Saturday, August 17, 2013

Us Vs. River: Trip Part Four

Despite the coziness of our cabin, regulating mountain temperature is a chore. We started off hot, keeping the windows open, then sometime around midnight, we were frozen. At least I was. Everyone else was asleep. I spent most of the night opening and closing windows.
But morning arrived at last.
My husband became the Greatest Man on Earth when he managed to run some power in the truck long enough to trickle out two cups of coffee for us. And there was only a little dirt in the bottom-- not his fault. But no matter because today was the day. 

The day we would do something we had never done before. All together. Something that would challenge us. That would drag us from our comfortable lives on dry ground. This thing we had been thinking about for weeks. White Water Rafting.

We showed up at the building downtown where we were to meet, where we paid a heavenly sum to risk our lives in such a manner. They gave us water shoes, helmets, and paddles, then the talk on How Not to Hold the Paddle and What to Do If You Fall Out of the Boat. Our very awesome guide assured us this rarely happens. He also said the boat rarely tips over. He did have to warn us that this was an adventurous activity in which we could perish. After this comforting speech, we all boarded a van for a ride across the canyon to the launching point.
 It turns out we were the only family on this boat, with one other couple joining us for the rapids-- who would then get out and take a kayak the rest of the way. An employee on a bike rode the trail beside the river to snap pictures of us all while we struggled through. This is the only reason I have over a hundred pictures of this adventure. And because I couldn't say no to buying a whole flash drive-worth of them. We did get a couple of great family shots, however. (Note to self: If all goes south, someday get a job riding a bike along the river, taking pictures).

Well, it is one thing to view the gorgeous river flowing along the highway, from the safety of your car. It is quite another to actually climb into a rubber raft that is going to sail into the cold, swirling water, only inches from you. I am surprised the kids did not get out and run at that point. They knew there was no going back, and resigned themselves to hunkering down in the back of the boat for the worst of it. My son looked on in-- fear? disbelief?-- as the adults practiced paddling and leaning, just a quick refresher before pushing into the briny deep. 
And then we were off!
We got drenched. The rapids were like Mother Nature dumping gallons of frigid water in your face, while you keep paddling like a tiny ant. Our guide would tell us how many strokes to take, since he was very experienced, and seemed to know what it would take to get us out of the drain. After the first few miles of rapids, we were able to take off our helmets, attempt to dry out in the sun, and just relax a little. We conversed with our guide and enjoyed the scenery. 

At one point, we stopped along the side where hot springs had created a little rocky alcove. He let us out, and we took off those slimy wet shoes to warm our feet. The shore was smelly, but it was interesting. The springs near the source were too hot to even touch, but farther out, we found the perfect temperatures. This was one of those magical places I had to remember in my mind, since the camera girl had long gone, and I had nothing with me. Although I respected the river, this was the highlight of the rafting trip for me.

Reluctantly, we got back in the boat. A little farther on, we reached our disembarking point. I should mention that part of the whole rafting experience is the rafting guide. We had a great one, and that made for an awesome trip. The guide is not only your lifesaver; he is also an entertainer. He lives out of a tent all summer, and the river is his second home. He knows it intimately. We got to hear his stories, and he asked us plenty of questions. I'm sure we will run into him on a remote mountain path or river someday, as long as my husband is with us. 

Tipping the guide is a big way to show that you liked him. We did this afterward, especially since he sat through our picture show at the ice cream shop. Yes, after the van ride back, we were taken across the street to an ice cream shop to view our pictures on tv screens there. Quite a set-up, yes? Because of course, in a shop like this, also full of candy, you just have to have refreshment after a half-day long ride on the river. 
Driving back to our little cabin-in-the-wilderness felt pretty good this time. Lo and behold, we arrived to more settlers. The lone woman had moved out, and a family had taken her place. The two cabins next to us were occupied by a very large family, who had also set up a giant tent. We were never so happy to have neighbors up there as we grilled our hamburgers. We kind of enjoyed watching them tiptoe through the spiky weeds, stare at the pile of bones, and discover the lack of electricity in the bath house. Because we felt like survivors.

My daughter made immediate friends with a girl her age. This family was on their way home to Chicago, and it's too bad we couldn't have actually known each other in real life. Still, this time, I was the one who talked with them as it got very dark. We told of our travels and things we had seen, while the girls walked around with flashlights, talking and writing in a little book. We laughed about the two-mile drive up the road that required one to wear a sports bra. (She got the joke). We wished each other well and safe travels. The girls wished each other good-night.
This would be our last night at the ranch. We had made arrangements to leave the next day, after my mini-meltdown in which I said I didn't want our trip to end here, and I had visions of going back somewhere cool, wet, and green. With less dirt, and more rocks. Maybe by a river. We were pretty sure we knew just the place. 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Buttons, Bones, & a Battery: Trip Part 3

After another glorious breakfast, I took a little time to snoop around the Main House. Our hosts had some interesting collections, and I engaged in a little history conversation with Mr. H. after spying an old weapon on the wall. He showed me a drawer of Civil War-era bullets-- among them, an actual Minie ball. These balls were responsible for the loss of many soldier's limbs in battle.

He also had a bullet he had found in a nearby area, where Teddy Roosevelt was known to have hunted elk. Based on the age and type, this bullet could have been used by Teddy. I really loved this printer's cabinet. Just opening each drawer was a little like opening a present. You didn't know exactly what you'd find, but it was pretty cool. 

There were at least ten drawers of buttons!

