Starry Night, August 2021

Morning, Spanish Bottom

Starry Night

This is the last stop on the Colorado River, after eight days canoe camping on the Green River in the canyonland wilderness of Utah. The worst day was gotten over on the first day with miserable cold and rain and too many miles. The last day, was a lazy one on a long sandy beach. We arrived in the early afternoon before the coolness of the day was blown away by hot afternoon winds.

Why is this beach so white when everything visible for hundreds of square miles is red rock?

We staked our claim to this beach by spreading out and luxuriating in the soft, wide, open space after a week on hardpack and gravel and almost impossible climbs to find enough dry, flat ground for a tent. We had seen four other people, not counting a Canyonlands National Park Ranger who stopped his jetboat to say hello. On our beach it is just the four of us.

The last day, we are taking our time.

The tent can go almost anywhere we choose.

Our gear is all over the place, drying after washing off the loose sand and mud.

The canoes are rinsed out and draining, two bright red, hard edged curves laying on their sides, the bottoms turned against the light wind. Later, as the wind picks up, we move them into the shelter of a ledge and weigh them down because the wind is strong enough to flip them back into the river. Canoes are like fish, they struggle on land and take the wind as an opportunity to fly back into the river. I’ve seen that more than once; 80 pound canoes flying.

It’s too hot to hike and there’s very little shade so we sit in the water to cool off; wet rags on our heads and shoulders, laughing at the shock of cold water on our skin, every time. Quiet talk, joking, telling stories, knowing this is the last day. Carefully untying the threads that have bound the four of us together for the trip. Placing memories in each other’s minds to take home.

The river was solid with silt. We could not see beyond its surface.

Every night there had been distant thunder storms and occasionally the sky behind an abutment would light up, but no rain fell after that first day and night. The desert monsoon storms are small but violent – loud with thunder and rain drops the size of pennies. But the storms are so localized that we would be dry. Because each side canyon is cut into rock of a different color, the flash floods that poured into the main channel of the Green River shifted it’s color daily, even hourly, from brown to gray, to gray green, to pinkish beige.

On the last day the water was greenish, wide and quiet. From downstream, where we will not go, we could hear the first of the Cataract Canyon rapids roaring like a distant freeway or a huge waterfall.

I always feel that sound as a pull at my chest that is slightly fear and slightly the desire to throw myself into it bodily. This desire to be in the river is not to drown but to lose myself in the rough tumble of water and rock, to let go and be part of the river, to flow in a way that is bigger than my body. I’ve had unpleasant swims in rivers and I know that throwing myself into a rapid would be painful. I would helplessly bang into rocks and get sucked under water and inhale water and cough and cough and cough. No, I don’t want to do that, again.  This desire to be in the river is bigger than my body and beautiful.

There was still some faint light from the sunset when we climbed into the tent and our sleeping bags. I fell asleep almost immediately. In the few moments before I dropped off I heard, I could almost feel, a subsonic thump of a wave slamming against itself in the rapid downstream, a refrigerator door’s muffled slamming.

I woke after a few hours. I had to pee. It was strangely light out but the full moon hadn’t cleared the canyon walls. I put on my glasses and unzipped the door and stumbled around putting on my sandals. Then I looked up.

I am struck by light. The Milky Way is solid with starlight, so much so that I don’t need my flashlight to walk across the beach which glows. The canyon walls and the river are black. I feel myself standing in a small canyon on the rough surface of the Earth with a star-cut bowl curving overhead. A billion stars spreading across blackness like a toss of glitter. I feel scared and safe at the same time, the edge of our Galaxy is so big and I am infinitely small and unimportant. I can be squished like a bug and it won’t make an iota of difference. I am terrifyingly inconsequential. At the same time I am so small that I won’t be noticed. Whatever happens to me is pure accident. The Universe is so full of busyness bigness, it has no time to think about me, to target me.

Statistically I am safe.

That’s the lie I feel in that moment under the starry sky.

To the East the whole expanse of sandstone cliffs was suddenly backlit by lightening. All night there is a light show of flashes beyond our canyon walls and in the morning the flash floods from upstream turned the river bright red.

