Archive for the ‘People along the way’ Category
Posted on July 13, 2012 - by Nadia
Tuesday July 10, 2012
Few places are as social as a safe harbor in a storm. I cut short my planned exploration of the gorgeous, glacier-sided Endicott Arm and beat a hasty retreat through eyelash-bending fog. The forecast indicated that wherever I spent Monday night would be home for at least Tuesday as well, maybe longer. I was anxious that that place should be within striking distance of Juneau.
I’ve extended my daily paddling range, doing more 30-plus mile days in Alaska than was possible further south. Here, tidal currents have less impact because the water is deep and wide, so my schedule is not driven as much by the turning of the tides. Campsites are more abundant so I can push on, confident I will find a place to stop. And the landscape is huge, I can take it in as I paddle hard, so long as the fog allows. But those long days depend on relatively calm waters and winds, and that, I knew, was about to end. (more…)
Posted on June 25, 2012 - by Nadia
Saturday, June 24, 2012
Butedale, Princess Royal Island.
I gasped aloud and stopped pushing against the sloppy, choppy slap of a headwind against current. At long last, never knowing what to expect or when, I had turned a corner. The magnificent waterfall was giving off as much light as spray and the looming, decrepit cannery buildings next to it seemed to dance with a life that has been gone for decades. It was the end of a long day and the start of a delay that was full of surprises.
In testimony to the defining power of persistent presence, Butedale remains a dot on almost all maps of the region, while up and coming places with more people – such as Shearwater – often fail to make the grid. The cove that protects Butedale was first home to a First Nations village. Then, from about 1909 until it operations ended in the early 1970s, it hosted a fish oil processing plant, a cannery and an ice plant. It was home to hundreds of workers. Now, Butedale is slowly sliding off the hill and being reclaimed by its abundant greenery. The herring oil tanks that define one end of the protective cove are mostly rust. The dormitory building is mostly moss. The largest residential building is half collapsed, with a toilet hanging at a jaunty 90 degrees. Butedale offers no cell service and no WiFi, but it boasts a rush of fresh potable water and an abundance of sweet hospitality in the form of Lou, the industrious caretaker who calls it home.
It should not reflect poorly on Lou’s caretaking if a building occasionally collapses and a boat sometimes sinks. It seems a miracle that any of these buildings or docks are still standing. Lou’s caretaking is evident everywhere there are people. I arrived Butedale exhausted after three or four nights of hard rain and rising tides (often, it is not the paddling that wears on me, but the making and breaking camp.)
Lou took one look at me and said, in the swarthy French accent of his Alberta youth: I heard you were coming, I’ve warmed water for a shower. And he boosted a three gallon sun shower into a five gallon bucket, put that on a shelf on the roof of what used to be the cold storage facility, and left me to rinse and warm.
Butedale is both a haven and a hiding place for many types of people in transit. There are few facilities and several challenges on either side of it. Virtually every kayaker stops here, many sailors and motor cruisers and a surprising number of fishing boats stop to moor briefly and continue their march north toward the fishing ground.
The kayakers and sailors especially are likely to ask Lou, “May I charge my …” laptop, cell phone, portable razor? And he says, of course, and then rearranges a couple of extension cords for your convenience.
The cell phone charges though it has no use there, the razor gets its buzz back, all as though a recharge at Butedale is the same as a recharge at a plug at the airport. It’s not. In Butedale, Lou’s simple yes does not begin to reflect the physical labor it took him to build 200 feet of flume out of scrap wood. To drop the flume into the gushing stream off a slick rock bank in order to steer today’s water into yesteryear’s power plant. It fails to underscore the ingenuity it took to rig the old hydro wheel up to a truck alternator. Or the frustrating three months of trial and error it took to figure out the right gear ratio to get the speed and power required to keep the inverter running consistently. In Butedale, there is nothing simple about the answer to the question, “May I charge my laptop?” And yet Lou answers simply. Maybe later he’ll offer a tour, if you’d like, of the power plant.
Because it remains a dot on the map, people stop by. And because they meet Lou, they return and pay his kindness forward. I arrived after a few long hours of windy chop to meet Ramona and DC and Debbie and Neal, motor cruisers I first met weeks ago in Shoal Bay in Desolation Sound. Debbie had miraculously spotted me on the broad Princess Royal Sound and altered course to chat. I last saw them in Port McNeill when I was getting my drytop fixed.
Debbie shouted, “We’ll have dinner on for you!” as they left me in Princess Royal Sound and thank heavens they fixed extra of everything. Even I could not find the bottom of Neal’s barbecued chicken and steak offering as we ate aboard Debbie and Neal’s boat tied to the low and wandering dock at Butedale.
