And I get to go with him this time! Along with his hand picked fellow rafters and river guides, Rhett, Tommy and Luke. A few other besties were scheduled to join us and had to bow out for other more important things that came along in life. I’m glad that wasn’t me.
I originally posted much of this material on my Facebook page and decided for continuity’s sake I should write it up as a blog. So if you didn’t see my “6/6/19 – Fred’s Annual Birthday Trip – the Big 7-O!” album you’re in for a treat!
The day before leaving for this big adventure, we spent a few hours – we meaning mostly Fred – building a boat! We worked at Fred’s place right there on the Roaring Fork River. And it was roaring!
I was perfectly capable of lugging stuff to the appropriate pile on the ground near the boat, but Fred’s the only one who could stow it where he wanted. You know how it is. Everything in its proper place, right where it belongs and where it can be found when you want it!
On our appointed day to hit the river, we head out in the pick-up truck to Fruita. Some blue boat and trailer kept following us the intire way. lol. We stop a few places to pick up those last minute supplies – foodstuffs, ice, more beer, more ice and other essentials for the trip. The tequila was safely stowed away.
It wouldn’t last long.
The river is “high water” now, approximately 34,000 cubic feet per second, and not to be taken lightly. Between Fred and his boat-mates, they figured they have about 140 years of experience on the water; I was completly relaxed and confident that all was well. And it was.
Our journey started in Ruby Horsethief Canyon, eventually moving into Westwater and Skull Rapid – now that was a day! More on that later…
We put in at the ramp in Fruita at RimRock Adventures. Each boatman had his own way of doing things, each put-in was a bit different. I got to meet our fellow adventurers – Luke and Rhett, and was reacquainted with Tommy Myers whom I’d met on an earlier trip to the Colorado River to boat with my brother.
In between the time that Tommy, Fred and Rhett pulled in to the ramp, backing their trailers to the river’s edge to get the boats into the water, other guys and their trailers and their people pulled in and I’m sure, innocently enough, messed with our own operation. We were just glad later on, that “those guys” weren’t camping close to where we were! Rhett’s two sisters Cathy and Lisa were on hand to send us off and away we went.
Just down the river aways, I got this first day lucky shot of a great blue heron keeping an eye on us. No matter how much I wanted it, I never did get a shot of one in flight, or of an eagle in flight, either. Each time a great bird flew over us, my damn camera was in it’s case or in some other not-in-my-hand place.
I order a copy of one of Fred’s Guidebooks: River Maps: Guide to the Colorado & Green Rivers in the canyonlands of Utah and Colorado. There is a wealth of information about turn of the river, so to speak. The history of the river’s path, millions of years of geology in the making, the people who came before – I’m loving all of it.
High water was definitly one of the defining factors on our trip. The entire length of the river, low water eddies and campsites were missing or under water – a lot of water and not anything to mess around with. Out of curiosity or need, (I’m not sure which) one or another of the guys would check on his phone or some other electronid device for the cfs (Cubic feet per second) each day we were out. They read the currents and adjust their path through the water based on their many years of experience.
The out of this world – really part of this world – natural landscapes, geological formations grabbed my heart and won’t let go. I can’t read enough about it, my curiosity has the best of me and I’m looking forward to learning more about this neighborhood.
It seems I’m continuously shaking my head, sighing and awestruck with the beauty of it all. It’s a leisurely first day and I try not to miss any of it!
I’m starting to learn the routine now. Doesn’t take long. Open your eyes, Kathy. Put in to a campsite, take it easy for a time – river time – and then grab my gear to get my tent put up and my stuff inside of it.
This first night, the guys enjoy themselves, laughing if you can imagine, as I attempt to put up my borrowed-from-Tommy tent. What?!
“I could watch you all night trying to do that…but no…” Tommy says, he and Fred giggling, “they snap on like this!”
I’m warned not to leave anything outside that a nasty little scorpion – about this big! they say – could crawl into – so I leave nothing outside! Each night, I rifle through my zip locked belongings in the dry bag, removing this shirt or another and packing it all back in the next day. My toke bag, water bottle, head-night-lamp and my glasses are always in a certain left corner of the tent. One pair of glasses “for on the river with that little croakie tied on”, and my fav newly minted glasses I wear on land.
My new sleeping bag and softer-than-soft-socks keep me warm all night long. I never wear the socks outside – I don’t want one bit of sand in at least one thing I’m wearing – my pair of night socks!
