Let’s Beat the Wind
by Eric Rassmussen
No matter how deep into the wilderness we paddle, we immediately try to civilize the place. Alan and Kate did this our night at Basin Creek. The hit of this site is the waterfall, and immediately after we got there Sunday afternoon, kids were jumping from its top into the pool. Neither Kate nor Alan leapt in; they sat in the shade below to watch and cheer the kids. Then, a little later, they brought up their tent and provisions and set up housekeeping a few feet from the pool edge.
As they’d served breakfast Sunday morning, I walked to their poolside site during the Monday breakfast, when we were on our own and I needed whitener for my black tea. The main kitchen was on the beach beside the Eel, so to get to Kate and Alan’s, it was a trek across sand and big gravel to the narrow cleft the creek cuts after its fall, then a few steps up to the compact tent. Between it and the pool Kate and Alan sat comfortably, in chairs, and on the table by them was the quart of Half and Half I sought. They generously shared it.
On this trip a dream came true for me. My son, Krag, and his children, Collin, 13, and Delaney, 12, paddled with us – their first POST experience. I assured Delaney this would be “Better than Disneyland.” The kids were in Kiwi Kayaks thanks to Eileen, and Krag was bow in my venerable Blue Hole that Kit and Charlie gifted Jane and I for our 2002 Oregon wedding. Jane and I paddled that boat away from our Alsea River nuptials.
Since then it’s been on many POST runs. Originally it was used in a recreation program at UCSF, where it was effusively fitted with D-rings, making it perfect for canoe camping trips like this.
Krag and I tested the rings a mile or so before our first campground. I let the heavily laden boat get pushed up against a rock, but remembered to “Kiss the Rock” and so returned the boat to a dry level. Krag is new to canoeing, but a powerful athlete and had provided great strength in moving our freighter along the river. He, too, saw the rock, and just after I kissed it, he did the instinctive thing and leaned away from it. The bags of gear were already listing to the same side, so we flipped right over. We were in no rocky rapid, and soon walked our craft to the opposite shore and righted it.
Thanks to those aforementioned attachments, our bags and chairs were still snuggly secured. I began bailing the hundreds of gallons of river out with my half a bleach bottle. With a snort, Krag went to the high end of the boat and rolled it. The river inside immediately flowed home. So we soon got back in, kept paddling, and talked about kissing rocks.
There were seven kids on this trip and as soon as we all got to that first campsite beside the mountain of a rock, they, likely following Arvid, immediately ran to the top of the steep, sandy slope above the big eddy, then tore down it and leaped into the pool. Since first putting in, we wise elders had been concentrating on staying dry. Had we missed the point?
Soon the kids divided themselves into teams and scrambled all over the rocks to capture the flag. And when they finally tired, they went, or were called, to the rocky beach point where the kitchen was in full operation and hot pasta and sauces, thanks especially to Roy and Sally, were ready for scooping.
The rocky point was a good site. It was close to the boats, so no long cooler carries, and it was surrounded by rocks and water, substances that did not get into our eyes or mouths when the wind came up. And it did. It was still blowing after we got into our tents, and slapped fabric sides. In between its slaps we heard the crickets.
In the morning we were reminded by Roy that the wind would likely come up again on our way to the takeout, so we would paddle beyond Basin Creek this day, after a brief play stop there.
Journal, Sunday, 5/27, In tent, 10pm
Tonight there’s no wind. Some crickets, but mostly falling water sounds. Not pre-recorded or virtual. Totally live. From the cascade about 50’ away.
I’m happy. This is by the waterfall ledge I sought whenever POST used to stay on this side, years ago. I always wanted my family to experience it too, and now they are.
It wasn’t leader Roy’s plan to spend the night here, though others of us, as John Garvey, also cherish this place. But Roy wants to keep us from the nightmare wind that often wreaks havoc on the paddle to the McCann take-out in the morning, so he planned to stay farther downriver. But first we’d stop here.