I had arrived at 6 p.m. and the ebb tide best for leaving was at 3 a.m. I was exhausted and decided it would be best if I didn’t push the early departure but stayed to tour this ghost of a place. Like all decisions on this trip, that proved a mixed blessing. Probably a very good thing. Ahead lay two crux crossings: Wright Passage and the infamous Dixon Entrance. The weather forecast called for treacherous outflow winds in Wright on Saturday as a low pressure system built over Haida Gwaii, and persistent winds 15-30 knots in Dixon. Mike and Donna, sailing home to Alaska with two dogs, turned back, choosing to be windbound in Butedale rather than an anchorage short of Wright Passage. Albert and Lynah stopped their headlong rush to the commercial fishing opener to see Lou, but chose to stay rather than take the thrashing they took last year in Dixon. If the forecast was enough to slow Albert and Lynah, I knew it wasn’t something to mess with. I girded for a long wait and started devising alternate plans.
In the back of my mind, I knew Herman was gaining on me. We had never met, but people told us about each other. I had leapfrogged him when I took the ferry around Cape Caution, which he paddled. On Saturday, he appeared around the corner, a lone kayaker drawn in for a closer look at the falls. He had paddled a tough 15 miles already on the day and had planned eight more, but the chop left him worn out and looking for options. I rigged him a shower and a cup of tea as Lou was out wrestling with a breakaway breakwater. Paying it forward.
Herman is headed to Glacier Bay, just past Skagway. He is doing his paddle to raise money for Mexican school kids in need (he lives in Baja.) Like me, the challenges of this middle portion are more fraught with risk and delay than reward. We agreed we are both willing to figure out a way to get a ride around Dixon Entrance. Herman needs to go to Prince Rupert for a resupply and to fix his blown drytop gasket. I do not need to go to Prince Rupert, but would gladly skip Dixon Entrance. For now, we’re working together.
Saturday evening and Lou is now in full host mode just as everyone is figuring out a way to move on. The ever-present specter of looming loneliness is the everyday hardship of the host. He stayed up late talking crafts with Lynah, who is trying to get him to take the winter off. Lou reluctantly admits he’s edging toward 69 and thinking it might be time to retire. He spent last Christmas corking a boat that was half underwater.
“The cold, oh, all day in that damn boat,” he says. “My knees were so sore I could barely walk up that hill.” He needs a tutorial in warm fun. He actually needs a nice widow with a boat. If you’re interested, send him a photo of the boat.
Lou has been taking care of Butedale for 11 years. Its owner, who lives in California, seldom visits. He’d just as soon sell. The environmental regulators, a fisherman told me, would just as soon scrape the whole industrial site away. “Someday they will,” he said. “I never know when I’ll come by here and it will all be gone.”
As I typed this post, sitting in the former mess hall, at an old, 40-foot-long table cluttered with Lou’s life, a breathless Donna burst in the door. “The bear,” she gasped. “The beach. The white bear.”
I grabbed a scope off Lou’s table and took off down the rickety ramp, past the stream that shoots out of a flume. Past the ricketier ramp to the boats. I raced across the roof of the massive concrete dock of rough concrete and rusty bare fittings where my tent was set up. I scanned the beach across the bay, and there, eating berries among the ferns, was a white spirit bear – a kermode bear.
Then, with a glance over its shoulder, the rare white bear, like Butedale itself, faded into the foliage.
Posted on June 25, 2012 - by Nadia
Wednesday, June 19, 2012
Work Bay, first cove, off Finlayson Passage
The new moon and summer solstice are conjuring big tidal swings just as camping has gotten scarce and information about specific sites all but dried up in my guide book. So it was that I circumnavigated four sprawling coves of Work Bay long after I should have made camp.
There were plenty of spots for a five-foot tide, but few to even contemplate for a 15-foot tide. I looked behind creeks and waterfalls, scampered into the cedar thicket and measured the elevation of every sloped beach with my GPS. I contemplated hoisting the boat up steep cliffs. I wished I had a hammock. At about 7:30 I went back to the first cove and measured the beach and did the math over and over again. A conservative estimate warned the highest tent site was about 6 inches too low. An optimistic one said it would be dry by about the same. I had no choice. I needed to stop. I pitched the tent, putting a minimum of gear into it.
The boat was a different story. If I was with someone else, we would carry the boats and secure them above the high tide line and near camp. I always store the boat at or above the tide line, but I hadn’t carried my kayak yet this trip. Usually, I slide it across logs. Sometimes I slide it for great distances, sometime fetching logs from far away. The reason I had initially passed this beach by was its long, slopping shallows. Even at the low-high tide of the day, the closest I could get the kayak to the tent was about 150 yards. The low-low tide promised to triple that distance. In between the kayak and camp lay a field packed with ankle busting, slime- and barnacle-covered cobblestones the size of bowling balls.