We settled our first night in Bull Draw camp after a wonderul first day on the river, five hours and counting. The scenery is such I can’t look away.
Fred is the chef tonight. I find myself thinking of other chefs in my family, starting with Dad’s Dad who was a cook in the Merchant Marines, then Dad, who was a chef himself, and then my oldest son Rob, a trained chef and author.
Menu consisted of salmon patties grilled and loaded with guacamole, sliced sweet onion and tomatoes! Yummmmm. The next day was his breakfast duty – french toast, bacon and fresh fruit. Tasty indeed!
Dinner was over, dishes washed and drying and it was time for some story-telling and tequila! The story-telling on the trip is the best!
I notice Rhett didn’t make the cut in photos today. Either the camera was stowed or he was out doing a fine job of scouting just the right place for the groover.
And yes, I found the groover and it’s a spectacular view! It’s just a short walk from my tent below a canyon wall with no little crawling bugs. Or at least I don’t see any of them.
And then it’s time to call it a night. I’m in early my tent-home and I can just barely hear the laughter and voices of the boatmen in the camp kitchen. Good nite!
Each day of this trip would bring an amazing array of waterscapes, landscapes, changing skies, animal life, flora and fauna, joking, wonderful conversation, peace and joy. By the end of the week, my eyes and lips were fried by the awesomeness of it all!
These days with my brother was an amazing gift and I’ll cherish it always. I’m so happy this adventurous life never gets old.
“Coffee!” The finest words ever heard after a night’s sleep on the trail.
After a hot breakfast of coffee, eggs, potatoes and sausage, and sides of orange juice and fresh fruit, we headed out from Black Rock 6 camp sometime after 10, on our way to checking in with the Ranger at BLM Westwater Ranger Station, just after passing into Utah.
In a normal river run this time of year, there might be 5 private boat trips running Westwater as well as 5 commercial trips led by professional experienced guides. The Ranger expressed a bit of surprise we would be taking the trip, as no one had done so in the past several days. The high water and risky water in the canyon were holding people back.
Fred’s only been down this canyon a hundred times, either on his raft, or rowing a raft, and more or less, 35 of his trips were on on his birthday. The other guys also know the river like the back of their hand. We were all excited to be running this trip for Fred’s Birthday!
Just past the Ranger Station, the river crosses a fault zone where the Wingate Sandstone is thrust hundreds of feet. That, combined with the 200 million year old Chinle Formation, create the gneisses and schists that squeeze the Colorado into the tight “Granite Canyon of the Grand River”, aka Westwater Canyon.
The rock art continues to amaze, and I find myself shaking my head, and sighing, in awe. Goats lounge around on the bank.
We sail past several areas known for their rapids. Marble Canyon Rapid, at the mouth of Marble Canyon, marks the point where the channel narrows for the next couple of miles. Lots of broiling and churning water, high swirling waves and changing water holes right in front of the boat.
And then we come onto Skull Rapid, also called Whirlpool, Big Whirlpool and Cisco Bend Rapid, the highest rated rapid in Westwater. Especially at high water, which now was about 34,000 cfs. This famous rapid is formed by a series of boulders just above a bend in the river, that drives the water toward a huge rock – the Shock Rock. The boat will either swirl right into an eddy in the Room of Doom, or breaks off to the left downstream. Surging high streams of water rose up to meet us in a perfect storm.
I was sitting and holding onto my seat at center front of the boat, Fred was pulling and working the oars. Before we came to this point in the river, we’d stowed everything and tightly tied them down. The camera in its watertight case, my water bottle, anything that could fly out of the boat. During this trip, I reverted to my previous pair of glasses and had them tightly over my ears in a little string of croakie. I noticed later the time stamp gap between when we stowed the camera and when it was safe to bring it out again.
I wasn’t looking up at the canyon formations, I was looking at all that rushing water, waves like the sea, watching down and ahead, glimpsing at Tommy and Luke in their boat ahead of us.
All of a sudden the boat lurched downward in front of us and I brilliantly pirouetted into the air in a dive up and out of the boat. I spluttered water, opened my eyes and saw that I was just to the right and a little to the rear of where I’d been seating. And I was able to touch the boat! My personal floatation device brought me right to the surface and miracles of miracles, I was facing Fred, who was hovering over me in the boat. On his feet, he’d had to let go of the oars to get me back to where I was supposed to be.