Eel River, Alderpoint to McCann Memorial Day Weekend 2011

I made two posts in quick sucession so feel free to go back one post after you read this one to see what happened on the Green River – not. kh
Text by Eric Rasmussen

Eric Resting Before Dinner

Eric Resting Before Dinner

                After we van passengers stop at the Cloverdale Chevron to put fluids in the van and let them out of ourselves, several of us gather by the station coffee pumps.  I fill a cup, empty four “Mini Moos” into it and grab a black lid to assure the brew doesn’t splash out on the bumpy road ahead.  After getting up at 3:45, I look forward to enjoying every drop.  The lid doesn’t quite fit, so I take one from an adjacent unlabeled row.  This, too, resists my efforts, but I’m desperate and apply greater, if less precise, pressure.  Suddenly, a result!  The lid dips down, the lip of the cup caves in, and 2 full ounces of the creamed French Roast blast out in a perfect shotgun pattern.  With an on-center spacing of 2” some three dozen blobs of the dark stuff fly directly onto Karen’s light blue jacket.  Showing surprisingly bright spirits, considering the early start and the ugly mess, she cheerfully says, “It’s waterproof.” And wipes the blotches off.  Then Dave shows me the white lids, the ones for 16 ounce cups, like mine.A few miles up the road and an even more cheerful Karen sings, “….. And tied the knot with his gun, down in the Arkansas.”  to the delight of all of us adults (Don, Ilse, Jan, Dave & Misty Lascurettes) and Dave and Misty’s daughters Quinn and Logan.

Now Karen follows another song with an explanation: “You know that really happened – Mrs. Leary’s cow did kick a lantern over and it started a fire.  And all of Chicago burned!”

A little later, after the girls do “Ring Around the Rosie,” Karen gives the old rhyme new meaning.  “Rosie refers to the rashes on the Plague’s victims.  Posies were what people carried to ward off the disease, and ashes were the remains of the burned corpses.”  As an ex-professional and still entertaining naturalist, Karen shortens the longest van ride.

When rain begins to fall, I remember that Kit a couple of days ago was considering canceling the trip due to high water.  I turn-on my phone and Google Dreamflows – “2000 cfs” and falling at 7cfs per hour.  That’s well under the 5000 that Kit feared.  Ilse watches me and asks, “What kind of a device is that?”  “It’s a PALM.” I explain.

Jan hears this and pipes up, “I finally made the change (from PALM)….and found a utility that transferred my entire calendar to my Droid in less that five minutes.”  It took her hours, before she found this utility, to move her contacts..  A few van trips back Jan and I enjoyed swapping PALM stories.  We experienced that special delight shared by people who love the same anachronism.

Is it any surprise that people who go down river in craft first used by hunter-gatherers are fond of the old ways?

We’re now maybe along the upper reaches of the Russian River, when eight year old Quinn declares, “Hey, you guys.  I have a joke.”

“Q: What did the rock say to the man?

A: Don’t take me for granite.”

Then she says to Karen, “Knock, knock.” And Karen asks “Who’s there?”

“Banana.”  “Banana who?”

“Knock, knock.”  “Who’s there?”

“Banana.”  “Banana who?”

“Knock, knock.”  “Who’s there?”

“Banana.”  “Banana who?”

“Knock, knock.”  “Who’s there?”

“Orange.”  “Orange who?”

“Orange you glad I didn’t say ‘Banana?’”

We all were.

After an exquisite & intricate pink elephant joke, Karen confessed, “I have 101 elephant jokes in a book.”

“She can only remember 90 of them, ” confesses husband Don.

As rain begins to fall heavily, Ilse is inspired to explain part of the reason she hasn’t been on POST trips for awhile.  “I really don’t want to be cold and wet anymore.”  Then she looks out the cold, wet window, and implores the great, uncaring elements “It’s the end of MAY!!!!”  And the van splashes on.

Big Rock Campground, Saturday,  8pm

According to the forecast for Garberville, showers were expected today.  Intermittent downpours are what we paddled through.  Another is beginning.  How loud soft droplets are on taut canvas.

This well-designed and generously outfitted Mountain Hardware tent has been a treat in spaciousness, ease of set-up and thoughtful pockets and tie-downs.  But today a weakness was revealed.  Just as I began my long awaited afternoon nap, gusty winds kicked up.  Immediately the upwind wall and bottom of the tent were curling and buffeting around me.  I felt like a detached cocoon.  Fortunately, I’m heavier than the average caterpillar, and when I woke up, my co-ordinates were unchanged.  But those shiny, metal u pins that I’d poked at an angle into the sand at every corner – all were unpoked.

On the way to dinner I noticed that campers who spent the afternoon upright had secured their puny stakes by placing boulders atop each one.  Except Kit and Charlie, who run this trip every year.  They brought along those red mesh onion bags and filled them with smaller, managable rocks.

It is quiet now.  No rain or wind.  Only river sounds.  And laughter.  From the nearby family tent come the peels of irrepressible Quinn and Logan.  Misty’s voice comes, too.  I think I just heard her say, “If you could just be a little quieter.”  This, the girls find hilarious.