I pondered. It was already clear I wasn’t eating dinner. I was willing to risk the bears and leave all the food in the boat. In fact, I would leave everything in the boat except the tent and sleeping bag and sleeping clothes. That way, when the tent flooded, not much would get wet, I figured. Moreover, I would tie 5-foot-lomg logs under the boat so that when the tide went out it had a platform to land on and protect it from the barnacle balls. I did all that and tied the kayak to the only thing on the beach that wasn’t a barnacle ball – a five-foot wide, 40-foot long chunk of tree that looked like it had been there forever.
It was 9 o’clock when all that was done. I choked down a peanut butter tortilla roll and surveyed my work. I was not happy. I ran through a list of things that could go wrong. I had thought of everything, except the things that would spell disaster, I figured. Actually, I hadn’t thought of much but the tent and tide. Now I was overcome with ill-defined anxiety. What if the log moved? What if it floated away? What if it lifted up and came down on my boat? Leaving the boat so far away, alone, was the worst idea I’d ever had. By the time the tide lifted my boat, I would be cut off from it by 150 yards of rising water. In the dark. I needed my boat up with me. If this beach flooded, at least I’d be able to keep an eye on the kayak, my only way out of this wilderness, never mind my every worldly possession.
I raced for the boat. The rising tide was already lifting the back end. I untied all my knots and let the log go. I did the same for the front log. I hauled the boat forward to buy time and grabbed my two carry bags. I threw every small item I could lay my hands on into them – TastyBites packets, VHF radio, sandals, sponge, baggies of gorp, baggies of gorp, baggies of gorp. I filled the bags, grabbed as many other dry bags as I could carry and raced for the tent site. I threw everything on top of a truly giant and ancient log next to the tent and raced back again. The water was rising. Lapping now at the log that had been my moorage, now at the stern of my boat.
Once I’d emptied the boat of absolutely everything, I reviewed the rules for moving her: Stop as often as you want, but never fall and never drop it. I hoisted the 70-pound boat to my shoulder and walked the barnacle boulders like it was a hallway at home, never stopping or falling or dropping. I looked back from the tent site. Water had filled the space I left behind. The cove’s long shallow was filling quickly, but high tide – the time that would tell – was not until 1:40 a.m.
I was mad at myself for being lazy and compromising everything a good camp should have just because this location was challenging. I slowed down and started doing things right. It was 9:45. I sorted the food into the two carry bags and hoisted them on a double pulley high into a tree down the beach. Scouting the forest behind another cove I’d seen the skunk cabbage-looking muskeg plants ripped up, their roots eaten. Bears were afoot.
Focused on the hoisting, I jumped in my skin when I heard a burst of air come from the ever broadening reach of the cove. My heart leapt. I spun around in time to see the tiny fin of a humpback whale break the water—grey on grey — just beyond where I had shouldered with the kayak. It surfaced and blew again. My heart leapt. I was not so alone. The whale seemed to be a prize for setting camp straight. Things were turning around.
Back at the log, I made sure everything that couldn’t got wet went into a dry bag. I lined everything I owned up inside a long notch at the highest point on the ancient log. Paddles, computer, clothes, dop kit. The notch was about 8 feet off the ground. I covered it with a tarp, anchored with two sticks and six rocks, three on either side. I had a plan. When the water approached the tent, I would grab my sleeping bag and scamper onto the log myself. I would throw the tent itself, taut, poles and all, onto the log’s sprawling roots. I would stay there until the tide receded. It was 10:45 when true dark fell. I crawled out of my wetsuit, threw it under the tarp, and crawled into my damp sleeping bag.
Unbelievably, I slept. But as the sounds of the approaching water changed from distant slaps to what sounded like waves, lapping at my feet, I woke up and listened and wondered what time it was. The watch was on the boat, where it usually is. I got up to get it so I’d know the time of the tide. I had set the kayak parallel to a long tree that was itself parallel to a busy creek, rushing out of the snow-covered mountain behind the cove. I had tied it at the bow; it was nestled in grass. When I reached for the watch, I stepped into 8 inches of grassy water. The tide had exceeded the stream bed. It was starting. I grabbed the watch and used my throw rope to secure the stern of the boat, giving it room to play, but holding it from rushing headlong down the stream, which was growing wider and higher.
With about 45 minutes to go, it was unclear whether the tent was more at risk from the streamside or the bay side. The water was creeping up the side of the ancient log, about a foot from the roots, my safety ladder. I threw my sleeping pad and bag into another long split in the trunk, and heaved the entire tent onto the roots. Then I scrambled up the back side of the roots, wriggled into my bag as it slumped into the nook, just the width of my hips. I looked down. By the light of my headlamp, I saw water was everywhere. Under the giant log and rising. Rising up the beach. Spilling from the stream. The kayak, which has reflectors on the bow, bucked, but was secure.