He yelled for me to grab onto the extra oar locked onto the boat – I was grabbing onto anything I could find! Fred was glancing to the left of us at a big wall he didn’t want to crash into. He had hold of my left arm, yelling, “You’re okay! You’re allright!!” He grabbed my life jacket with both hands and swiftly jerked me back into the boat.
“Hurry, get back up there…” he yelled out over the roar of the water. “We have to move!”
I crawled my way back to my seat, gurgling fresh Colorado River water, and held tight to the bow straps while Fred maneuvered us out of the worst of the day’s rapids.
I later learned that at high water, Skull is rated five and a half to six (highest rating), partly because of the possibility that someone will become a swimmer. Like Fred’s sister.
We all had a good laugh later – more than one – and acknowledged that we were definitely scared to death at the time I took a dive. Luke and Tommy had been watching the entire episode then, ready to grab me up if Fred hadn’t been able to do so. Rhett was upstream watching. I felt like such a dork!
Fred told me before we ever got in the river that he had three rules for me:
#1 Stay in the boat.
#2 Stay in the boat.
#3 Stay in the boat.
Instead, I went swimming!
It turned out the river gods didn’t want me at all. My wide-brimmed hat was the only sacrifice that day.
In looking at my pictures for the day, I saw a long gap between the time I stowed the camera and when the water settled down enough to pick it up again. It was definitely Fred’s miracle birthday. Things could have gone so wrong. But they didn’t – and I’d go again if given the chance – you can count on that.
A 21-miler day – we arrived in good speed to Big Horn Camp. The guys set up the kitchen close to the boats, just exactly as it should be. After a few beers and tequila shots, we later ate a hearty fine feast. More red wine out of a plastic bag and chocolate chip cookies for dessert! The desert heat is feeling mighty fine and the skies are in our favor. For now.
Leaving New York, after a short sweet visit with Erin, Chris, Jack, Molly and Ryan, Melissa and little Mac was a bit sad, tinged with so much happiness. I couldn’t get Erin’s first words out of my mind when I arrived a few days earlier in Port Jeff to visit. “I’m so excited to have my hippie Aunt Kathy here!”
Amtrak New York City to Niagara Falls – another beautiful segment on another hot summer day. Take time to overlook the trash, junkyards, industrial zones of American commerce and other eyesores. Doesn’t’ matter which city or country. The #281 (train talk) follows the Hudson River and other water ways much of the journey. No, I don’t know all their names. I can tell you that its incredibly easy for me to sit and watch the scenery go by all day long. Every other look up is a reason to focus my camera, noting the spot on the window that’s the cleanest, with little or no glare to mess up my shot. I try to catch the little things, the curve of the hillside, angles of a barn and a fleeting waterfowl when lucky.
As the heat index went up outside, our train car started heating up on the inside. I don’t know if I mentioned before, but the air conditioning on the trains is usually too much for this Cali girl. It’s COLD in the coach and usually colder in the snack and observation and bar cars. Layered fashionista. In a summer of sandals and flipflops, most of my time is in sneakers and socks.
The car I was seated in started heating up as a result of some malfunction or other. Some fancy piece of equipment I don’t remember the name of. As the car ahead of mine slowly emptied passengers to their destinations along the way, the conductor announced that anyone in our car who wanted to, could move ahead to the next car that was cooler. Most everyone got up – it was rush hour – grabbing their cameras, blankets, electronics and pillows. I got up and moved from a cramped aisle seat with practically no view, to a window seat AND an aisle. Warm, plenty of room to stretch out and no more “it’s too hot” whiners in the wind.
The real fun began when I arrived in Niagara Falls. The plan was to meet up with Bob and Donna, my new, and amazing Couchsurfing friends. They live in Niagara Falls, Canada. As an aside, all my Couchsurfing friends have proven to be amazing.
Anyway, I called Bob and told him I was at the Amtrak train station. I could hear the Falls in the distance – sounded like the roar of the ocean. “We’re right here – we don’t see you!” I was looking around and didn’t see them either. One of us eventually asked what side of the border I was on. Laughing ensued. I didn’t know there was an Amtrak feeder station in Niagara Falls CANADA (where they thought I was). I was at the main station in Niagara Falls USA.
No problem, says Bob, just catch a cab over and we’ll meet you on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge. Okay, I say. The last cab-van was just pulling away from the station as the sun was setting.
