Any Day on the Water is a Good Day on the Water

On Mother’s Day a few years ago, my kids all chipped in to surprise me with a tandem kayak; it was just what I wanted. I figured I could take the grandkids out in it. It eventually turned out to be a little more than I really wanted to handle. The weight and unwieldiness became a barrier to my paddling and I quit taking it out, even though I loved each and every time I was in the water. I decided it was time to get my beloved kayak a new owner – and then look for something different for me.

So I sold it to Kevin. A friend of mine, he lives on a boat, a boat quite a bit bigger than a kayak. And he has a kayak as well – a white sit-on-top that’s all decked out with bunch of electronic something or others for some reason or another that I don’t understand.

But my Pemlico Wilderness Systems kayak is pretty sweet and he wanted it. Late in the morning this past weekend, he came by with his friend Ann. I like her; we’d met when she and Kevin helped me to evacuate a bunch of my valuables during the Napa fires in 2017.

My son-in-law Matt helped Kevin to get the kayak up on Kevin’s pick-up truck racks and he and Ann took it to his place. It was a great day for kayaking (every day’s a great day for kayaking), Ann had to go to work, but Kevin and I didn’t, so I met him at the docks and we set out for an afternoon on the water outside Benicia’s boat harbor. It was a bit breezy, but wind is just air, right? No matter how the flag is uplifted.

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Kevin’s back porch

Kevin pointed out a small rock island outside the harbor – that was our destination. Our trip initially began with me paddling Kevin’s “sit on top” kayak, with Kevin in my – now his – kayak. I paddled alongside, or behind, taking direction in a new body of water, and we headed out. It turned out the wind was roaring in from San Pablo Bay, and this girl was making no headway at all.

I could laugh all right, but paddling in place was not really what I had in mind. Kevin had a new plan. We’d each paddle close to the edge of the harbor’s retaining wall and pull into the little beach nearby. A beach, by the way, in name only. It’s mainly covered with old wood sediment from a long gone mill. The only sand is like quicksand. Seriously.

After we pulled in, I got out of the sit-on-top, settled into the bow seat of the tandem while Kevin reached around to tie the sit-on-top to the tandem, and we towed it while paddling off on our grand adventure. Great idea! Two power paddlers in the same boat.

Now we were in business. The wind still pushed at us, but we were better. We would prevail. Not a moment to spare for taking pictures however. I’d forgotten to put the fully charged battery back into my good camera, so didn’t have it with me anyway. And, I was a little leary taking it out on the boat with no good dry-bag on me.

We made good time to the little rock island, guiding the nose of the kayak onto shore amidst assorted rocks and piles of boulders, covered with slippery, slimy green algae. You know the kind.

“No, you get out first,” I replied to Kevin’s query whether I was ready to get myself out of the boat. He’s an expert at getting in and out of kayaks, and I’m nowhere near excellently experienced, much less an expert. So he could get out first. And give me a gratefull pull up assist as well.

fullsizeoutput_d5e9I had the tie-line in hand and offered to wrap it around and and tie it onto a 10″ diameter hanging piece of driftwood stump that was protruding from the shore right in my face.

“Like this?” I asked.

“Yeah, that log ain’t going anywhere. That’s great.” he said.

“Okay,” I replied somewhat hesitantly, grimicing to myself, not really sure about it. But I figured Kevin’s the expert, not me, so I shrugged it all off, chuckling and all. 

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We hiked up a dry, steep short slope of rocks, sand, dried grass and weeds to the top of the isle. Both of us being the artsy-fartsy types, we commented on and admired the various shades of tan and brown and yellow in the rocks, the golden tree pollen, while attempting to come up with the proper names of plants, birds and trees right there in front of us. We scoffed heartily at the few-thousand-tons-of-deadweight oil tanker sailing out to the Pacific, tug boat in tow.

The mountain top was covered with evidence of previous explorers who’d actually built a tree house. A poor attempt, I might add, but it did have a nice wide piece of lumber laying across two branches. On the ground were three windward walls nailed together and an open lanai, if you want to call it that. It was pretty much a mess. We found their hammer and nails left inside, so maybe they had more improvements in mind for future visits. Or else they fled for their lives from a giant hungry sea-monster, never to be seen again.

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Anyway, the outer wall to the north had a few wide planks of lumber on which we could sit. Settle in we did. With a little chilled white wine, a bunch of cheap snacks and a little smoke, the chit-chat commenced. It had been a while since we’d had a good visit, and we had a lot of catching up to do.

