14 October 2009

Headed for the hills -- part VI

Full and happy following a good breakfast and plenty of coffee, we head out of the restaurant and back into the rain. We drove back to the campground to find the camp store open, so we stopped before heading back to the campsite.

The store is nice, with a large porch outside and nicer people inside. A woman, who I guess is in her mid-fifties, helps me with the check-in process. It's easy (they actually preferred that I write them a check), and I also purchased a couple of bundles of firewood, some fire starters, and ice for the cooler.

Loaded down with provisions, we headed back to camp to get ready for our canoe trip. We packed a cooler with lunch (as well as some beer and wine) and filled a dry bag with a camera and other items we will need on the river. Then it was time to head back out.

We hauled our stuff back to the camp office where a beat-up old van was waiting to take us to the river. We were joined by several families who were also going to do some paddling, although we were the only ones headed out on the 10-mile trip. And then we were off through the countryside, driving along winding back roads for fifteen minutes or so until we came to the put-in for the long paddle.

By now the rain had stopped, and we were both practically beaming as we walked down a gentle slope to the riverside. It wasn't long before we had the canoe in the water, and with a friendly wave, we said goodbye to the other canoeists and shoved off.

Almost immediately, we came to a small bridge, then the first big bend in the river. When we came around it, it was like we'd left any kind of civilization far behind. There were no cars to be seen or heard, and no people around, either. All was quiet and peaceful, with green meadows rising on either side of the river. I can't really explain the feeling of peace that came over me that morning; everything was beautiful and verdant, and I practically expected Julie Andrews to top one of the hills and start singing from "The Sound of Music" as we passed. Row after row of fir trees topped the hills as far as the eye could see, rhododendrons climbed the walls of sheer rock faces along the riverside, and occasional flocks of geese paddled quietly downstream. I couldn't stop goggling at it all; I wouldn't have been the least surprised to see Snow White leading a line of happy woodland creatures along the riverbank.

One of the things that surprised me the most was the number of cows we saw along the river. Every so often as we paddled along, we would come to a field where cows, bulls and calves would start lowing in unison when they saw us. For some reason, I was completely entertained by the sight of a half-dozen of these animals wandering around a dilapidated school bus.

The geese were also entertaining. Most of the time, they would swim slowly away as we approached, but one time we decided to head straight for a flock floating peacefully in the middle of the river. As we got within twenty feet or so of the group, they suddenly took flight, splashing and honking, making a splendid sight. It was truly amazing.

After a couple of hours of easy paddling, we decided to stop for lunch. We found a spot where a small shoal led onto one of the meadows, and we pulled the canoe onshore. After a nice picnic, we hopped back into the canoe and headed back downriver.

It wasn't long before we ran into three inflatable boats, each filled with three men. One was paddling, using two oars to navigate, while the other two fished for trout. They seemed to be having almost as good of a time as we were, and we exchanged pleasantries as we passed by.

A short time later, we found a rock outcrop in the middle of the river that seemed to be a good place to stop for a swim. The water was cool and clear, and we had a good time scrambling around on the rocks.

After the swim, we came to a large series of rapids. Our drivers had warned us about these, and suggested that we stay far to the right for the best passage. But I think we went too far to the right, leaving the main flow of the river and heading to the side of a small island in the stream. While we may have avoided the rapids, we ran into a shallow, rocky patch that required more getting out of the canoe and pulling rather than expert paddling.

It was hard work, but after about 10 minutes or so we were back into the main part of the stream and headed back to camp. There was time for one more swim, and about half an hour later we paddled up to the take-out point, tired but very, very happy.

To be continued...

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