Homeward bound

The van’s passing Pour Girls Coffee in Laytonville.  I could do with a cup of Java, but I don’t ask.  Don’s driving..  And I’m writing.  Plus, while he’s kept the van between the lines. I’ve napped.  Thanks, Don.

Well, as usual, this trip report has gone on, and on, with no mention of canoing.  In fact, we paddled some twenty miles this weekend, and fought our way through fierce winds Saturday afternoon.  That we fought no more is due to our intrepid leaders.  Each morning, though Kit and Charlie knew that nobody wanted to do it, they rousted us out of our cozy tents for coffee, breakfast and packing as fast as was humanly possible to get on the river and gone.  Thanks to this bold and commanding leadership, we each day reached our take-outs before the wind awoke.  Thanks, guys.

Now that paddling has been mentioned, let’s move on to what these trips are really about.  Dinner on Saturday was great.  Dave and Misty prepared, in advance (a very smart thing to do when planning to feed two dozen tired paddlers exhausted from dodging downpours), bags of delicious stew and big, fat yummy cookies.  They also served a fine, fresh salad, and Dave raised the bar for camp vegetables.  In a really big pot he lightly steamed a huge number of skinny string beans, then in small batches seasoned them with salt and melted butter.  “That’s the way the girls like them.” Misty explained.  Worked for the rest of us, too.

By the way, in mid-May, Dave, who was a scout thirty years ago in Bill Hitching’s troop, repainted the POST trailer – every side, rack and bar is now smooth and rust-free.  This wasn’t his first encounter with the venerable boat-hauler.  “That green color (about three layers down) was mine.” He tells us in the van.

Dinner on Sunday was another well-planned treat, this time by Alan & Kate whose stewed chicken fell off the bone, saving our tired selves the trouble of chewing.  And they had soup – corn chowder.  Fresh salad, too.  Wit provided the appetizers: cheeses and dips best on his own twice-baked sourdough Zviebakke.  He resumed cooking next morning with another creation – chorizo scramble.  Plus a vegetarian option.

Amazing what meals come out of these primitive craft.

Ilse also gave us choices, too: of bagels, her original cereal and fruits for Sunday breakfast, and Jan with Pat & Eileen offered diverse sandwiches, chips, cookies and drinks at noon each day.  And, making each day possible, let’s give Charlie a hand for continuous morning coffee.

And one more food credit – to Alan & Costco for our last supper dessert.  Two huge pies.  One peach, the other apple.

And for anybody still reading, here’s a sub-story about the wiles necessary for great trips.  As this was Memorial Day Weekend, even though rain was forecast and did not fail to fall, several different groups of boaters slogged their way to the put-in at Alderpoint, creating competition for the prized campsites.  Our group had some advantages.  As already mentioned, we don’t sleep-in.  We also have advance teams.  When the shuttle began, those of us who didn’t come in our own cars, took off downriver, hoping to get to wind-blocking Mountain Rock campground first.  As described earlier, this stretch of the river was wet and windy, but we paddled hard.  Pretty soon, we came in view of the beach.  I saw chairs on it.  Oops.  Some people were waving at us from across the river.  I thought they were fast, victorious strangers.  I was wrong.  It was Bob and Joan, who with Barb and Jim had gotten on the river much earlier, and secured the site.   Thank you, team.

Next day, Sunday, Kit wanted to get us to our next camp, lovely Basin Creek, by lunch, and she did, but as we paddled into sight of the little stream, it was obvious we weren’t first.  Other peoples’ thirteen boats lined the beach.  Fortunately, these people were not early risers; now, a little past noon, they were just preparing to leave the camp.  One cluster, standing near their boats, were completing their preparations by passing a joint around.

Kit took things right in stroke.  She paddled straight for the opposite shore, and, like young Mergansers, the rest of us followed and enjoyed our lunch there.  Kit was not certain about the creek side.

“Charlie and I are going to ferry over and check to be sure there are enough sites for all our tents.”

Since the other group had three more boats, I suggested we could surely fit there..

“Yeah, but they all probably slept in the same tent.” She retorted.

I shut-up, relieved I wasn’t the only one who suffers from smugness.  As the thirteen craft left the opposite shore, I smugly noticed that all their canoeists had the same wrong idea about correct paddling.  Each pair of paddles stayed on the same side of each boat, until a change of direction was wanted; then both switched sides.

Another similar pleasure was given when one of their youthful number hollered over to us, “You should check THIS side out – there’s a great waterfall back up the creek!”  Kit probably first saw that fall three years before he was born, and as the last Old Town wove out of sight, she and Charlie ferried across.  Soon they waved the rest of us over.

