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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Fred’s Birthday River 2019 – Day 2

Hundreds of pictures on my 16g card tell part of the story of my week on the Colorado River as well as millions of years of geologic history tell the story of the Colorado River Basin. I find myself reading more and more about this natural masterpiece, the Colorado River Canyonlands.

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This is just MY stuff. My camera was stowed away in the water resistant case when the rapids were calling, the wide brim hat on my head until it was sacrificed to the river gods. More about that later.

 

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Drawings on the wall…what do you see there? I have my own vision of a face with strung out eyebrows and a big nose. Do you see it?

Our second day on the river continued in Ruby Horsethief Canyon. Quiet water (about 9 miles an hour) interspersed with riffles, eddies and rapids leave me in awe. I’m learning from the guys how the water changes – duh – with the volume of water flowing through the channel basin. They chat about how this or another spot on the river, how it looks different, how they remember the water looking on previous trips. They know their stuff – and that puts me at ease.

 

 

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Do you see a Mama Bear with her thee little cubs on this rock face? Or what?

 

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Can you see the two animals making a run for it? Or??

 

We covered just about 5 river miles that first day, about an hour and a half.  First day out involved a lot of travel from home to the put-in ramp, so that made for a later start and earlier end to the first day. These rafts are packed with more than a thousand pounds of gear, including water, ice, food, clothing, camp kitchen equipment, cameras, propane tanks, the mandatory river guide map and everything else needed for a 6-day trip. Most of it comes off the boat at night, and back onto the boat in the morning. Mornings, and evenings, are on river time, and never hurried.

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Little Rubby Ducky followed us everywhere

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Looking up from the water – I spent a lot of time doing that!

Day two we rafted 13 miles through Ruby Horsethief Canyon, three blissful hours, passing many potential river camps that are washed out with high water, and no eddies at the edge to easily slide into anyway.

The coolness of being on the water was wonderful; I was never chilled. My wide brim hat helped shade my face from the hot sun, tied under my chin to hang on through rapids in the water and gusts of wind.

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The Guardians??

Today I had my first look at the local big horn sheep, a little family of three. We rolled past miles of black rock formations. These really old Precambrian period rocks started out as limestone and shale, some sandstone, about 1,700 million years ago.

Later on, about 1,400 million years ago, there was a big upswelling of magma. I’m told the “black rocks” in the canyons here are a mix of schist, amphibolite, metamorphic gneiss, and intrusive granite rock. I don’t know what it means, either. Look it up!

I just bought my own fascinating river guide book complete with introductory geologic & geographic lessons, history of the west and the people who populated it.

Fred's Birthday River Trip 2019

Fred's Birthday River Trip 2019

The tamarisk trees along the river’s edge are non-native and detrimental in that they can choke off the rivers. About 15 years ago, tamarisk beetles were introduced to kill those pesky trees – and you can see these dead trees all along the river. The healthy ones are quite pretty with pink flowers. Rangers periodically cut out the dead trees, and quickly pour poison in the roots before the tree closes itself up and grows two more. Cottonwood trees are abundant, their beautiful shimmering leaves catch the eye, and at this time of year, small tufts of cotton float in the air.

Fred's Birthday River Trip 2019

Our river day ended at Black Rocks 6 camp, west of Moore Canyon, a difficult pull-in at 30,000 csf and our well-trained guides made it with ease.

 

Camp was plenty big for two tents, mine and Luke’s, as the boat owners (Tommy, Fred and Rhett) slept atop their boats that night, and many other nights as well. But not the last night!

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A view of the river from my hike

We had plenty of time and space in which to roam around and explore!

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The wildflowers surprised the heck out of me when I zoomed in on them with the camera! So much activity…

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Fragrant juniper bushes with their dark purple berries grace the landscape her. The sun was feeling real good, the company was great, the food plentiful. Rhett’s turn to cook up a yummy London broil, served with two types of potato salad and a box of red wine in a plastic bag. There was an abundance of beer and tequila; we were living large.

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Tonight’s view from my tent home…

After this last picture was taken, long into the night, I woke and crawled out of the tent to gaze at the sky. There she was, the Milky Way – I recognized her and was so excited to see her again. The millions of stars just above this little planet were all I needed to see before laying my body down. ‘Til the next night!

 

 

 

It’s the Water!