Immediately, Collin leaped off the ledge by the fall. Delaney soon scrambled up to the same spot and stood ready at edge of the ledge. After a couple of minutes she scratched her side. Five of so minutes later she said, to no one in particular, “I really want to jump, but I’m scared.” Then took a couple of steps back and sat down. Soon she was back at the ledge. She made this circuit a half dozen times, convincing we several adult fans that she was almost as determined as scared.
I knew the feeling. Some forty years ago I went through the same motions and agony about twenty feet above a Santa Barbara pond. For a half hour, before finally jumping.
Then I got a grandfather’s idea.
“Delaney, how about jumping from that spot over there?”
The ledge I pointed to was about half as high. She went to it and jumped. Then got out of the water, climbed to the top, and leapt. We were all delighted, and clapped and cheered loudly.
You’d think after such adventures this girl would exclaim how great the trip was, but about two o’clock on Monday, our last day, she said, loudly and clearly, “Papa, this ISN”T better than Disneyland.”
Laney does notice when things aren’t going well, and there had been a couple of imperfections that anybody would regret. Though she’s a star athlete, and often travels far to competitions, she didn’t find paddling the Kiwi compelling. The primary problem wasn’t the boat, but the paddle, which when lifted, as it must be every stoke, let water run down and onto her, soaking her clothes. Her paddle happened to be missing a washer that usually keeps the water from running down the shaft. She didn’t complain every stroke, but had reason to.
Collin had gotten a complete paddle that didn’t drip, and perhaps because of his greater size, and recent wrestler conditioning, was easily able to keep in the middle of the canoe pack.
Despite her strength, and prowess in track, basketball and soccer, paddling tired Delaney, and probably bored her. Late Saturday her Dad and I attempted to give her some relief and started towing her, she still in the kayak. This went well for a long time, and I began to let go of my nagging misgivings.
Then Krag and I careened into a small boulder. We both kissed it and went quickly past. Delaney’s small craft slipped behind the boulder, then caught in a wedge between two rocks just ahead. Our Blue Hole jerked to an abrupt stop, and we swiveled to see Laney swimming. We’d swamped her. Our mission to keep her dry was suddenly all wet.
Maybe because she had gotten a couple of hours of relief, she took the swim in stride, and wasn’t upset. But she probably stowed it in her random memory.
The real win for Disneyland came, as all knew it might, on the day after we stayed at the Falls. Thank you, Roy, for letting us do that! Not long after lunch on that fateful Monday the lazy holiday ended, and not so very far from the take-out, the wind came up.
Normally paddling a canoe on a river is optional. It helps us avoid obstacles, and makes us feel we’re being useful. The real power is the current, as is found whenever you turn around and try to go up-river.
On Monday at one-thirty another power arrived. At that moment Laney happened to be my bow paddler. Krag had given her a break by trading seats with her, so he was in her Kiwi. She was kneeling in my bow on the other side of the hundred or so pounds of gear that rose in a broad mound a couple of feet above the body of our boat. In this suddenly significant mountain were the tents, chairs and sleeping bags for the whole family.
The wind began to play with our oh so heavy boat. Whatever combination of strokes I used, the canoe went broadside, and upriver. Something had to be done.
Greg, from the Seychelles, pulled near and Delaney got into the front of his inflatable canoe. For him bow weight was a need. For me it was bow power. I was useless in the stern, but soloing in the front of the boat, paddling harder and faster than ever before, I was able to keep the ship straight, and make, if very slow, progress.
But every time gravel appeared on the shore, I jumped onto it and began towing canoe and cargo toward our distant destination. “Going canoeing” was once again becoming memorable by out of boat experiences.
Meanwhile Greg and Laney moved steadily; everybody else, including Collin and Krag, did too.
We had had wind until tent time our first day. We knew there’d be no relief until we got to the cars. So we slogged on. And on.
And made it. But celebrate we didn’t. Putting a seventy pound sail on the top of a car in a 50 mph gust isn’t child’s play.
When an empty, beached boat was caught by a gust and whipped back into the river, a kid quickly chased and caught it. But this bit of play didn’t change Delaney’s mind. And we were all relieved to leave.