I sprinted over to the cabby and asked if there was room to join in the ride. He asked where I wanted to go. Inside was family of our – two kids, 8 and 10-ish, Mom and Dad. The mom told me in her fine Australian voice to jump in. As we’re driving to the bridge, the driver asks where we’re staying. Whoops. I didn’t know the address of where I was staying and the border people always ask that. I just knew I was meeting up with Bob and Donna.
The Mom next to me pipes up – “Grandma! You’re staying with us.” My new family and I are laughing and Dad chimes in with the Hotel name to the driver, saying to his wife, “Jumping right to Grandma is a little rough, isn’t it?” I told him that was exactly the right thing! We were all cracking up. I told them how excited I was to be spending my vacation with them and hoped they’d gotten me a suite of my own. More laughter. After crossing the border and retrieving my passport from the driver, I hopped out and waited for the driver to get my suitcase from the luggage area. The kids in the back seat yelled out, “Bye Grandma, we’ll miss you!”
The driver made out on that 5-minute ride. $25 US dollars from me and another $45 Canadian from my family on their way to the hotel. Never to be seen again.
Bob and Donna and I, through a series of brief phone calls, finally met up and were immediately best of friends. It was Sunday – Canada Day! The three of us chatted it up making our way to the Falls that were lit up in the dark night with red and blue hues to wait for even more excitement. The roads and sidewalks and lawns of the park were packed with revelers. Noisy and wonderful. Fireworks started out on the American side of the Falls and soon enough were echoed by the Canadians.
What a fine welcome to Canada! So much more to come!
When I purchased my Amtrak cross country trip weeks ago, back in May, I was told I could pick up the Rail Pass and boarding tickets at my first boarding, which would be in Lamy NM. OR, I could pick up them up at the San Francisco Transbay Transit (temporary) Terminal. A new (bigger and better?) one will open soon. It seems that just about everything that opens in San Francisco is bigger and better.
Anyway, being aware of just how many things can go wrong in trips like the one I’ve planned, I decided not to wait. I’m flying from SFO to Colorado on Friday. A week later, I’ll be taking a road trip to Chimayo and Lamy NM, before boarding the Southwest Chief, my first “all aboard” of many in the next several weeks.
So yesterday morning, since I was in the City anyway after spending a fun-filled night with my good friends, I made my way to the Transit Terminal.
“Hi, I’d like to pick up my rail pass and tickets.”
The young woman behind the counter smiled. “This isn’t the Amtrak counter. They’re over there.”
I looked behind me, in the direction her head nodded toward. Oh, okay, I was at the Greyhound counter. “All right. Thank you.” A minute later, I was at another counter.
“Hi, I’d like to pick up my rail pass and tickets, please.” Yes, that’s right. I’m usually quite polite.
“I need your I.D.” No chit chat from the young man behind the glass who didn’t bother to look up from his computer screen.
I struggled to yank the damn license out of its plastic sleeve in my wallet before passing it through the little hole under the safety glass. I waited for the guy’s response, looking around the place. Maps on the walls, tiny lego train people and assorted toy train accessories lived on a shelf behind the glass. Racks of tourist come-on brochures and flyers sat along two walls. One or two people straggle in, look around and leave.
“This trip has been canceled.” Michael reports.
“Uh…no. It hasn’t. When I purchased the tickets the charge inadvertantly went through three times and those were canceled, but not the trip,” I said, my stomach beginning to jump up and down in a drum of nerves.
He printed out and passed over to me a bunch of paper showing me the canceled trip. I looked it over and still wasn’t buying it.
“Let me get on this other terminal,” he tells me and moves five feet to his right to another keyboard. I sidestep over to watch and wait.
“I can see what they’ve done,” he says. “They’ve also overcharged you $14.”
“They? I thought you were they. You’re all Amtrak, right?”
“Yeah, but those idiots online are always screwing things up.”
I stood there patiently, thinking back to the time of original purchase, recalling that everything seemed to go so smoothly, and that the guy on the other end of the phone really knew what he was doing. Except for the triple charging of my bank account, of course. But that was blamed on the accounting unit, not the ticket seller. Sure. Yeah. Right then, I could have cared less about the $14. I just wanted the trip to be in my hand.
Many minutes crawl by. A couple more people stroll in and out of the waiting room. I ask my hopefully, savior-to-be, what his name is. It’s Michael.
“Okay,” Michael reports out. “I think I may be able to refund the $14, and restore your trip. But if it doesn’t go through, the whole thing will definitely be canceled and we’ll have to start all over again.”