I never knew I wanted to see Niagara Falls. What was the big deal? Now I know. My recommendation – go there.

After a long and quite eventful day of travel from one country to the other, to “the hat of North America”, Bob and Donna, my couchsurfing hosts and new friends, showed me around their place, giving me the scoop on my sleeping arrangements. I could leave the door open to have the benefit of the air conditioner, and the company of their sweet kitties. “The little black one likes to bite your toes when you sleep, though, just a warning.” It was warm in my room, just the way I like it.

The next morning, Bob was off to his engineering firm, Hamil Machine, designers and manufactures of all kinds of things, including wine barrel racks and conveyer belt automatic wheat grass trimmers. Donna and I went to —IHOP —not IHOB, IHOP. Over easy eggs each of us. I was intrigued by the waitress’s suggestion to order toast for egg dipping, but didn’t ask about it. A couple of days later, on yet another train, I read in my new book, Magpie Murders, that “she was watching her husband dipping a finger of toast in his eggs.” Okay then. Later on, after being home again, my friend pointed out that he dips his toast in his eggs. I’m oblivious.

Traffic was terrible on the second day of Canada Day (this time, Monday, the OFFICIAL day off for Canadians). We decided we’d rather walk and left the car in the IHOP lot. Donna’s sister and daughter met us at the Falls and we all walked and gawked, me the most, at the Falls.

Tickets in hand for three special activities, I went off to do my tourist thing, and they went off on their own, eventually taking a float down some part of the tamer part of a nearby river. Really ice cold water.

The American side of the Falls looked far away and boring. I stayed in Canada. I hopped a bus to walk along the River Walkway, a stretch of river away from the Falls that runs at a class 6 river speed. The power and majesty, the changing colors in the water, the roaring of the river, was as good as it gets. And you know how good that is. I took my time and took it all in, up and down the river and back to the bus through an underground tunnel. I realize it just looks like water, but trust me, the feeling you get as you stand there listening and watching is more than a cold drink of H2O.

Next stop was the Behind the Falls walk, another FAR underground trip, down an elevator and then following along tunnels with lots of other people to stand below and to the side of the Falls. So amazing. Pictures and words can’t tell it all. My crazy writer’s mind wondered if there had ever been a movie made of a disaster in which all the people underground are suddenly thrown into the Falls. The yellow poncho almost made it home with me, but seriously, I had enough to carry around with me. Laptop, books, two kinds of money, snacks and baby wipes.

 

 

Third stop, the Horn Blower. Bob told me later that his company was hired to do some of the reconstruction of the Horn Blower boats when they changed over from the American’s Maid of the Mist.

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The red poncho did indeed keep my camera and my phone and my passport in my wallet nice and dry. Sailing from the dry hot deck to just the outside edge of all that falling water was for lack of a better word, amazing and again, breath-taking. The water splashing over me on that hot day was invigorating. I tell you, it was all I could do to stop saying wow, amazing, oh my gosh, all day long.

My trip was filled here and there with friends and family, and I was also to spend a lot of time – surrounded by people – and alone with my thoughts. That’s where I was those hours on the water, processing the wonders of the world, my own feelings, and listening to the little voice in my heart. The water does that for me.

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I met up again near the Falls with Donna and Bob, my awesome couchsurfing hosts and new friends and we walked into the Niagara Falls streets filled with things you’d see in Coney Island or the Santa Cruz Beach and Boardwalk. And more. Ripley’s Believe it or Not, Wax Museums, a giant water park in the top of a hotel, miniature race car tracks, dancing in the streets (that was Donna!) and one of the finest burgers I’ve ever had, I think it was at The Works if I remember correctly. I was barely able to finish my meal, but I did. I think Bob had ice cream later. Another shower, another re-packing and I was ready for a good sleep.

Bob was at work the next morning when I awoke. Donna and I thought we’d just eat at home. I had my little packets of oatmeal; I could just throw it in a bowl with some milk and water and microwave it. And then it exploded all over the microwave, so I got to clean up my mess and start over as we downed a few cups of very tasty McCafe coffee she’d French roasted for us, while Donna intermitently sprayed that little black cat with a water bottle each time he braved jumping up onto the table.

Donna dropped me off at the Greyhound station that soon enough delivered me to Toronto where another incredible journey and more amazing and funny people were waiting to meet me.

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