Long-awaited (long) rafting recap

Well, it’s been a long couple of weeks, so I apologize for the lack of blogs… That’s not to imply that there’s been a lack of things to blog about! I’ve just been short on energy to sit down and actually start typing.

Anyhow, one blogworthy event was the camping/rafting trip I went on last weekend. We went on the Tieton River, and camped nearby in Naches, Wash. (about a three-hour drive from Seattle). Most folks arrived at the campsite on Saturday, so they could raft both weekend days, but I’d had a busy week prior to that weekend, and Nicole was heading down Sat. afternoon, so I jumped in with her. I hadn’t been camping in about eight years at that point (I think the last trip was with co-workers from the Science Center to Mt. St. Helens), so I was nervous about what to pack, and the experience itself — mostly my fear of needing to pee at 2 a.m.! Having been on this rafting trip a few years before — though minus the camping — I knew that there were no toilets at this particular campsite. I borrowed a down sleeping bag from Derek, and swung through REI to get some microfiber/quick-dry towels and a sleeping pad. I even found a cheap $14 water-proof “action” camera, that straps to your wrist; it’s also reloadable — bonus! Luckily, I didn’t have to deal with the tent issue, as Chrissy took her “big” tent, so Nicole and I were going to crash in with her.

Nicole and I rolled up to the campground just after dark, probably around 8:30. There were about 20 folks there, sitting in chairs around a roaring campfire. Due to my paranoia about the whole peeing thing, I declined any alcohol and just sipped from my water bottle as I got covered from head to toe with amazing amounts of ash from the fire. One dude was playing bits of songs on a guitar, but would snap at people when they tried to direct him or make a request (“I’m trying to figure this song out! Give me a minute!”). This lady next to him had obviously had several drinks.. Chrissy made some comment about having a crush on Michael Phelps, and two minutes later, this lady (I’ll call her T) was saying Chrissy looked like Phelps! Um….right. At some point during the evening, T asked if I was Indian, and I confirmed it. A little while after the Phelps business, T suddenly said to me “I love that you’re from India! You’re like a bulldog! You know, with those instincts, and …” WTF?? She then went into some rave about Ayurvedic medicine. I was like “Lady, I take Advil!” Whatevs.

Around 11:30, Nicole and I drove about 1/2 mile down the road to a neighboring campsite to use their facilities (a “luxury” Nicole usually doesn’t engage in, so … lucky me this time!). Then we went back to camp to set up our sleeping gear in Chrissy’s tent. I slept better than I thought I would, but not that great. Even though I had on fleece pants, two pairs of socks and a long-sleeved tee, it took me a good half hour to get warm. Because the air in the tent was so cold, I ended up sleeping almost entirely inside the bag (it was a mummy-style one, thankfully).

Nicole and I rolled out of the tent around 9, and headed down the road to freshen up (BTW, putting in contacts with ice-cold fingers is NOT fun!). Then we joined most everyone else around the fire (a much smaller version of the night before’s) for a delicious breakfast prepared by a camper who’s a chef in real life. There were biscuits, hash browns, bacon with potatoes, eggs and biscuits. Nicole and I contributed some apple-spice bread and fresh raspberries.

We sat around and talked some more (Paul, the guy who would later be our main guide on the river was drinking Sparks beer — which is caffienated — nice!), then slowly started getting ready for the trip. A few folks who’d rafted the day before headed back home; as I was going to just wear standard undies within my dry dry suit instead of a swim suit as most everyone else, I went ahead and changed back in the tent. Then the remaining 13 or so of us crammed into a couple cars for the ~15-minute drive to the “put -in.”

Once there, we pulled the rafts off the top of Paul’s truck and rooted around in the bed of his truck to get enough life vests and paddles for everyone. Anything that couldn’t go into the rafts was left in Paul’s truck (which included my digital camera) and then two cars (including the truck) were driven down to the “take-out.”

Here’s a shot of me before I stashed my digital camera away. Behind me to the left is one of our rafts; behind me to the right is the actual put-in spot and the river itself.

The rest of us were left to lounge around the put-in for probably a good 30-45 minutes, as I think the take-out was at least 15 miles away. The guys left the truck there and came back in the remaining car.

The first half of the trip was fun, as expected. Chrissy, Nicole and I were all in the same boat. We mostly lazily floated down the river, paddling a handful of strokes every 50 yards or so. Most folks were guzzling beer or hard lemonade from the cooler, but I was of course *not* so I wouldn’t have to deal with peeling off the dry-suit to pee mid-trip. Paul was our main guide, but this woman Katie was getting trained by him, so she did most of the vocalizing to us (“All ahead!” “Back left!” etc.) and manned the rudder. About half or two-thirds of the way through the ride, we came upon the dam. The buildup is a little alarming, as there are these “Danger! Dam Ahead” signs that precede it. But I’d been on the river before, and going over the dam had just been like a big rapid. This time, however… I started getting alarmed about 10 seconds before we hit it, as Paul was saying to Katie, “OK, you need to get them going faster.” Then he said to us, “C’mon guys, paddle HARD!” We approached the dam, went over the ~4-foot drop, and then WHOOSH, we got pulled under the spray and our raft tipped up. Paul yelled, “HIGH SIDE!” so we all lunged to the side of the raft that was in the air, trying to get the raft to level. But it didn’t work; water was pounding into the raft. Paul yelled “Hold out your paddles!” so I grabbed the rope on the outside of the raft’s high side and stuck my paddle into the water with the other. Still.. nothing. Paul’s two 11-year-old nephews had been in the front of the boat, and I could periodically hear them whimpering. But mainly, I just heard the roar of the water. It was pounding us so hard that I was literally short of breath.