We used to work together at Napa State Hospital, so that topic always comes up. We’re both glad to not be working there anymore. We reminisce on a few colleagues and wish the ones still working to be the safest they can be. We laughed and reminded each other of the antics of some of our favorite crazy patients. We talked about various friends, also former employees, who are as happy as we are to be out of that grossly mismanaged hellhole.

Any successful day on the river with friends provides plenty of time to cover lots of territory. We discussed conspiracy theories – large and small – real or unreal. Death and dying and communicating with spirits who’ve passed on. We shared talk of our day to day living and the people in it. We commiserated on and celebrated our lives on earth, in America, in our neighborhoods, and the many ways Kevin’s found, after a few hardships of his own, similar to all of ours, to help many people down on their luck right there at the edge of their world.

fullsizeoutput_d5a5We watched sea-birds “cruising for burgers.” My friend Cristy taught me all about birds cruising for burgers; I think it was in the wilds of West Virginia, or maybe Austin TX.  Or was it NYC? It was a long time ago, I don’t remember.

Kevin pointed out a U.S. Coast and Geodedic Survey Topographic Station metal tag drilled into the top of a rock, complete with notification of the threat of fine or imprisonment  for disturbing the darn thing. WTH?

 

The wind had died down a bit and Kevin decided after a while to go check on the boats we’d left tied in the rocks. He just wanted to see that all was well. What he discovered was an empty beach where we’d left the kayaks. He quickly scuttled around to locate them at the base of the isle. Thank goodness they had not floated completely away but had just moved with the wind clear around the back of the island. The first thing he noticed, after the kayaks, was a single Herman’s gull hovering on the wind currents 20 feet above the kayaks. Laughing like he was the instigator or something. Kevin started laughing with him.

He couldn’t tell for sure if the whole thing was so hysterical because he was lightly toasted from the green bud we’d had, or something else, but it sure seemed that the gull was actually laughing like a child who’d played a joke on a parent. The more the gull laughed, the harder Kevin laughed, making it treacherous to keep his footing down the steep embankment towards the water. He looked up at the bird, yelling out, “Oh, you think that’s funny, huh!?”

The crazy bird was laughing too hard not to be convincing. On an island normally covered in birds, it was odd to see a single solitary bird keeping eyes on our lost kayaks while the other birds were nowhere to be found…as if they too were part of the joke, but had no faith in Kevin’s sense of humor and so had flown to some hideout instead of staying to see what happened. Lol. Pirate gulls, no doubt.

Completely ignorant of this escapade, I heard my name being called from a ways behind me – definitely not where we’d left the boats. Thank goodness he caught those little rascally boats. It could have been a long swim for us. A difficult swim as well, because–of course–our PDFs were in the boats.

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After getting the boats back to where they belonged, Kevin spied a beautiful and extremely heavy piece of driftwood. He dragged, pushed and pulled it up to our topmost lookout and proceeded to wonder how to display the darn thing.

After a bit of discussion, and a little dancing around about which end was the top, which was the bottom, and all the aspects of this fine piece of nature’s art, we finally got it in place.

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The last thing we did before heading out was to shore up this new piece of art that now sits next to the treehouse. With the aid of a few pieces of lumber and other scrap wood–voila!

The wind had died down, we headed out and had a fine paddle back in the Pemlico (which I miss already) to the docks. No better way to spend a long afternoon than talking about life and our parts in in while hanging out at the water’s edge. 

So what’s next?

I get to go to the Raiders training camp! Yippee!

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What’s That Loud Roar?

Fred's Birthday River Trip 2019

Day five and this stretch of river delivers us into the spacious and beautiful Professor Valley and Richardson Amphitheatre, named for Sylvester “The Professor” Richardson, who established a ranch in 1879. A post office was established, a store opened up, and soon enough they had a town. Not just a professor, he was the true Renaissance man, a top-notch physician, musician, geologist, teacher, author, druggist, surveyor and assayer. The town died out a few years after the Professor, who gave up the ghost in 1902, at just 79-years old.

Fred's Birthday River Trip 2019

The Moab Daily section of the river begins 3 miles up from our two-day camp. Lots of fun rapids here – and for the professional guides and others who stay in the boat – not anywhere as dangerous as what we had on Fred’s birthday! This 13-mile stretch of river is busy with lots of day trippers and a few over-niters as well. Three of the four Onion Creek campsites were above water, thankfully, and we pulled into one of them.