For the first time this trip, I lay back and looked at the night sky. It was blurry with clouds, and I gave thanks that it was not raining. And then I heard it: The great exhalation of the humpback. It was in the ever-filling cove, now, much closer than my kayak had been on the rocks. It was too dark to see, so I snuggled into my notch and just listened as the whale glided back and forth over the stumblesome rocks I had raced across just hours ago. Reminding myself I had no room to wiggle, I leaned back into the log, listened to the whale and watched the blurry stars until I was supremely happy and my eyes closed and I slept.
Posted on June 12, 2012 - by Nadia
Tuesday, June 12, 2012
Alert Bay, BC
The opposite of wind is fog. Either can grind things to a halt.
Sometime in the dark hours this morning I awoke to the sensation of the earth speaking to me directly through my spine. A deep, sonorous moan that carried a message that I was too groggy to fully understand. It said: FA-OG. Of course, that was all it could say, for it wasn’t the earth speaking at all, but a fog horn apparently quite near. It was rainy and chilly and damp and the earth speaking was just one more factor. I rolled over. When I got up, I couldn’t see past the cobblestones I had pulled up on. Fog.
Despite how it may seem, a life of the sea is driven by a schedule more pressing than any urban commuter rail grid. The tides wait for no boat, and if I wanted to cross over to Hanson Island and make my way to Alert Bay and Port McNeill to get my drytop fixed, I had one chance and that was at 10:54. I packed and paced and made up rules. If the fog lifted above the mast of a sailboat anchored in the cove, then it was a sign it was lifting and I should go. By 10, it had risen and fallen above and below the mast a number of times. What was the rule for that? I had to go. Slack tide approached. I turned on the puny light on the shoulder of my life jacket (light required by law) and moved my fog horn from bear protection to boat warning position (fog horn required by law) and off I went. Pretty near invisible.
The water was sweetly placid and I cruised along for about a half mile when I heard: Hey, Nadia! How about a tow? We’ve got radar? It was Les and Deb aboard the sailboat Half Lucky. I had seen them at Big Bay before my dash through Dent Rapids. And they had seen me get scared off by the grizzly at D’Arcy Point. Now they were headed my way and the Half Lucky was quite a bit easier to see than the powerful but tiny kayak. It didn’t take much for me to say, You bet! I tied up along side and we chatted and ate some delicious stew as we motored along to Alert Bay. Deb and Les are from Alberta and we laughed that three of us from such landlocked places should find ourselves together at sea.
After they anchored off of Alert Bay, I paddled to shore where a meeting of the gelato tasting committee was being held at the docks. Actually, Mr. Pepper had just turned out what may have been his first batch of gelato and was down sharing it with the guys. It was a nice scene to walk into. I added my two cents on what to do with leftover egg whites (whip them and put them in the waffle batter.) Then Harbor Master Eric showed me the laundry and an hour later, laundry mostly done, I was on the ferry to Port McNeill, looking for someone to repair my drysuit.
Suffice it to say, that after some tail chasing on that end, I was thinking I would have to take a bus to Port Hardy when I got a hold of a local SCUBA shop owner who said he could do it if I dropped by tomorrow. I explained I was headed back to Alert Bay on the next ferry, so he said, to tuck the jacket in the back of his truck at the shop and he’d get to it in the morning. That was a perfect solution as far as I was concerned and so for now, the jacket is out of my hands and, I hope, on the way to being a dry dry top again. Tomorrow, I’ll figure out how to get it back.
As an aside, everyone has been bucking the weather the last three days and Port McNeill was a reunion for the Shoal Bay crowd. Andy and Meg are anchored and Ramona and DC, Deb and Neil are moored at the town docks. It’s fun the family that forms as we drift apart and come back together.
Camera downloads now fussy. I have nice fog shots, will post when technology shapes up.
Posted on May 25, 2012 - by Nadia
Friday, May 25, 2012
Bedwell Harbor, South Pender Is., British Columbia
I met a man of 10,000 stories and a generous impulse who fed me no less than eight eggs, eight sausages, three bagels and a bowl of clam chowder. Dennis Connor reminded me of one lesson the bull-headed Taurus in me sometimes forgets: If you don’t stop and listen you don’t get to hear the stories.
Dennis is a talker with a lot to talk about. His synopsis of events leading up to his final evacuation, on a stretcher, from Vietnam, was among the rawest account of the war I have ever heard. He said he spent the next 20 years “being mad at the world,” but it took him to Alaska as skipper of a crabbing boat, India as an engineer to install the nation’s first roller coaster and Africa, Zaire, I think, to install a major electrical transmission line. Lots of jobs that kept him away from his wife and kids but his stories of them were full of love. She died 20 years ago but he talked about her as though she’d just left. Somewhere in there is the explanation for why he loads up his custom-rigged inflatable Zodiak and takes to the San Juan Islands, living in deluxe camps for a couple of weeks here and there, taking gorgeous photos along the way, feeding strangers who pull up to the adjacent site, looking gaunt.