Normally, in these situations, whatever’s happening to you happens so fast that you don’t have time to process any thoughts. But we were stuck under the dam for probably almost two minutes, so I distinctly remember some thoughts that went through my mind:

  1. “If this goes on much longer, maybe I should let go. But hmm.. I’m not even sure what way I’m facing. I’ve seen those shows on TruTV — if I also get pulled into the flow of the dam, I’ll go under and basically get pounded to death by the combine of the churning water.”
  2. “I wish we’d worn helmets.”
  3. “I know I’m being REALLY stupid by holding my paddle and the raft’s rope in one hand to adjust my visor [it fell over my eyes], but I need to be able to see” (I actually did this three times!)
  4. “HOLD ON TO THE PADDLE!” (Rule 1 of rafting, as it’s much easier to get rescued if you can extend your paddle to a rescuer)

During those heart-pounding minutes, I didn’t scream or say anything (or whimper, thank god). I was having those thoughts, but I also focused on Paul’s voice, as he yelled things like: “C’mon boat!” “Just keep hanging on, everyone! We’ll get through this!” “C’mon, we just need a good surge!”

Eventually…thankfully…we got that surge, and our raft was pushed out from under the flow — with everyone still inside and my Action Camera still attached to my left wrist. We floated another 100 yards or so down river, “Oh GOD”-ing all the way, then pulled into an eddy where the folks in the other raft — which’d been in front of us — had pulled over to wait for us. My knees were definitely shaky when I got out to stand in the water. Paul said he felt our situation had come about due to a number of factors: 1) we weren’t going fast enough, 2) our raft was a little under inflated and 3) we got snagged by some sort of rock after we went over. He said that on his numerous trips down the river, he’d never had that happen. “You’re a true rafter now!” Chrissy told me.

On the right is the best pic of the dam I could find online (thanks to www.alpineadventures.com/tieton.html), though it really doesn’t look all that daunting…I could’ve sworn the drop from the top to the bottom was closer to five or six feet, but this pic makes it look deceptively tame!! Again, I think it was just a fateful combination of factors that resulted in our little experience.

The rest of the trip was after that was uneventful. I think our total time on the river was a couple or three hours — maybe 14 miles? Poked around online, and apparently the Tieton is the steepest river in the state, as it drops 50 feet in elevation per mile. Anyway, we pulled up to the take-out and dragged the raft out of the river. Then we deflated the rafts and loaded the back of Paul’s truck with people and gear to head back to the campsite. Once there, we all just broke down tents and loaded up the cars. I was once again riding with Nicole; Chrissy had come with Ben.

After making one final stop down the road at the facilities, we hit the road around 6. We stopped in Ellensburg to have Mexican for dinner; I was still a bit disbelieving about the day’s events, so I self-medicated with a yummy raspberry margarita. We got back to Nicole’s around 10:30, and I stumbled into my own place about 40 minutes later.

Nicole was getting over a cold when we left for the trip, and lucky me, I caught her bug in the middle of last week and am still enjoying the last bits of it (mostly the cough and man-voice bits). I was especially bummed about still having the cold this past weekend, as a bunch of folks actually went back to the Tieton for a day trip yesterday (Sunday). I’d been invited on the trip late last week, and kept putting off calling Nicole with my yea or nay in the hopes that I’d get back to 100%. But alas…it didn’t happen, so I called her Saturday evening to tell her I was out. Apparently there’s still good rafting there through the end of September, so I’ve got my fingers crossed there’ll be another day trip. Despite that scary adventure, I can’t wait to go again!

Whew.. typer’s cramp.. I’ll leave discussion of my new Wii and iPhone (yes, I got both!) for another time … Oh, and I’ll get pics from the trip posted once I get them developed (if the quality is good). I think I still have about six exposures to use up on the roll.

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2 Responses to “Long-awaited (long) rafting recap”

  1. Oh dear goodness…I was cracking up (and I’m in a computer lab at school…) thinking about you letting go to re-adjust your visor. Flashbacks to my rafting experience…except it was Paul’s boat that made it through the rapid fine and Matt’s that didn’t. Oh…and I keep meaning to tell you…you ARE like a bulldog! ;) j/k…what does that mean, exactly? I know what it means to give love to the dolphins (flashback from Scotland!)but not the bulldog part. :)

  2. I know! I really must wear a hat next time, haha ;o)I’m not sure what that lady meant with the whole bulldog thing — certainly, bulldogs aren’t know for having any sort of “instincts,” as far as I know!!

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