Visions of no available seats for my trip swarm through my head. “Well, what are the chances you can save it all?”
“I’d say…pretty good,” he slowly drawled out his answer.
“I’ll go with pretty good.” I am a risk-taker, after-all.
Michael did indeed save my day. He figured a way to refund me the $14, print out my Amtrak Rail Pass AND my boarding passes for the next few weeks. He then took it upon himself to happily scrounge around and find each train’s time-table brochure, along with a glossy 8 x 10 inch full color map that he handed over to me. We finished our time together in short order, both of us relieved at the happy ending.
I’ll have to go online and give him a good Yelp. He is obviously not happy about the “temporary” Transbay Terminal closing in the next couple months. He indicated to me that there would be more machines than people working the place. I hope he finds a good spot to continue helping our fellow travelers.
It was after I’d walked out to the car, my hands full of passes, papers and a map that I really don’t plan to drag along with me until mid-July, that I realized I should probably hit the bathroom before my hour and a half drive home.
It’s paint. Your guess is as good as mine.
And then I headed home— to do some laundry, dust the bookshelves and re-pack.
Friday is just two sleeps and a wakey away.
But I’ve never been to Canada.
A sweet aroma seeps in through my window with jasmine and honeysuckle blooming in the breeze. My next big adventure is just around the corner – plane, trains, buses and automobiles. I’ve got to fit a boat in there somewhere. I think I know where.
West coast to east coast and return via, mostly, Amtrak and Canada Rail.
The whole thing started with three very special reasons. One daughter. Two brothers. Looking forward (of course!) to my daughter’s BS in Nursing graduation celebration after a short plane hop to Denver, spending a bit of time with Mom’s 93-year old cousin in Gunnison CO, joining up with the famly exploring Estes Rocky Mountain National Park outside Denver, all followed by a brief road trip to the tiny town of Chimayo, New Mexico.
Then it’s “All Aboard!” from Lamy, NM to visit family and friends on the east coast. Seeing Niagara Falls and Canada for the first time. Walking through Butchart Gardens in Victoria. Getting to know new “couchsurfing.com” friends along the way. Having just helped my own family and neighbors put together a big 4th of July block party, I’ll be enjoying the 4th on a train ride in the country to the north of us.
One little easy-peasy trip led to a whole string of things to do and 5-7 weeks of visiting friends and family. Places to go. People to see. Connections to miss.
All I have to do now is make the list. Or lists.
Ten Things to do before I leave the homestead.
- Finish reading the last twenty pages of Romancing the Pirate, Michelle Beattie, and take it back to the library. LOL. I know. I do have a wide variety of reading materials.
- Upload my grandmother’s journal, written thirty years ago in the summer of 1938 when she was off on her own solo train trip from San Francisco to Alaska. I’m planning on reading it with a drink in one hand in the observation car as the rest of the world rolls by.
- Make a list of what I want in that traveling backpack of mine. Laptop, misc. electronics, lotions, potions, sundries and something to wear.
- Put a hold on the daily newspaper & provide the new nurse in the family with instructions on how-to-care-for-my-orchids (Raylan & Ava). Yes, they have names.
- Do my spring cleaning. It’s not summer yet, but it will be when I return. Cobwebs, be gone.
- Settle on my itinerary once and for all. Or not.
- Count my blessings.
- Sort out what I want in my wallet. Passport.
- Finish Writers Club tasks to hand off to the team.
- Offer up my cottage to a couple of friends and family to stay in if they wish to visit the valley and need a place to crash.
What did I forget? What ten things would be on your list?
I like to think mothers the world over do their absolute best to provide loving arms, direction, laughter, and nurturance to the children in their lives. Some mothers do a better job than others – I know that. It’s not always easy. Or ever easy.
Other women, who haven’t birthed one baby, give their hearts and love to little ones each and every day. In my own heart, I know these women. I feel their love, their pain, their tears of joy, and the sadness in their hearts.
I salute you all. To my family and friends who are mothers, to the mothers of my family and friends, and their mothers, to the women who love and cherish their family, whatever that family looks like, to all our children — we are the lucky ones.
My own life has been heavily influenced by my mother and I wouldn’t change a thing for all we shared together. She taught me to stand by my friends and family, no matter what. She taught me to never give up my dreams and to always stand up for myself and for those in need. She taught me to keep peace in my heart, and in my world.
She made a difference. I love her so much.❤️