I left Anacortes on a windy Wednesday morning that forced me to turn a two mile crossing into four or five as I had gain some purchase on the wind in order to ferry across between three separate islands. After doing one three mile detour, I tried to shortcut another, thinking the wind at my back would counter the tidal current coming at me. That was not the case, or at least not enough, and I had to work hard to avoid being swept back into Rosario Straight and wherever the ebb tide would take me. Lesson: Shorter is often not easier and wind does not trump tide in a kayak. So I was pretty pooped when I reached my Strawberry Island (my third Strawberry Island of the trip.) I napped, ate, and watched the tidal currents collide into whirls and standing waves as I waited for the slack tide that would allow me to cross. Indian paintbrush, and lots of dainty pale pink bell flowers decorated the grassy bluff and made a perfect pillow even as a light rain fell. The mile or so crossing was uneventful and the obvious rip tide against my target shore gave me good lessons in how to find the calm in the nooks and crannies of the coast.
Odlin Park hosts one of the coolest Eagle Scout projects I have ever seen. A scout named Corwin Perren had installed a solar charging station capable of charging an iPhone or GPS using USB chord or auto charger. I didn’t have anything to charge, but if I had – in a week or two I will – I would have been singing Corwin’s praises, so I’ll sing them now.
Navigation became increasingly tricky as I jumped from Lopez to Shaw islands and into the chain known as the Wasp Islands. My maps lack much detail, many islands don’t appear at all, and my GPS is only marginally helpful in the San Juans. It will be more useful now that I’m in Canada as I have full topo maps loaded with my route.
An ebb tide slowed my progress and I hardly had time to wolf down the leftovers from last night’s quinoa and chili dinner before heading across Presidents Channel to Spieden Island. A sailor wandered by as I ate and warned me against counting on Spieden for much shelter from the currents. So many large passages come together at the series of long, skinny islands that they are filled with tidal rips and whirling currents. He suggested an alternative route, outside the stack of long skinny islands. So it was that after an hour of concerted crossing, passing through whirls and boils gentled by the slack tide, I reached the easternmost point of Johns Island just as the tides turned in earnest. I watched as a thin black line of water rose up and closed my route around the point with a line of standing waves and churning current. Cutting inside, I scared a half dozen young harbor seals into the water who appeared to be basking on the bank of a river. A river, because water poured over an invisible ledge, forming a waterfall, about two feet high, from the ocean to the ocean, creating an obvious stream that ran perpendicular to my path. I ferried across it, glad for every river I’ve ever boated. I continued river kayaking through a turbulent narrow and popped into a sea the color of an old Coke bottle and just as smooth. But I was done. The next two and a half hours were a crawl and I reached Prevost Harbor, Dennis and his smorgasbord, sore and tires, with a fresh batch of blisters to add to the ones I already had.
This morning, Dennis did me one more favor. By the time I was up and camp torn down, not only was breakfast on but he had this observation: A strong northwind was blowing straight into camp. As I needed to go due north to check into customs and continue on, I had two choices: stay put and gamble that the afternoon would improve for the 4.5 mile crossing of Boundary Passage, or let him ferry me across. We ate, the wind rose. We tied the kayak to the pontoon of his Zephyr and we crossed the steep chop of the channel. With every lunge and crash I thought my boat would fall apart. But it weathered it well.
So it is that I am now decamped in the sheltered bay of a nature preserve with a luxury hotel – Poet’s Cove — across the way. Fletcher and Kristy just arrived in a tiny skiff from Seattle and told me the hotel lets kayakers use the hot tub and showers for just $5. You bet I’m going to shower in the shirt I’ve paddled in every day. Plus, I can fill my dromedary with fresh water and maybe even charge my camera. Roughing it is getting easier all the time. But I know I can’t get used to that. Still, it’s nice to find a little prize mixed in with the peanuts and popcorn of life’s lessons.
I cannot quite figure out how to work blogging into a regular day of travel. I’m so tired after setting up camp, that I can barely make dinner and confirm the next day’s route. So, for now, my entries might be sporadic and a bit longer than I’d like. Nor have a figured out how to get photos of sea life, but I will.
Betsy, I have seen lots and lots of harbor seals. With their haunting black eyes, they clearly come from the distant past to speak for our ancestors. The harbor porpoises are our mothers. They watch, but keep their distance. We are old now. There are eagles everywhere, leading me along, sometimes reminding me to think twice, other times to redouble my efforts. The starfish are amazing. Mostly huge and purple. And I saw something attached to a rock that looked like a bright red, football-sized sow bug. My cursory critter identification card is no help. I’ll do a better job of describing the sights and sounds as my (if my, and oh, please let it,) adrenaline settles down and I can just paddle.
Thanks for reading.
Posted on July 3, 2010 - by Nadia
Day 29: July 2, 2010
West of Cambridge, Idaho, to Lick Creek Campground near Joseph, Oregon.