Minutes later our respective and respectable tents dotted the beach, the creekside, the slope, the ledges and Jeff took the small spot just beside the waterfall.  It was a beautiful scene, and when Karen looked out from our calm refuge, she saw blowing sand blurring our lunch beach, the beach we’ve camped on every previous year.  Thank you again, Kit.

You can see our Outlook Creek paradise and other trip pictures at the link.  And if you’d like to come next year, sign up earlier.

EEL, SOUTH FORK February 18-20, 2011

Near Garberville, CA

Sunshine & Rain…bows

Links to photos:

by Eric Rasmussen
Usually, this President’s Day trip is soggy. “Cold and wet” is the enticing description on the POST schedule – can’t fault this club for false advertising. With such offerings is it surprising that our membership isn’t mushrooming? Yet three new members came on this outing. In his “is there room?” e-mail David S. wrote “I have no aversion to being cold and wet.” It makes me proud that people apply for our trips as though interviewing for the Marines, or Lewis & Clarke’s Corps of Discovery. And for this trip, coming as it did after the wettest and coldest week of the season, signing up was a true act of courage, or something less commendable that we winter paddlers have in abundance.

If you’re reading this and thinking what fools we are, you’re not alone. On our way up, shortly after Vince and I merged back on 101 in Santa Rosa with David just into the back seat, David watched another driver pass us. The driver looked at the two canoes on the rack, at the stormy sky above, at us, and then crossed himself.

As it turned out, the weathermen (NOAA) who convinced Don and I to not cancel this trip were right. It was sunny on Saturday – part of the way up and on the Eel. But not back home in the Bay Area! Yep, all you wusses who didn’t dare to join us: we paddled in sunshine. Even while the rain was falling on us we saw sunshine. And rainbows – the end of one was right at Tooby Park, our Saturday take out. Guess we know who Gods chosen people really are.

When Vince, David and I reached the Richardson Grove State Park campground, just south of Garberville and the Benbow Inn, cars and trucks under canoes were on both sides of the drive. Don and Karen, Bob and Joan, Pat and Eileen, Jim and Barbara were already there. It was about 10:45 – 11 was the designated arrival time. Ours, the kitchen site, number 48, already had the stove and several boxes on the table and a tarp stretched tautly over it. We pulled in, unloaded, and started setting up our tents. It was clear and dry now, but “cold and wet” were expected. Several people asked if anybody else was due. Yes, Alan and Kate. No, they hadn’t called to cancel. And soon they arrived.

In short order all vehicles and boats were at the campground beach and we prepared to send all drivers on the shuttle to Tooby Park. We all scanned the river. It was bigger and faster than we’d ever seen it. How amazing that only a week or two before, people worried we couldn’t paddle because there was too little water – only about 200cfs (cubic feet per second). Now we were looking at 15 times that much. Don decided that on this trip we wouldn’t do our usual Leggett run which has the class II rapids and at this heavy flow would be dangerous, especially for our new members. So we’d keep to Class I. But even this concerned me, for my partner David not only hadn’t paddled for decades; he outweighs me by eighty pounds. I had some troubling thoughts about what might happen if David, already making the bow a pivot point with his size, used his strength inaccurately. I’d decided that we needed to get to know each other as paddlers – before we met up with a fallen tree or brushy turn.

So using the shuttle time as a warm-up period we got into the boat and paddled upstream in the near eddy. No doubt about David’s strength. Our big Dagger Legend moved smoothly, even if the bow was much closer to the water than the stern. We also successfully back-paddled, a useful skill when trying to avoid obstacles). And then, remembering my original POST classes on Lafayette reservoir, I asked David to do sweeps and draws to help us do circles with the big boat. Now confident that we could do basic maneuvers, I steered our canoe out into the current and found that we could ferry well, easily holding our position on the river while going back and forth across it. Great! We were warmed up, and happily headed downstream after leader Bob.

It was now after noon, but true to tradition, no lunches had been eaten. I was ready for mine, though, and watched with some dismay as Bob continued to lead us through turn after turn. I’d hoped two bends in the river would be enough but no doubt he was waiting for a beach with an actual eddy to safely pull into. Only a few stomach grumbles later he found it. Ahh.

There were two expected excitements before the Tooby take-out. The first was “low bridge”, a cement roadway that at low flows clears the river by a couple of feet. Last year Carol surveyed it and led us under the far right side. Nobody expected such clearance this year, and, sure enough, a lone paddle would have snagged on the roof of the bridge. So Bob led us to land on a gravel bar in the middle of the river, and from there we teamed up to lift and carry all boats across the bridge.

