Let’s Take This Act On The Road — Navarro River, April 9-10, 2011

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Our trip leaders were Bill and Mary Behrendt. Bill always wants to schedule this trip on Easter weekend but in years when it comes late he plays the “will there be enough water” game. This year Easter was too far from the rainy season so he booked the trip this year on April 9 & 10.

Two years ago we walked from Hendy Woods SP to the take out at Dimmick Park; dragging our canoes 18 miles in six inches of water. Except when the tiny thread of current dragged us into the willows and sweepers.. Rumor has it that we had 75 CFS.

This year things were better. The grey skies had been dumping rain with depressing regularity over Northern California. The reservoirs of our lovely state were overflowing even before the snowmelt, which has been delayed because of the continued cold. The Navarro River flow gauges had been seesawing between 500 and the thousands for weeks at a time but had taken a sudden plunge heading for 0 during the recent dry spell. I understood from the last time we took this trip that it was pretty much a rain or not kind of trip but I was hoping we wouldn’t have to walk the route again. According to the sages on the trip, we had a luxurious 200 cfs. I think it was higher but I failed to check the river gage and it’s below the confluence with the North Fork.

Bill and Mary arrived Friday night and rented one of the little cabins they have at the park. It was only $50/night as compared with the $35/night for the campsite so they were content and dry for the night while a little storm passed through.

In the morning the rest of the group showed up on time and we shuttled the vehicles to Dimmick. At Hendy it would have cost two cars $35 plus more for the second car to park over night. At Dimmick they would pay $33 for the campsite and an extra car.

glowing spring buds

Part of the scheduling trick for the Navarro is to catch the water but also to catch Spring. Bill lucked out. On the drive up the hills and meadows were full of lush grass and flowers and as we headed downstream in the boats the cottonwoods were just budding out and sometimes we were at the bottom of a great wall of brilliant fluorescent green light. Then we would drift into an area darkened by giant redwoods. A kingfisher flashed across the river ahead of us and we could hear jays screeching in the background, sounding like howler monkeys. Occasionally, an osprey, a red tail hawk or a pack of turkey vultures floated silently overhead tipping their heads left and right searching for food. Startled mergansers pumped furiously upstream followed by mallards. We didn’t see any fish although there were tadpoles and minnows and guppies in the shallows.

This lack of wildlife is not unusual for a coastal redwood forest, there is something about the redwoods that discourages the busyness of survival and encourages a meditative silence. I don’t suppose the critters know this but they do tend to avoid the redwoods.

The weather was interesting, when you were in the shade it was cool and in the sun you were warm and when there was an occasional gust of wind, it was chilly; kind of a Baked Alaska day. Few clouds.

Speaking of redwoods, there were several giants undercut by the high water this year. One old giant was carried by the current far from its hole in the bank. Again we were lucky, there were no complete blockages. When the river was high, the downed trees were swept clear of the banks by the current and we could float past them without fear, although it is awesome to float past a reclining log 20 feet high. In one place a redwood tree had fallen and diverted the river so that it further carved out the bank and undercut several smaller trees that fell in a tangle into the hole. While the river was high it had cut a hole in the bank big enough to fit my house (2 stories with big living, dining and kitchen rooms). Needless to say the water was cloudy.

river bank cut away by downed tree

The only redwood that posed a serious problem was laying in the current so that the river piled up on it and also went under it. But it lay parallel to the current and if you were careful you could avoid trouble.

Picture Charlie and I pulling the canoe through a gravel bed because we took a narrow chute to the left instead of going right like our leader suggested. Bill chose the right because that was where all the water was going but the path was narrowed by the large fallen redwood tree. The rest of the boats were clustered at the top, waiting patiently for their turn to thread the needle past the tree. Charlie and I went exploring a side chute instead of waiting. When the water thinned out, we climbed out of the boat and started pulling on the bow painter with all our weight. A little voice in my head said that it wasn’t a good idea for both of us to be pulling on the same rope but I couldn’t remember why, so I didn’t change my position. At one end of the rope, there was the heavy boat, unwilling to budge. Charlie lurched to the right and I lurched to the left, cocking the rope like a slingshot. I was the pebble. My feet cleared the ground when Charlie threw all his weight and muscle against the rope. I landed on my back in about three inches of freezing cold water-sodden gravel. My fall was cushioned by the gravel and my pfd, and thank goodness I didn’t land on anything big, but I was stunned, wondering what the Heck happened! It took a while for the instant replay to reveal how I ended up in the water. Charlie helped me up, wondering why I was lying there in the first place. I was cold, wet and achy for the rest of the day. When we got to camp I broke all the POST protocols about helping get the kitchen set up before taking care of my personal gear. I took an Aleve, set up my tent, changed into dry clothes, inflated my mattress, and snuggled into my sleeping bag and almost, but not quite, fell asleep.

While I was snug as a bug in a rug, wood was gathered for a fire, and dinner was prepared. The appetizers were almost gone. Then we ate Bill’s Sloppy Joe’s with bagels with carrots and snap peas on the side. There were about 10 different cookies and brownies for dessert.

We sat around the fire until three stars were peeking out of the gradually clotting fog. It was getting too cold for the fire to help unless we really piled on the wood and since it didn’t look like we were going to stay up much later we let it die back.

Taking a nap in the evening leaves me awake at some ungodly hour of the morning. I think I woke up for good at 3:30 AM and drifted in and out of sleep until 6, when I heard stirrings in the kitchen. I heard Charlie, who sleeps in his clothes, staggered down the beach in search of the groover. I put on my wind proof layer and crunched over to the kitchen. Bill had started a cheery fire which was just flaring up a neat pyramid of small branches. As I came within hearing distance he said, “No match.” I bumped his shoulder in congratulations.

“Cool. What did you use?” I asked.

“ Flint. I was going to use matches but I couldn’t find them in all the kitchen stuff so I thought I would give it a try.” There is such a fine feeling from a small moment of success.

I was on breakfast duty but I thought I would wait until it was light out to start cooking.

One year when I was organizing the Memorial Day trip I accidentally organized a pot luck that included two Sunday night desserts and I brought pound cake and frozen berries for a strawberry shortcake. The other dessert was more perishable than mine so we ate that after dinner and I prepared the strawberry shortcake for breakfast on Monday. It was such a big hit with the campers that I decided to repeat the performance on the Navarro.

One really nice thing about this breakfast is that it doesn’t require any cooking. You can boil all the water you need for coffee and instant oatmeal. As a concession to the cold morning I put all the frozen berries and cherries in a pot and heated the fruit before serving. Breakfast was ready in minutes. I included bagels, cream cheese and instant oatmeal, OJ, milk and 3/4 pound of coffee, Hot chocolate and a tea bag or two.

Jim and Barbara brought lunch.

Before we started packing up, Vince demonstrated a neat tool. It was a long Mylar bag, maybe 10 feet long. It was open at one end and had a valve at the other. He grabbed the bag by the open end and flapped the bag until it filled with air. He quickly grabbed the open end and twisted the bag closed, trapping air in the bag. He then told us that you could put the valve on your mattress and blow it up by compressing the bag! Wadded up, it fit in one hand. Here is a link to a website showing it. http://www.themillair.com/

We loaded the boats and were on the river by 9:55, 5 minutes early.

The canyon widened out on the second day of paddling and the river slowed and flattened out (not that there were ever ANY rapids to speak of) and the willows started to dominate the channel. There were places that made me feel like we were tooling though a swamp. The challenge was to wind carefully through the brush and keep from knocking surprised spiders into the boats.

The take out was hard and steep and rushed. Gear was distributed, then hugs goodbye, then people loaded into the vehicles and engines flared. It was over except for the drive home.

Another perfect trip. Thanks Bill and Mary and everyone who came on the trip. I couldn’t have enjoyed it without you.

Bill and Mary, still married after all these years.