38 miles + 25 miles = 63 miles
Rolling hills before breakfast, including a summit (4,131 feet,) en route to Brownlee Reservoir on the Snake River, then Oxbow Reservoir. Then two or so miles uphill to Scotty’s general store, two miles back to the Oxbow turnoff, six miles of easy gravel along the Snake River to the start of Hess Road. Some back and forth looking for the road. Then two miles of pushing my bike … rescue … then almost six miles toward Iminaha, six miles back to near the top of Hess Road, then 11 miles up hill, at least the first four at nine percent grade, followed by two miles of downhill in a bone chilling rain. Neither my longest day in terms of hours or mileage, nor the longest day of climbing, but this has been one of the most tiring. Good people all along the way make it all look fine now that it’s done, from the snug inside of my tent. Uncertainty is exhausting.
Wayne and Gene save my bacon
There is stubborn and there is stupid. Wayne and Gene found me wavering between the two. My plan to bike the oft-pedaled Hwy 39 cutoff to Joseph was thwarted by news that the road had washed out in several places. Not going to Joseph wasn’t an option. I am meeting Sarah and Michael there and plan to take the Fourth with them as a holiday from pedaling. Plus, in Hell’s Canyon there was no cell service, the phone was out at Scotty’s and they’d sold out of the pre-paid calling cards all the pay phones require. With no way of changing plans, I considered my options with Scotty, who was eating this season’s cherries just picked off the tree, each one with a worm, like all backyard cherries.
Most people drive to Baker City, Oregon, then around. It would add almost 200 miles to my trip, at least two long days biking. But, Scotty said, there was the “other” back road. It was rough. Real steep. Dry, take extra water. But you could do it in a pickup truck, Scotty said.
If you can do it in a truck, I can do it on my bike, I said, and he showed me on my map where it was and where I’d need to go from there. OK, I said, I’m off. “Well, maybe someone in a pickup truck will come along,” Scotty said. “But I wouldn’t count on it, hardly anyone drives that road.”
Back to Oxbow and down the river, past the camps with luxuriant RVs and power boats, tents and houseboats. Everyone fishing. Hatch along the road so thick I had to keep my head down, which made my shirt billow. That let the bugs in and I had to stop to shake the midges out of my shirt and jog bra. Big fish jumping, anglers of all sizes working from banks and boats. One guy stopped me to make sure I didn’t think I could get to Hell’s Canyon Dam on that road. A lot of cyclists make that mistake. Nope, I said, I’m going up the back road. “You are? That’s a rough road. But the BLM graded it a couple weeks ago, it’s passable,” he said in good humor. “Good luck.” I stopped a BLM guy and asked him about the road, and the one beyond that. The first is passable, he’d heard, the second, he couldn’t say.
All the while, I’m remembering the dirt road in Utah between Liberty and Avon, the one with the awful gravel and the dust that made me slide into the hairpin turns and wrestle with the trailer. I did that. It was slow and hard, but trucks could barely make it. They make this. I can do this.
The entry to the road had an awkward cant that made me turn at a poor angle for riding, so I pushed a slow 50 yards before starting to ride. I rode 50 yards to the first switch back. Same problem, sliding down into the pit. I pushed. I rode. I pushed. And pushed. Mostly, I pushed. It was hot and very dusty, I was thankful for thick, intermittent cloud cover. I worked out a system of really getting my upper body behind the bike seat and digging into solid rocks with my toes. I made about a mile. My puny arms insist it was two. Maybe it was one and a half. It was so slow the odometer didn’t keep track. I counted steps: could I go 100? How about two sets of 50? The switchbacks stacked up directly on top of each other, and I thought I must be hallucinating when I saw a little pickup chugging up the road below me. I was already stopped, but I skootched to the far inside to give him running room. Instead of zooming by, he stopped in a cloud of dust and rolled down his window.
“I could see by the tracks there was someone bicycling up this. I wanted to see who could be tough enough to do that,” said the man who turned out to be Wayne.
I laughed and said something along the lines of it being apparently more foolish than tough. Thinking of Scotty’s advice I asked: Did he think we could get my rig in his truck for a ride to the top? Well, we’ll see, he said, because it was my great good fortune to ask a favor of many who is accustomed to making things happen.
The bed of his truck was set up for comfortable sleeping, as the truck of any serious prospector would be. But lacking the top window of his topper, it was almost as dusty in there as on the road. I quickly detached the trailer, popped off my front tire, and jiggered the whole mess on top of his bedroll without squashing anything. The next trick was to squeeze me into the cab. Wayne’s brother Gene was in the passenger seat but had his foot squarely on the brake, so after switching brakemen, Gene got out and I said “I’m skinny. I’ll be fine.” He could have had a gross of eggs back there and I’d have made a way to fit. As it was, I wriggled my way into a butt-sized space under two metal detectors, a guitar in its case, a mandolin and a giant can of mixed nuts. They were going to a family reunion. The musical instruments were for the party. The metal detectors were for Wayne’s prospecting. The nuts were for the day he gets into something he can’t figure a way out of right away.