Fred's Birthday River Trip 2019

For miles now, we’ve seen from afar the Fisher Towers aka Colorado River Pipe Organs, but now we’re in the same neighborhood – truly amazing! The tallest of them, the Titan, was first climbed in 1962 by climbing legends Huntley Ingalls, Layton Kor, and George Hurley. And no, I’m not going up there. At least not this trip.

Fred's Birthday River Trip 2019

The plan was to stay two nights at Onion Creek, and on the second day, we found more time to relax, not having to take the time and energy to unload  and reload the boats in the same 12 hour period. Luke, Rhett, Tommy and I took a morning walk, leaving Fred behind to – do what? I don’t know. We thought he’d make breakfast. The joke was on us! From high on the cliffs we could see far beyond – all along the river valley. It was a totally different view from the one we have down in the boat. Duhhh.

Fred's Birthday River Trip 2019

We had potluck dinner and breakfast, as always – plenty of food. We still had fresh fruit, including a nice cold ripe and juicy cantaloupe, sweet pineapple chunks, and watermelon. Hot coffee always hit the spot. I love that coffee pot! A bright and shiny  stainless steel four-burner cookstove sits atop the kitchen table – a portable solid wood approximately 2′ x 6′ top with screw in metal legs. I’m a novice – it all amazed me, the equipment (and expertise) that’s needed for these multi-day trips. I do know that these guys invest a lot of money in the best they can buy. Their stuff lasts and is upgraded continually, it seems. One guy has a new this or that, the other guy envies and wonders if wants one of those!

There’s also a fire box, complete with fireproof pad to provide a little campfire or to cook up a big steak.

Ever heard of a groover? It’s a portable bathroom made up of a camp toilet, buckets of pump-on-demand clean water for handwashing, soap, hand sanitizer, and an ammo box (used for loads and loads of things on a boat) stocked with dry toilet paper.

 

At the end of the trip, the actual groover poop-&-stuff is dropped off at an official groover station. No, I didn’t go there. That was Rhett’s job. At each campsite, Rhett and Luke scouted around and located the best groover spot for a secluded experience – with a great view. They didn’t disappoint. A colorful lei hanging near the groover was the signal that the groover room was empty. Grab the lei and go!

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Quartz found in the wall at camp

With some time on our hands, we explored along the trails, relaxed, did some reading and threw in a few naps. Climbing over the low hanging cliffs, along slippery trails and amongst the wildflowers was good exercise after so much time spent sitting on my butt in the boat. The rowers, they get plenty of exercise. But other than that short swim I had, the walks at campsites were my exercise. Well, unpacking and packing back and forth was a bit of exertion, but not that much.

The day rolled out easily enough, we each found that spot to relax, do some reading, absorb the scenery and nap – the napping was fine. The challenge was in chasing the shade from the cottonwoods in camp. That darn sun kept moving and so did the shade spots.

The afternoon led into an exciting evening. Which led to storm stories from the guys. the time they rolled through a terrible rain and hail storm. Hail so big they had to put buckets over their heads! Not this time, thank goodness. But we did get a roaring wind! It’s so noisy when the wind roars up the river and through the trees on the banks. I could see a dust storm on the other side of the river where the canyon was open. I think our tents were really glad that we held onto them! “Aunty Emm, Aunty Emm!!”

Fred's Birthday River Trip 2019

Since rain was obviously in the making, the boat guys who usually slept on their boats now decided to put up their tents. With the strong wind, stakes and loading the tents down with our belongings helped keep them on the ground.

This was the first night I put the fly on my tent.

#1 – it was warmer inside.

#2 – I couldn’t see anything.

Fred's Birthday River Trip 2019

It was spooky with the wind roaring over me, and then lightning spiked and thunder boomed up our little world. I had no idea what everyone else was doing – and it felt weird being apart from them, each of us in our own tent – wide awake and waiting for sleep. I couldn’t believe I actually did fall asleep with that roaring wind. I guess it was all the wonderful sun and that nice hike! And of course this was the night I had to get up to pee in the night. But by that time, there was that beautiful dark sky, a few clouds, and my old friends, the Milky Way and the Big Dipper

Next morning, waking up, was sunny and warm — beautiful and wonderful and I smiled with delight seeing my brother up and messing around — and the coffee pot boiling on the stove.

Fred's Birthday River Trip 2019