spectacular. The hike down was difficult. My knees were feeling worn and the steepness of the path made me fear my knee would give out and I would tumble down over everyone picking their way down in front of me. It so happened that this was the day that Sam, a very sweet 12-year old boy in the group, had selected me to shadow. He had offered to help me take down my tent earlier that morning - and this time I acquisced to the help. Although he thought I was a bit of a nut when I had him help me turn the tent upside down to shake out the sand and dirt that had found its way in. He also thought I was nuts for insisting we swipe off the sand and dirt as we rolled the tent up. He was paddling in the same boat as me and stayed by my side at the top of the hike. He chattered away as we descended, choosing to slide down some of the steepest parts of the trail as I continually tried to stablize myself. He was fascinated by my camera and stuck by my side at lunch and even handed over his last two EL Fudge cookies when he heard my disappointment that they were all gone.

After lunch - fortified by EL Fudge - I jumped back in a kayak. And much of the afternoon looked like this:

Which meant, not at a lot of rapids to contend with but a lot of paddling to move through the eddies. However, when we did encounter a tricky rapid that required a chat onshore and a plotting of the route entailing maneuvering around and between large boulders . . . I chickened out. At first I put on a tough face but the second time the guide asked me if I was sure I wanted to do it, I knew it wasn't for me and I resumed paddling in a group from the relative safety of a larger boat. When the other kayakers all made it through without incident I doubted myself and my cowardice. But I think one swim was enough for the trip.
That afternoon we set up camp on a beautiful sandy beach. And I decided it was time to do something about the greasy mop that was masquerading as my hair. As I was getting situated at the river's edge for my "bath", Sam and his parents were preparing to do the same. I observed as Sam's dad soaped up in the river and then stood on the rocky shore to lather shampoo into his hair as I tried to figure out the best way to go about this. Sam acted as shower assistant and dumped buckets of water over his dad's head (and down his back). He then offered to assist me as well. It was still sunny on the shore but that didn't seem to have much effect on the icy water so my time in the river was more of a quick plunge. I stood on the rocks and lathered up my hair with my eco-friendly shampoo bar as Sam laughed at me for washing my hair with a bar of soap. His rinsing skills improved dramatically with me as I was his third customer. Having clean hair for the first time in days was remarkably refreshing.
For the first time during the trip, I settled in to read until it was time for dinner. I still can't believe it took me until Day 4 to delve into my book, I barely wrote in my journal and listened to my ipod only once. That night, one of the guide's pulled out his guitar and entertained us by the fire while we made s'mores.
I will refrain from modesty and confess I impressed more than a few of my fellow campers with my ability to whittle a roasting stick and roast the perfect marshmallow.

The music was good and my belly was full and I felt clean and really wanted to get back to my book. So that night, I went to bed while others remained at their posts around the fire and continued to call out requests to the lone musician. My reading didn't last long as tiny flying bugs continuously flew at my headlamp. By this point in the trip our altitude had dropped so much that a tent was superfluous for anything but a changing room the nights were so warm. There was a full moon that night and I tried to count the stars before drifting off hours before the rest of the group called it a night and continued singing softly next to the fire a dozen yards away.


Tiffany said...

Yes, I have been trapped before watching hours of picture slides (via computers). But not at your house. Once at the home of a psychologist and once at the home of some yuppies.

I like your pictures. Especially the s'more. I'd like one now, please.

Thank you.

*MARY* said...

Those pictures are stunning!

katie said...

those pictures are great!

DeAnn said...

You are a fantastic photographer.

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