Away we went, out of the deepest hole in North America – Hell’s Canyon, 5,500 feet deep – through dry rolling hills that unfolded almost uninterrupted like folds in the skin off a great reclining creature. At the center, glinting in and out of sight, was the silver ribbon of river, getting farther and farther as the little pickup climbed. Within a half hour of lively conversation we had reached the top and were unloading my gear. Pushing, if I had been able to make the top, I think it would have taken me days.
They headed further up the Imnaha River toward the reunion site. I reassembled my bike and my option. My understanding was that even from here, the direct road to Joseph was unpassable. I would ride something like 30 miles to Imnaha, then about the same distance, all up hill, to Joseph. I could do that. I started off. The pavement ended and it rained off and on, but I flew along, happy not to be pushing the bike.
I pulled up short when the peacocks started barking at me. What a thing to see. A dozen peacocks at home on an old homestead and current working ranch. As I took pictures, a dog and a man came around to say Hi. He cared for the place for his uncle. Yes, winters could be tough, he was snowed in from December to March one year, but generally the road was graded and he could take the back road to Joseph without going through Imnaha. Wow, the road washing out must have changed that, then, huh? I said. Oh, no, he said, it’s OK from here, that washout is a little further down, he said. I was stunned. Everyone had said even up top you couldn’t get past Lick Creek. Hmm. I discussed the relative merits of each route and the smart choice was clear. Back track and avoid the town of Imnaha. It was uphill, but at least not all the way, and it was paved and shorter. Back I went up the six miles I’d just come down and started the 11-mile climb toward the campground. It was a grind. I fanaticized about a fire. About the roll-up I would make with my last tortilla. About getting done with this day.
I rolled into Lick Creek campground with the rain coming in earnest. I threw up the tent and tossed everything I’d need inside. Soaked, I went to pay my $6. I smelled smoke. There was my fire. I looked around the quiet grounds and there were two people I’d soon call friends. Rubin and Mandy shared their fire, gave me hot cocoa, cooked me a hamburger and told the stories of their grandmothers as we discussed my travels with Josie. This day was done, and I’m supremely grateful for the hands who pushed and pulled me through it. Thanks Wayne and Gene; Thanks Rubin and Mandy.
Afterward: Thanks especially to Wayne and Gene, I made it to Joseph in time to meet Sarah and Michael for the Independence Day weekend. I’m glad to be off the road as the volume and impatience of the traffic increased dramatically. I’ll be back on the road on the fifth. Happy holiday everyone
Posted on June 24, 2010 - by Nadia
Day 20: June 23, 2010
Huntsville, Utah to Newton, Utah
I chose to traverse the Liberty to Avon/Paradise “old road,” rather than descending to North Ogden, then reclimbing into the Logan Valley. The old road was five hard, dusty miles of loose rock and steep switchbacks. It’s the first time I’ve pushed my bike because I had to, especially on dusty switch backs, the trailer and bike would gang up to drag me into the pit. I got a trailer flat. I was a sweaty mess at the top, but the successful crossing – which essentially ducked behind both Wolf Creek Ski Area and Powder Mountain – has earned me the respect of every direction giver out here: “Oh, if you did that, this short cut will be no problem.”
The pass was resplendent with balsam arrowleaf flowers, and the gravel descent no problem if I kept it slow. After about 15 miles of that – 30 or so on the day – I hit pavement and proceeded through increasingly bigger towns until I got to Logan. No one smiles in Logan. I hurried through and overshot my mark to some degree, realizing I needed to work my way west in order to get across I-15. I started doing that on side roads, but ultimately found myself nearing dusk, uncertain which way to turn. I knocked on the nearest door and, after a moment’s hesitation, found kindness, and a place to pitch my tent for the night.
In the corner of a kitchen whiteboard crowded with family phone numbers and reminders, Natalie Larsen keeps track of a few extra observations in her life: Space shuttle and space station together. 3.5 earthquake. Venus, Saturn and Jupiter aligned. Without missing a beat, the dairy farmer’s wife and mother of five, makes room for a stranger at her counter, offers up dinner, slips three loaves of bread into the oven, and keeps the two middle children easily included in the conversation. Her universe is her nuclear family, yet her head sneaks off to the stars from time to time.
“I keep meaning to write them into a notebook,” Natalie said, nodding to her whiteboard notations of cosmic observations.
A border collie named either Nana or Bandit (leaving her open to Banana jokes, but the punchline is unclear,) had barked her warning, then slunk back under a bush when I knocked on the storm door. Jamie had given me a quick second look to see if I was a nut when I asked if her mom was home. But after Natalie said it was OK to pitch my tent anywhere it would fit, and then came out to ask me in for scones, well, Jamie and her older brother Nathan peppered me with some of the best questions I’ve been asked all trip.
We exchanged stories about places, and the reasons we go there – Did you know there is next to nothing on the west side of the Great Salt Lake? Nathan’s been there to buy tractor, and says it’s so. He’s also taken a back way into Old Faithful on a trip he earned by being an outstanding student. Jamie wondered if I got tired or scared, if I was married, and why I was taking my trip. The scones were a sweet fry bread with honey butter, a warm end to my sticky day. I am shy and feel awkward about barging in on people’s lives, a stranger showing up at the door. But Natalie and the kids let me in, and that was special.
I slept soundly out by a sad cow who clanked and lowed to be with the others. I was awakened by a powerful and familiar smell. Skunk! So powerful it seemed as though Emma had gotten stunk and come into the tent. The air cleared. Natalie’s husband came home late and left to milk at 4:30, returning at 7 in time to set me straight on where I was going. (The Long Divide, a winding gravel climb up and over a stout hill separating the Logan Valley from the I-15 corridor proved to be another shortcut that has raised eyebrows all day.) I’ve wondered all day if he gets to take a nap before milking again at 4. I hope so.
Nathan told me there used to be 15 dairies in the Newton area. Now there are five. When I woke up at dawn I could see the gregarious ninth grader shifting irrigation pipe up on the hill. Helping his dad, uncle and grandfather is his summer job. Big dairy consolidation has coupled with the bizarre tendency of milk prices to stay the same even as the cost of everything else soars, to make it hard to stay in the business. But dairy is what this family does, like meeting a stranger’s request for help with an extra serving of kindness.
Posted on June 4, 2010 - by Nadia
Ina K. Labrier waved from under the apricot tree that shades her turquoise blue front porch. “Thanks for visiting. Have a good adventure,” she called to me. I got on my bike and rode away from the ranch house that was once the center of life for the sprawling 101 Ranch. The 101 is gone, and so is Ross, Ina’s husband, who bought the core of the ranch, but at 92, Ina K. rides herd on memories of old Kenton.
I spent several pleasant hours with Ina in March, sorting out Josie’s family tree. Our branches are entangled, as might be expected in a town that started small and isolated and has only gotten more so. Josie’s sister Roselind married Henry Jones, the 101 Ranch manager, in about 1886, the year Kenton became a town. They had a daughter, also named Roselind, which is confusing to novice genealogists, though not to Ina, who uses her middle initial K to differentiate between herself and her mother, also Ina. Rose Jr. married one of Ross Labrier’s nephews and some of their kids are still around the Boise City area (Boise rhymes with “Voice.”)
Last time I was here, after we’d hashed out the family tree, Ina showed me the china she brought to Kenton after she married. She had her mother’s china as well, and I scrambled to the top shelves in her kitchen to bring down pieces of each set to compare the patterns.
There is a certain optimism in the classic floral patterns – roses, with details of yellow and blue and gold trim — an optimism in bringing such delicate ware to the rough and tumble high, dry prairie.The plates say, This is Kenton, a place to put down roots and make opportunity. As if to prove it, in 1884 residents installed a 30-mile telephone line that served ranchers up and down the Dry Cimarron valley. The population grew, the town had a ball field, horse races, two stores, a lumber yard. Its social dances drew people far and wide. The triple whammy of the Dust Bowl, the Depression and then World War II, drained the young people away. Today, Kenton’s reported population of 116 seems grossly exaggerated. Simply sixteen feels closer to true.
Asa and Fannie Mae Jones tend the Kenton Museum, a cut stone building packed with the remains of an earlier day – barbed wire, egg scales, arrow heads and lots of old photos. I had visited the Joneses at length in March, so I stopped by the museum to say thank you to them. Asa, true to his cowboy past, was wearing a fancy white shirt with pearl buttons and had already greeted a group of South Dakotans on a men’s retreat, making it a big day already. Fannie Mae was baking cookies for a funeral. She’s the history buff, he’s a dinosaur footprint and artifact hunter, but Asa tells his own tales of Kenton’s past – versions that often provoke a questioning glance from Fannie, but they tell well.
I stopped and said hi, but I couldn’t hang out and chat. The day was shaping up to be a scorcher. Billy Mock, a rancher and sweetheart of a guy gave me a ride to Kenton so that I didn’t have to ride 100 miles on my first day. Billy was raised on a homestead about halfway between Kenton and Clayton. Today he oversees 11,000 acres on six separate parcels, but he still found time to drive me 50 miles out of his way first thing in the morning.
I gave Asa, Billy and Ina each a card with my blog address, and they were all thrilled to see the photo of Josie, but each had the same words for my blog: “Honey, I don’t use the computer much.” Kenton is on a highway. It’s narrow and lacks shoulders, but it goes where people want to go. It isn’t a superhighway, information, or otherwise.