One of Three Overdue Posts about Trips last Fall (2014)

ERIC’S TRINITY 2014 NOTES Putah Creek Cafe, Winters, 9/28/14, 7:40pm Eleven glasses here, still bearing the imprints of the six other paddlers, all who’ve finished their meals and continued homeward: David driving Peter toward the promised home refridgerator ice cream that made Pete happy to leave the treats of this table. Kit and Charlie soon to see their lively foreign student, and Kate and Alan wanting to get to BART before it shuts down at midnight. I was last to arrive, chew the slowest and am motivated to stay until I finish this story and the chocolate cake only Kate was willing to help me devour – only true chocolate lovers give such help after so ample a meal. This story is taking form thanks to our waitress who took my plea for paper to the office gal who brought me two freshly torn off sheets from her yellow pad. This restaurant, suggested by Dave, is great. We all enjoyed our varied meals, the paintings on the rustic wood walls, and the uncrowded, unnoisy room. And it’s only about 5 minutes off 505.

The good company, as on rivers, doubled its pleasures. Those river pleasures commenced for me around the cement picnic table Saturday morning at Steelbridge Campground where Eric, Amy and Arvid; Karen and Don and Neal Cassidy joined the restaurant gang for coffee and cereal. It was my first trip in this medically exciting year and I loved all the warm greetings. We all loved the relatively warm weather – no fingers went numb this trip. Maybe the general warmth deserves some of the blame that inspired Don to later, much later, from concern bred in miserable after-dark take-outs, observe “We’ve never put-in this late on this trip.” As lead boat, he helped keep us from such misery with his legendary paddling. There was only one nasty argument on this trip. It happened when someone said that Don had one time in his life flipped a boat. Ridiculous heresy! He and Karen certainly didn’t on this trip, nor did anyone in their elegant wake. Thanks to such good paddling and brief breaks, we all got to our Steel Snag campsite before the sun entirely left the beach, let alone the canyon.

Earlier in the day Neal voluntarily swam during a break, proving that the river wasn’t frigidly cold. I happened to arrive this year with mask, snorkel and fins, so as soon as the kitchen boats were hauled up and placed so dinner could be started, I went to work on a dream I’ve been trying to develop – to provide a fresh fish for our dinner. Last year some local fishermen cast their lines into the water right here. And we’d seen fins roiling in the upriver shallows. Were there any here? I followed Neil’s inspiration and jumped into the river above camp, hoping to discover just where the salmon and steelhead were lurking. The water was quite clear, and clearly devoid of lunkers or any other form of visible life, like crawdads. Only in the shallows just below camp did a large trout dart past me.

The best and most memorable part of my dive was when, about ten minutes after it, the sun reappeared from behind a cloud and bathed my shivering skin in still hot shine. That was my swim’s only sensory pleasure. Even though I’d seen no big fish, I still attached the new spinner bought in Weaverville mid-shuttle and cast across the river, after first working the near pool where the trout probably lives. Not surprisingly, the fish that weren’t there didn’t bite. Nor were they missed. About the time I would have begun cleaning my fantasy fish, Kit and Charlie began serving real sausage, potato and salad. Everybody ate with relish.

Next morning something usual happened. Charlie got up early, made coffee, then oatmeal, with Kit’s help. And everybody was happy. Thank you Kit and Charlie.

If you think I’ve been too profuse with my praise of Don, read on. I arrived at Steelbridge Friday night – no, early Saturday morning, towing the Subaru that was supposed to get me from Pendleton to Weaverville the Wednesday before. Instead, my car overheated on one of several mountains along 395 in far eastern Oregon due to, the local mechanic said, a blown head gasket. “Subaru’s are known for this.” he added. He would also have happily added several thousand dollars and many days to my trip, so I instead bought a fine pick-up from a more trusted local, and towed the car on a U-Haul trailer to the Trinity. It was, after all, my trip!

Thanks again to Charlie and Kit for doing all the actual work that made the trip such a success. Don was present during the shuttle when I dropped the trailer, by previous arrangement, in the employee parking lot of the Indian Creek Lodge just before Douglas City. On Sunday morning during oatmeal he suggested I look along the river for a 2×4 or similar size piece of lumber. He’d watched the jack of the trailer sink deep into the lot’s wet gravel and knew we wouldn’t be able to raise it to tongue height without a stronger substrate. That he had been puzzling over and trying to solve my problem touched me. I hugged him, then looked for 2x’s at every stop. Futilely.

Aways down the river, as sweep boat with Neal, I was surprised to round a bend and see Don and Karen pulled up on river left. They rarely stop for personal reasons and this was no beach where we could all get out and stretch. As Neal and I drew close, Don pointed to a long 4×4 freshly set atop his loaded boat. “This’ll do it.” he declared. It sure did. Back at the lodge parking lot when I returned after fetching my truck at Steelbridge, Don guided my backing up right to the trailer safely raised up well over the ball. In a moment the connecting was completed. Yes, it went on without a hitch, then all of us got on the road toward Putah Creek Cafe or straight home.

On my way back home I couldn’t help replaying a dramatic episode that almost dunked Neal and me at the beginning of the last stretch of river before our Sunday takeout. At this curve the river makes a sharp left and pushes boats hard towards a big boulder on its right edge. Two years ago, because my old legs got so stiff kneeling that I couldn’t quickly leave my boat to help with a rescue I decided to experiment. Could I, with years of experience, beat the natural law demonstrated in our first Richmond Plunge class, that sitting on the seat so raises ones center of gravity as to make tipping likely. The experiment was successful until I got to that rock, where I gracelessly flipped, emptying my solo boat of some gear that sank and was still visible last year. This year. forgetting the power of the river I, in the stern, turned too late, and Neal and I banged against the boulder. By the way, once again I was sitting on the seat. Not because I hadn’t learned to respect physics, but because the seats of Neal’s boat were too low for my feet to fit under them. On the positive side, they afforded a lower center of gravity. But not low enough to keep the boat from responding to the collision by tipping away from the rock and toward the onrushing water. Just before the inevitable over-the-gunnel deluge swamped us an old phrase appeared like a huge neon sign on my mind’s emergency warning screen: “KISS THE ROCK.” With no argument, resistance or thought of any kind, I obeyed. I leaned toward the boulder. My lips didn’t make contact, but my hand did. And as I leaned right, the canoes left side lifted above the about to rush in water, the boat leveled, and Neal and I stayed upright and mostly dry.

That “Kiss the rock.” emerged from my congested brain seems a miracle. But it also demonstrates the power of education. Like all POST paddlers, I’ve heard that expression many, many times. And I’ve used it in situations nowhere near as dicey as this one. So, I’ve been successfully educated. Once again, I’m grateful for POST and its emphasis on safety. And to Don, who later advised that we start such turns earlier. But kissing rocks sure kept that one wrong from becoming two. And that’s all right.

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