Our first plan for the day was to spend several hours at the famed Hot Springs Pool. This pool "has been a sanctuary of relaxation and fun for over a century." Its "rich minerals have been soothing and restoring all who swim, soak, and play here for generations." Sounded wonderful. Upon arriving, we noted the sign to leave your marijuana at home, then paid the equivalent amount of four baby goats (just guessing?) to enter the pool. 

Before long, I realized that this is an international gathering. People come from all over to experience this place. We should feel privileged to even be here. Never mind the smell of rotten eggs, and the elderly European men in Speedos. I scrounged a couple of lawn chairs in the grass, then settled in to read for awhile. The kids took off for the pool. (But not the water slides, because those cost extra).
The people-watching was as good as at the airport. I noted a man nearby who had a very interesting haircut. In fact, I sketched it onto my notepad. Picture something that looked like a helmet, attached to a strip of hair that crawled from the temple, down and around the chin. Then, I saw three more men with the exact same haircut. Maybe a cultural thing? I knew of no men here who would don that hairdo, let alone with three of their buddies. 
A man sitting several feet from me (who left his gross flip-flops right next to my chair) was reading the SAME book as me ("Wild" by Cheryl Strayed). I quickly put mine away and pulled out my notebook instead, afraid I'd become his book club buddy. Plus, he was there first so he had the reading right. 

I tried to write a little, in between the head sketches and listening to other languages around me, enjoying the sun. Then the kids and husband came back. 
Grouchily, the kids laid down in the grass. "It stinks! I can't get that taste out of my mouth! I'm ready to go!"
"What? We can't go yet."
"I'm hungry!"
"Our lunch is in the truck, which is about two miles away. Once we leave, we don't really want to walk all the way back in here."

Clearly, the altitude and nibbling on the breakfast was getting to them.
"Plus, I just paid half your college savings to get in here!"
Of course, this was a joke. We have no college savings.

So after I dipped myself in the gray-ish warm water for a little bit, we packed up and headed to the truck for our tailgate picnic.
So much for the rich, nourishing minerals of the mountain springs. It was time to find our camp.

Here's a travel tip. It's not a great idea to spoil yourself at a Bed and Breakfast and THEN try to go camping. This was not my original plan, but that is how it worked out based on the availability of where we wanted to go. 
We drove back through the beautiful canyon, then off a road that took us to a locked gate. We had the code, so we drove on through the Ranch, up to the building where we were supposed to check in. People milled about, putting on helmets, getting on ATV's, with no one looking eager to help us. Finally, we went inside a little place and hesitantly paid for our next three nights. (That's another thing about camping-- you always pay BEFORE, which can be scary). 
The host/rancher said he would take us to the cabin, and hopped on his own ATV, complete with a real live border collie sitting on the front. 
Then guess what? Our truck wouldn't start again. Oh glee. So the rancher pulled up his truck, and after a jump, we were on our way. Farther up the trail. Up a completely rocky road. Around curves. For miles we bounced. Was he taking us up to the edge of a cliff? If he went over, would we follow him? 

Finally, the cabins. We had to park on the road up behind them. We jumped out, leaving the truck running, our flip-flops becoming shovels for the dirt. The rancher flashed a white smile across his tanned face. "How'd ya like the ride up?"
He took us down to pick out our cabin, since there were three open. First of all, I should say that the view was breathtaking. But it was remote. The air was dry, the ground was dry, and the flies were biting. We were close to a big bath/shower house, but there was no electricity despite the lightswitches inside. We located the power outlet as big as my fist, just laying outside, taunting us. Apparently, they did use the juice for special events (people get married up here), but not for campers. 

We picked out our cabin. Was it a bad omen that there was a pile of BONES right outside it? I could feel a meltdown coming on. Luckily my daughter had hers first. I tried to convince her it would be fine, all the while wondering what I had brought us to. We unpacked our stuff, shoving it in the cabin. Then we took off again down the road, to town for a truck battery and for a reassuring sign of civilization.

Summer's not complete until you blow a wad of money on a local carnival. While hb bought the battery, the kids and I found a carnival just being set up for the town's Strawberry Days. We did not partake in Strawberry Days-- after all, we don't like crowds THAT much. But they did want to ride The Sizzler. Just the thing to take their mind off troubles. As soon as the ride started, my son's face went pale and he mouthed to me, "I'm going to throw up." There was nothing I could do but pray. His sister was on the inside of their seat, so it wouldn't hit her due to the shifting gravity, but who knows what would happen with flying vomit. Suddenly, I had a horrible flashback of a time my brother played on a huge bungee jumper at a ski resort, and then came down with crippling altitude sickness. I prayed that The Sizzler would not sizzle my son in the same way. My prayers must have worked, since after a couple of rotations, the color came back and he appeared fine. We blew more money in a maze of mirrors, then headed back to our happy little cabin.

The evening's dinner: hot dogs. Yes, it was part of the plan. After settling in, we all felt a little better. Up here, there was no wi-fi, but amazingly the phone service was great. This meant a lot of reading. I'm thankful to have kids who like to read (when there is nothing else to do). A group of horse riders came through, and tied the horses right outside our cabin while the riders went down to eat at the chuck wagon. I took a moment to go talk to them (the horses), and wonder what they were thinking as they looked back at me. The only other camper-- a lone woman-- came out to see them as well. Could I camp alone like her? I don't know, but maybe someday I will try that. 

At dusk, I walked around the pond, and hopped over a little creek. I stopped still when I heard some trampling through the brush. In a second, a deer and I came face-to-face under a full moon. Those kinds of things you can't plan for.