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Saturday, August 07, 2010

Ah, bliss!

Day 6.

We rose early to escape the heat and wind. Risa, whose wrists were burning despite the sunscreen she lathered on, switched from her long-sleeved tee shirt to the microfiber jacket she'd brought along for evenings, to take advantage of its over-long sleeves. She draped a bandanna round the back of her head, tucked into her cap band. Every quarter mile or so she would pour some of the river over her head and shoulders.

To paddle in such heat, without benefit of current, hour after hour, requires fine-tuning of paddle technique. Risa learned to barely touch the water, so as not to build up fatigue in her muscles and joints, and yet maintain way on the vessel. There is a bow wave, or wake, that lets you know you are making decent time, and the idea is to keep that going at its minimum, but not less, which is actually more work. So you check the bow wave and the muscular effort and you also check on a landmark toward which the bow is pointing. On the left stroke, your bow, as seen from your vantage point, should slowly cross the landmark, then on the right stroke, the bow should cross back again, no more than a few inches each time, and the same distance across, each time. There is no straight line in nature, but in paddling still water, the straighter your line, the less work.

Risa keeps her bow wave up

The Cowboy took naps from time to time, slouched deep in the kayak with the paddle at rest and drifting along backwards, a practice that is safe only for short straight stretches of river that have been examined in advance for strainers and deadheads. From one such nap he awoke to find a llama sitting on a beach, staring back at him and twitching its ears. He tried to engage the llama in conversation but it was deep in thoughts of its own.

A large island provided a decent lunch spot in the usual place, at the tail end between the currents with carp napping in the shallows. The willows were not very tall, and hiding from the sun was difficult. Two kayaks appeared from downstream, in them a retired-looking couple paddling against the current.

Risa hailed them. "Nice Greenland paddle."

"Thanks! Greenland kayak, too," said the gentleman. "Made them both." The boats were long, lithe and very beautiful, and The Cowboy asked at length about their construction and performance. Risa could see the wheels turning in his head.

Immediately below this island, the current vanishes and the motorboaters and private docks multiply accordingly. The pool -- lake, in effect -- is over thirty miles long, ending in a 40-foot waterfall at the place where the ancient inland lake that is now the river valley suffered its blowout.

It now became necessary to watch out constantly for ski-boats, wakeboarders, and their wakes, some of which were large enough to swamp a loaded kayak. It being Sunday, with a high of 95(F) or thereabouts, there were more than two hundred such boats in the pool, with a police helicopter to keep them company. Bedlam! We kept to the shoreline, both to avoid being run over and to take all possible advantage of shade.

View, at lunch, of a gas pipeline crossing

Risa came to a foot-long suckerfish, swimming lazily on the surface as if addled by the heat. She put her paddle blade under its belly and lifted it out of the water. They regarded one another somnolently for five long seconds; then the fish shrugged itself off the paddle blade and swam unconcernedly away. Risa thought wistfully of the wilderness island they had just left behind. Every now and then The Cowboy would catch up to her and say, "This is excessive! Sacajawea (his name for her on the trip), where do we get off the river tonight? Round the next bend, I hope?"

"Where" eventually turned out to be a large state park on a high bluff. To reach the bluff, it was necessary to pull in to a dock eighteen inches above the water, find a way to clamber up and flop to the hot deck amongst a crowd of local fishermen and biki-clad teenage cheerleaders, unload the boats, carry gear up a ramp and staircase, negotiating dogs and baby carriages the whole way, then come back for the boats and repeat the parade. A pair of tandem kayakers whom we'd met along the way, and who came in a few minutes behind us, elected to padlock their boat to the dock and bring up only their gear.

19 mile day, every inch on flat water against wind and wave and cigar-brandishing SUV-boaters. 129.5 river miles total.

The designated river-camper area was baking in the sun, so we piled everything and retired to a shaded picnic table for a dinner of summer sausage and Gouda cheese, washed down with some hoarded Kahlua. Risa then found a park ranger, who very nicely provided a map of the park and directed her to the developed campground, where she would find a shower-house. She hoped he would not smell the Kahlua on her breath.

Hey, it was only a 2 ounce bottle ...

The Cowboy elected to pitch his tent, change therein to swim trunks, set aside his cowboy hat for once, and dive off the dock into the river. Risa took her one dress, a muumuu she'd acquired in Miami, and headed for the motor-home-with-satellite-dish packed campground, where she met many quite nice people, then stood under an endless stream of hot water with a bar of soap in her hand.

Ah, bliss! Free, too.

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