When we got in sight of the historic Benbow Inn, Don & Karen announced that they were going to take out. Don was experiencing the vertigo that sometimes afflicts him. We all helped move their boats to a safe place above the beach, and encouraged them to enjoy some drinks in the bar. We also promised to swing by and pick them up on our way back to camp.

Then came the dam at Benbow. This is a real dam – a substantial cement wedge that spans the river to create a reservoir for the lodge. In its center is a closable opening about 15 feet across. In the summer this is filled with timbers, but in this season the opening is clear. On most trips we simply paddle through it, but on Saturday Bob waved us to take out on the far left. We all eagerly climbed up on the dam and walked to the edge of the gap – and gasped. The entire 3000 cfs was crashing through that narrow gap. It wasn’t quiet, and it wasn’t smooth. Just below the opening was a monstrous wave.

“I’d run it if it was 20 degrees warmer,” declared one smart paddler. Yes, it looked like fun. Chances of tipping were about 100%, but there wasn’t a boulder garden to bang through below. What there was though, was very cold water, and very little daylight left. Instant and persisting “wet & cold” would be the reward for that passage. Nobody took it.

Instead we all worked together to lower ourselves and our boats down the short but steep left front of the dam, then lined the boats through the big, powerful eddy to rejoin the river 50 or so yards downstream. The operation was time-consuming, but successfully safe. Once again POST practices insured that our risks were calculated and carefully taken.

Some rain fell Saturday afternoon, but often sun could be seen even during the rain. There was one section where we were paddling toward the sun as steady rain fell. Every drop was backlit and glistened. It was like paddling into a downpour of pearls. But softer.

Near Tooby the precipitation gave us two more treats. The peaks visible in the distance were covered with snow. And just ahead, a rainbow arched overhead. As we passed under the bridge just before the takeout, the rainbow touched down – just beyond the park. Taking out was our pot of gold.

Since most of us had put up our tents before paddling, once back at camp there was an immediate interest in food. Fortunately Bob & Joan had each made and brought a lovely multi-layered dip. These became the center of the conviviality that is only possible when you and your few companions are alone in the midst of a great forest, and have just exchanged cold and wet river clothes for warm, dry and loose-fitting garb.

After a shortish while, the happy, relaxing campers realized that if they wanted a main course, they’d have to work for it. The organizer(whose name and mine are the same) of this trip, unlike Bob and Joan, is not especially well-organized, and is relieved if he can simply get to the campground with all the ingredients for the meals. Turning those raw materials into cuisine is up to the diners themselves. And, tho by the time it was ready, they themselves were nearly undone, the volunteers succeeded. And declared their work delicious. The sautéed chicken in sauce on brown rice and big green salad hit our spots.

Next day the organizer decided that the best route to take, since the dangerous, fun Leggett run was out, was the scenic choice – the world famous Avenue of the Giants. This promised adventure, too – right from the start, since nobody knew exactly where to put-in. Or take out. Though he needed to return, and therefore not paddle, on Sunday, Don offered to do the shuttle. And help determine the necessary ins and outs. He got us started at the upper end of Phillipsville, from a private beach that the owner leaves open for public access. Then he went with the drivers who parked their cars at a day use park just beyond Myers Flat. When all returned in Don’s car, the day’s paddling began.

Not too far along we came upon a freshly sheared left bank. Overhanging the vertical brown wall were the roots of still standing redwoods. And laying in the river were dozens of fallen, but still green trees. A number of other redwoods had been carried off by the high water and we saw them snagged near the shore in several places downriver.

One of these large trees somehow got anchored well out in the river and David and I paid it a visit. I write this not to tell you how fascinating it is to touch the entire length of a redwood without climbing, but to warn you not to be as stupid as me. This tree was, of course, a strainer, one of the most dangerous threats to paddlers. Unlike a boulder that often forces the water to act like a cushion paddlers and prevent impact, this pinned tree did not stop the water from passing through its branches. Fortunately, it was positioned mostly parallel to the current, not across it, so our active paddling allowed us to stay along its edge, and we weren’t forced to save ourselves by climbing onto the tree and getting rescued. We got past without even taking in any water, but the incident frightened me, and demonstrated that strainers aren’t only in brushy banks. Next mid-river tree I see, I’ll not wait to touch it, before paddling hard on a course that clears it.

Apart from this near misadventure, the paddle was lovely, with the forest thick on either side. The weather was less attractive. Mostly gray. A last bright spot was at the take-out. A ranger arrived shortly after we did. Had we broken some rule? No, the officer only asked if we enjoyed our day and if we’d seen any snags or other risks to boaters. Mostly, he seemed glad to see that somebody was actually out here in this great park, enjoying themselves. Yep, that’s what we do.
Links to photos: