My main motivation for agreeing to go on this trip was I thought it important to have some shared adventures with the boys. The lure of alone time has caused me to exempt myself from other trips. This time it felt important that I go with them. Additionally, given Scott's general disregard for his own self-preservation, it seemed necessary to have more than one adult.
Gary took Scott to school Friday morning, leaving around 8. This gave me an unexpected quiet-time bonus because Connor was in outdoor school--I didn't have to wait on his bus in order to have writing time. I did some writing, and decided to pack trip stuff for the boys and get some laundry done. Basically it took the rest of the day and evening; I was up early the next morning, moving constantly, to consolidate clothing, equipment, camping gear, food, ice chests. As I watched the pile grow my doubts also grew concerning how this could all be packed into an 8x13' raft and still leave room for 2 adults, 2 kids, and a 75# black lab.
At 2:00 I got a call from Connor's school: the sixth grade had returned from camp and he was waiting to be picked up. I considered letting him ride the school bus home, but ruled it out when I realized he'd have trouble getting all of his luggage on the bus and would probably lose something. Probably something needed for the raft trip.
"Raft trip! No, I don't want to go! I just got back. Our band needs to practice! For the talent show! We were going to practice every day this weekend! I don't want to go!!!" Entirely predictable it was...and so it began.
Gary had revised our original departure time on Saturday at around noon or 1 to 9:30. We actually made that goal; everything in the van and trailer. A problem had become apparent the night before, too late to get it fixed: left taillight out on the van; right blinker light out on the trailer. "Gary. That's really not optional. There will be a lot of traffic on the interstate and people need to be able to see you signal." "We'll just not make right turns."
The drive was beautiful, the only hitch being the gas fill-up at a truck stop that was mobbed and plugged by hungry hungry RV's and SUV's. People boxed in. It took a half hour to get gas. Once on the road again we traveled unhindered...until...we'd turned down a country road that seemed a straighter shot to our put-in (Twickenham. Twickenham!). Gary driving, since I don't do trailers. I'd suggested that we stop and Gary look at the map at the town of Fossil, since that's where several roads converged; each of which might be a possible route. Gary had rafted this stretch of the river before, and so knew that there were some ambiguities in the direction here. I was navigating from an atlas that shows the back roads in great detail (but not whether or not they were private!). Gary did not stop, and turned down the Shaniko-Fossil Hwy that had seemed to my eye to be the most direct route. So we were maybe a mile down this road when Gary started remarking at all the "cow poop" in the road. "Look at that! Where's all this coming from?" Presently the answer was revealed: blocking the road ahead of us was a cattle drive with at least 50 cows and calves trying to run every which way and horses and riders trying to keep them together and moving in the general direction we were going. So there we were, proceeding at cattle-drive pace, the buckaroos simultaneously trying to move them forward, bring strays into line, keep a path clear for cars. One shouted into the window of the car ahead of us, "If you hug the bumper of the car ahead of you, it'll make things easier," so Gary closed the distance between us too.
Surprisingly, the kids didn't see this as an impediment at all. They were completely thrilled. This was a high point, and they may still consider it a high point of the entire 3 days. We let them unclip from the seat belts and Scott put his head through the sun roof. He was delighted to see a calf nursing its mother, even as the mother walked slowly forward. Both boys kept squealing about how cute they were. Suddenly a rectum loomed at Gary's open window. His impulse was to smack the buttocks but I warned him that it might projectiley poop. After about 20 minutes we made our way to the head of the pack and were free to move at more speed. I saw that we reached a junction with Cottonwood Road that could take us to Twickenham. It was a dirt road, and I didn't see it before it was too late to slow down and take it. No matter. It appeared we could go just a short stretch forward to Pine Creek Road that would junction with Dry Hollow Road that would take us where we wanted to go.
The atlas doesn't distinguish between dirt and paved roads, and I'd thought maybe the road we'd join would be paved. So I was watching for a junction that never came, and presently we arrived...in Clarno--our take-out 33miles downriver from our put-in! So we turned around, found the Pine Creek (dirt) Road that was supposed to take us to put-in, and followed it to...a "private road" sign. It was unmistakably the road we wanted, but the sign was unequivocal: "NO Trespassing". So we continued further, back toward Fossil and yet another spur road that would go to Twickenham. We had just passed it ("Private Road, No Trespassing"), were baffled, and saw, up ahead...the same cattle drive! We'd gone counter-clockwise in a large circle and now were meeting them again on the Shaniko-Fossil Hwy. We asked the cowboys about the roads and were told: "Nope. Can't get there from here. You've got to take the hwy back into Fossil, then take the Hwy 19 to the first right at the top of the grade, just short of the rest area, and that's your road to Twickenham." Then they asked Gary if he would mind going into the pond after a stray calf. The riders were wearing chaps and didn't want to wade into it. So Gary, bless his heart, went in after it, snapping the strap on his worn out sandal, nearly falling in. Of course, the kids were delighted. Our camera was inaccessible so the rancher snapped a couple pictures. Gave me the name of their ranch and said I could find them on the web and email them; they'd send a picture. And they still wouldn't let us take one of the private roads.
Back to Fossil we drove where Gary wanted to call Donna. She was coordinating shuttling our car from put-in to take-out so it would be waiting for us when we were finished. We were so late he was afraid she'd think we weren't coming after all. My cell phone didn't work, so we pulled in to a pay phone outside of a ma & pa general store. A bargain at .10, but no bargain at all since it didn't work either. I tried the door of the grocery as the boys danced the full-bladder waltz ("please, Mom, I have to go to the bathroom!" "Can I just do it here?"). Locked. Gary saw a bank down the street where he thought I could go in and use their phone: "They probably even know her." It was closed, so I went across the street to a restaurant that looked open. I asked if any of them knew Donna and they turned and pointed at her in a booth. She was very pleasant; we were lucky to run in to her since she was on the road most of the time. (And the boys finally got to use a bathroom.)
It was 5:00 when we pulled into the put-in parking area. Incredible. It's really only about a 3 hour journey from Portland and we'd even left when we expected to. We'd thought to be on the river by 3 at the latest. We'd endured Scott's, "are we there yet are we there yet are we there yet?" since about hour 2, and we'd kept answering, "almost almost almost" because we thought we were "almost" there. So his patience resources were already stretched, and we still had to unload the car and load the boat.
Gary went to look at the steep rocky road down to the river while I filled in the registration form. When he came back I looked hard at him: "This says it's mandatory to have a human waste disposal system". "Well, I found a bucket, but I couldn't find a lid." "A bucket? Gary...this is starting to not seem very well-thought-out". I walked down to the boys and dog, to keep any of them from getting run over when he brought the van & trailer down.
Well, he was right; he did get the camping gear all into the boat. We had to jettison the camping table, but that was about all. The boys, dog, and I were squeezed into the small bow area. I'd expected the dog would eagerly embrace this adventure, but he had to be bodily forced into the raft where he laid, trembling, taking up all the room on the bench, and panting miserably. It was 7:00 pm as we pushed off, but I was heartened by the fact that the sun was still reasonably high in the sky. And the river was running high and swift, so we covered river miles quickly. The kids' patience was rewarded by the first of the class II rapids where one of the standing waves splashed them thoroughly. It was nearing dark as we drifted past campsite after campsite--all taken. Finally we found a little forlorn place, not one of the choicer spots because the bank was steep for toting our camping stuff, but we were glad to find it. It was totally dark by the time the tent was up (it was about 8:45 when we got off the river), and we made a cold meal on snack food.
I awakened frequently in the night and realized next morning it was because my personal air mattress had deflated. There was some peculiarity about the valve and it kept releasing air. It still wasn't too bad a sleep. (I contemplated giving that mattress to Connor next night. He probably wouldn't notice the difference.) We needed to get some mileage to make up for the late start the day before, yet it seemed to take forever to cook and eat breakfast and clean it up. The boys lost interest in the site shortly after breakfast and we had a lot of toothpaste to get back into the tube. The boys went down to the river, with Scott protesting when I insisted he wear a life vest. Gary charged Connor with watching Scott, and I objected. As Scott cannot be trusted with his own safety, neither is Connor mature enough to assume responsibility for the safety of a younger, hyperactive child. So my attention was divided between packing and monitoring the boys. We had to have been the last party putting in that day, which seemed ominous in terms of choosing campsites that night.
The float down to the second of the class II rapids was slower than the day before. The river widened, and the water seemed flatter. Gary had more rowing to do. The rapids is called Burnt Ranch after a homestead there that burned. There was a beach just upstream , and we got out to look at it. Because the water was running high it was necessary; the current there flows directly into a steep rock cliff. Scott was already in a foul mood, prohibited from throwing rocks in the water because of the people fishing.
Honest to God, I swore I wasn't taking another of these trips until such time that they are old enough that I can be saying more than, "Stop that", "no", "keep your voice down," "QUIT", "put your life vest on, NOW", "get out of the water", "no"... Similarly I don't want to take another of these trips until they are old enough that I can relax my radar a little.
It's interesting about Gary. Despite nearly 20 years together this is only the second time I've rafted with him. He has a high degree of confidence in his skill that I don't entirely trust. I've had a great deal of experience in mountaineering and back-country skiing with him, and I totally trust his ability to navigate. He has a real gift for being able to look at a topo map and easily locate where we are and where we need to go. His translation skills from features around us to lines on the map and vice versa are impressive. He has an amazing memory for landmarks that he's only seen in the abstract and does not get disoriented. In the rafting context the circumstances of getting such a ridiculously late start, the toilet requirement and lights on the trailer/van being finessed, missing some signs that clearly said he needed to be in another lane and then having to suddenly switch did not lend to a feeling of solid faith on my part. The raft had leaks in the thwarts under the benches which were deflating; there were at least two leaks in the bottom. We needed to bail nearly continuously. All this made it difficult to suspend my disbelief that hyper-vigilance was necessary to compensate for glaring weaknesses in the fail-safe mechanism.
Other than getting the camera wet and so putting it out of commission for the rest of the trip, Gary had no problem maneuvering the rapid. And we proceeded to float through some amazing scenery. Unfortunately, scenery is not enough stimulation for the boys. I didn't have the heart to tell them that this was the last real rapid for the rest of the 33 mile or so journey. We were maybe 10 miles into the trip.
I'd hoped we'd get off the river with plenty of daylight left to set up our camp. The boaters who'd floated by as we packed up that morning had long since encamped themselves along a number of available sites on public land. Whenever we'd spot a promising looking place we'd find a raft or tent already set up. There was a place at the tail end of a long beach that we probably could have made work, but there was a huge party just a little upstream of us with dogs that were barking hysterically. Decided we'd look a little further. Thought we'd found a spot. The current was moving swiftly there and began to sweep us below it, despite Gary's forceful rowing. We were drawn into some weeds. The boys jumped out to hang on the perimeter line and realized it was deep enough there they couldn't touch bottom. Gary kept pulling the oars and I jumped out of the bow with the tie line. Managed to find my footing and haul the raft upstream and out of the willows. In the meantime the boys had gotten behind the oarlocks, completely in Gary's way. I lost sight of them for a moment, and then to my gratification heard Connor say, "Hold on. I don't want you to get lost" to Scott. Maybe he loves him after all.
But we didn't love the site. It was too muddy and plain unsuitable, so to the boys' (loud) dismay got back on the river. Now they were cold, for having been in the river, and were complaining about that. They saw no connection between the fact that they'd insisted on being able to go in the water and their resulting discomfort. Their dry clothes were locked away in dry bags and there was nothing to do but tolerate it. Which they didn't do gladly. Downstream, river right, we could see the river bend, and we could see what looked like a flat area on a small bluff above the water. It looked like it wouldn't be too far to cart the camping stuff up, and it was a pretty spectacular spot. It looked too good to be true, someone had to have taken it, but there didn't appear to be a boat beached in front of it or any tent shapes.
Well, it was too good to be true. We saw the fence just upstream of the flat. It was private land. This was a real let-down for the boys, but then one of them spotted a small beach on river left. We were already being carried past it, but Gary pulled hard and we managed to slip in.
It was a camp, a small site, probably only known to locals. It wasn't scrupulously clean, the way the BLM camps were. It was at the mouth of a natural dry canyon that we could have hiked into had we more time. I did walk back a little way looking for a screening bush and found a toilet paper grave. Most of it decomposed and long dried out. Not quite like finding a fresh batch, but still. I suppose it's positive that whoever used this camp had had a designated toilet.
The whole canyon was a graveyard, I picked up lots of teeny-tiny bleached-white bones; little vertebrae, ribs, forearm bones. It was interesting to look at the surfaces and the bumps, or processes, where tendons are anchored, the articulating surfaces for the joints. The mammalian skeleton is a basic template, with various adaptations for whatever family an organism happens to belong. They were such beautiful little bones, miniaturized and corresponding to our own.
So we had a camp. I had reservations because of the toilet paper grave up-canyon and a fire-ring that had some sort of rusty metal within, but the boys were ecstatic. They were just glad to stop and get into dry clothing. This time we did have the daylight in setting up our tent and bedding, stove and 'kitchen'.
I also wasn't crazy about being across the river from a ranch. The fields were unnaturally green and we could see the irrigation equipment. At least they didn't have the pump running. Next morning we had a number of halloos from rafters drifting by and a few remarked admiringly on our camp. So I looked at it with new eyes...yeah, it had its charms. Private and quiet, for one.
There really wasn't any rush in getting packed up since we'd only jam-up at the take out as other rafters arrived. In fact, it made sense to let the others go ahead. One raft with a couple of kids about Connor's age went by and the oarsman commented on our camp. Made a joke about the packing job we were doing. "We're the Beverly Hillbillies" I said. Ten or so yards downstream he asked if we were missing our bilge-pump. He'd spotted one in a little open spot against the shore. Gak! At the rate we took on water we couldn't do without that. A quick glance in our boat confirmed it must be ours, so I ran along the bank to get it from one of the boys who'd jumped out. I thanked them, and said, "We really are the Beverly Hillbillies."
The principle that it's always a good idea to be pleasant with strangers was borne out a couple hours later. We'd kind of drifted in tandem with them and this other guy who was sitting perched up high on a raft he was rowing solo. I'd noticed him because it seemed he was reading a book (it was the river guide book). Gary and I were talking, and suddenly he said, "Gary?" We stared at him, without recognition and he said, "Adam". Adam! He's the architect who'd drawn the plans for the remodel of our old house, the first one I'd owned. (We'd added an upper floor and enlarged the kitchen). I hadn't seen him since...sadly, a funeral within a few days of 9-11. So it turns out the rafters who'd rescued our pump were his brother and nephew, and a guy close by in an inflatable kayak was cousin to a mutual friend of ours. Cousin was the father of the other boy. Sure would have been awkward had the encounter with his brother been of a different nature. So that was a nice surprise. I was anxious about Scott, though, who was thoroughly sick of the trip and was loudly meow-ing "The Star Spangled Banner" to Connor's great annoyance. It made it very difficult to hear sometimes. Then he got into a fixation where he wanted to kiss me, over, and over. I finally said no more, and then it became his mission to get 'just one more."
We got caught up some with Adam, and then parted when they decided to stop for lunch.
It was a very long, slow stretch of river, and we were very ready when we saw the landmark for the take-out--the Clarno bridge. The take-out is extremely small--only about two rafts can fit on the little ramp at a time. Not being a rafter myself, I still gathered that there's some sort of "code" that you don't keep other rafters waiting, so there was a frantic flurry of activity to get out, unpack, clear the way. Gary brought the van and trailer down, and for a while I tied the dog to it. My attention was always distracted by Scott--Scott-in-a-parking-lot. And then rafters behind us began arriving. This kicked our pace into hyperdrive--got the boys in the van and commenced to depart-- all with that feeling of disorganization and possibly something important forgotten. Gary put it into gear and we began to pull away, just as a dog began to squeal. Gary slammed on the brakes and I leaped out, fully expecting to see a dog crushed under our wheels. Another possible scenario was that we'd forgotten to untie our dog from the trailer and had been dragging him. Neither was true (whew!). A woman had tied her own dog which objected to being left and had chosen the moment we began to drive forward to howl piercingly.
An uneventful drive home to a huge job unpacking, cleaning up, and putting away.
The best part for the boys?
The cattle drive.