Helllloooo again friends!
Well, we’re back in sunny (and hot!) Oklahoma again, settled back into the day to day routine of life here. We arrived home on Monday afternoon after two very long days of driving, having hit about 4500 miles (~7200km) for the trip total, and the rest of this week has been a messy throwing together of a million things that need to be done (and a great number that still haven’t yet been ticked off the list!), like washing and ironing and grocery shopping… And uni. Mostly a lot of uni. And training, because I foolishly decided to do James’s program on Wednesday afternoon and I thought my arms and legs were going to fall off. A scarring experience!
Anyway, I know you’re all here for the recap of our most recent adventures, and I’d hate to disappoint, so I’ll pick up where we left off two weeks ago, with us in Idaho Falls. I think this may be the longest blog post I’ve ever done, so please, for the love of all that is good, grab a coffee or a drink of water before you undertake the long journey!
Saturday 08 July. Saturday morning saw us packing up again and jumping into the car to head north to Boise, during which we somehow managed to skip lunch again: how does this happen? I’m not sure, but it’s not very pleasant. We checked into our cool and quiet Airbnb not far from downtown and changed into training clothes, as James had a (horrible looking) session to do. Luckily Boise State University wasn’t too far away and we were able to walk down there and get our training done [Disclaimer: I was going to say get our sweat on, but considering I started sweating as soon as we walked out of the front door of the Airbnb, it didn’t seem to be a very accurate way of conveying that we did some training], always searching for that elusive spot of change and quickly, in my case, turning as red as an overripe tomato. After showering and somehow managing to cool back down again, we got in touch with my oldest brother, Elliot, who’d flown over from Australia four days earlier to come rafting!
It’s always amusing to me how people who don’t have a car or don’t drive assume that meet ups will happen by foot… No mate: we’re driving to collect you. Unfortunately for Elliot’s sense of propriety, our lack of lunch meant that we were pretty hungry all afternoon, especially after training, and an early dinner was on the cards. We headed out into the heat to peruse a nearby bar and restaurant which looked heinously expensive and had some pricey and not super delicious beverages—Elliot is a bartender and classical pianist, so those are two things he tends to be ridiculously critical of (and these drinks weren’t up to standard)—before thinking about where we were going to eat. After throwing some ideas back and forth, we ended up going for dinner at the Cottonwood Grille, which was fairly nice… Except for the moment when Elliot, still a tad raw from a too-recent encounter with a debilitating case of food poisoning, ate a room-temperature oyster and saw his whole life flash before his eyes. One quick, ’productive’ trip to the bathroom and a chat to the waiter later, he changed his order to the bison and everyone was a bit relieved. I undoubtedly ate too much—a hazard, I’d like to point out, that I’m 99% sure has something to do with not eating lunch—and rolled myself out of there afterwards with a great deal of huffing and puffing.
The early evening was balmy and beautiful, and we walked over the road to check out the Anne Frank Memorial (which I will admit I thought a rather strange site to find in Boise, Idaho). It’s a beautifully constructed open-air space dedicated to human rights, and amongst the running water and sandstone plinths, carries a multitude of evocative quotes from various people and historical eras; if you’re in Boise, I recommend a visit to this lovely, simple tribute to Anne Frank and human rights.
Sunday 09 July. After an almost obscenely late sleep-in (who am I anymore?) we collected Elliot and all his goods and chattels and had a quick bite to eat at a small, artsy little cafe-store. Sadly for all involved, we then seemed to commence what can only be called a great deal of fairly pointless running around. Despite James’s best efforts, we managed to do a substandard job of planning out where we needed to go, and thus probably criss-crossed back over our own trail countless times, which was frustrating. Regardless, I managed to get some truly delicious new face products from Lush and we finally got our snacks, beverages and other superfluities for our rafting trip!
In amongst all of this, we headed off to the south of Boise to check out The Peregrine Fund, a research and restoration organisation founded in 1970 due to the extreme endangerment of the Peregrine Falcon in North America. Elliot found it during his earlier internet explorations of Boise, and we all decided it sounded worth checking out, since all three of us love birds. We arrived just in time to catch the live raptor presentation (featuring a peregrine falcon called Gus), which was truly excellent and very informative: basically in falcon-world, females are the badasses, and I was totally cool with this. Afterwards, the three of us took the chance to wander around the centre a bit and check out some of the displays, including a small crawl-through tunnel which, when investigated further by yours truly turned out to have very definitively been designed with children in mind. I think I came pretty close to getting stuck, but escaped unscathed! James and I had probably slightly more fun that absolutely necessary trying on different birds wings before we headed outside to meet as many birds as we could (and for anyone who’s ever wondered, the Californian Condor is really pretty ugly looking).
After we finally found some acceptable boxed wine for Elliot for the trip, we set off on the winding road into the mountains towards Stanley far later than anticipated. We had a mountain of washing in the boot, sure that we would be able to find somewhere to sort that all out when we got there. Sadly, once again, we were mistaken in many things. We’d offered for Elliot to spend the night on the floor of our hotel room so he’d have somewhere to stay, and the three of us crammed into the steamy little oven box with just a hint of concern, but positive we’d be alright. We’d discovered that there were no laundry facilities in the hotel or in the town in general, so James and I commenced some bathroom-sink laundering before heading gout to meet up with Uncle John and Sue for dinner. A friend of theirs from UC-Davis, Jim (also affectionately known in various circles as ‘The Professor’) had come along for the trip, and we got to meet our cousin Kelley’s housemate, Jordan (who, I’d like to briefly forewarn, is a complete and utter legend). We had a great dinner chatting with them all—and arguing with Elliot for me—before parting with their reminder not to miss the 8pm meet up at the Mountain Village Lodge.
We had to meet up with Billie, the lead guide, to discuss movements for the following day, and were some of the first people to arrive there. What followed was an extended period of time wasted with people doggedly pursuing red herring questions—there were going to be mosquitoes? How many? How big would they be? What was the height of the water going to be throughout the trip? What did that mean?—while James and I watched some cows, including a blue cow (seriously), frolicking on the other side of the river, and attempted to tune out all of the inanity. Afterwards, as a sop for our wounded souls following some of the ridiculous questions asked during the meeting, we went and got some delightful ice cream from a small local store. We were also lucky enough to find that one of the equipment stores were open to grab a few last minute things (is anyone else seeing a trend here?).
Elliot, hardly surprisingly, wanted to go out for a drink at the only pub in town, so after doing our best to finalise everything for the morning, we lay down and tried to get some sleep. I think our noisy and drunken houseguest returned at around midnight, but there I was at 1am, still awake. I finally fell asleep at about 4—making it legitimately the worst night of sleep I have ever had, with seemingly no real reason for being so—but having managed to start an interesting new book in that time (damn you Somerset Maugham, I was particularly looking for something not interesting!).
Monday 10 July. We drove the car down the following morning to park it in the carpark across the road, and hauled our stuff to the meeting point. Of course, if you’re meeting up to leave at 0800, no one is ever ready to leave at 0800 and after some time spent faffing around a bit, we loaded onto the worn out old bus.
The drive from Stanley to the ‘put in’ point (affectionately known as the puddin’ point, because who doesn’t love some puddin’?) is about two hours, on possibly the oldest and tiredest bus in the world (it certainly had the worst suspension!), which put paid to any pie-in-the-sky plans of napping on the trip in. Nevertheless, we finally got there and met up with the guides: HURRAY, KELLEY AND BRETT!! (Yes, that is how excited I was to see my cousins again!)
After I braided Jordan’s hair for her (starting a trip tradition), we pulled up some sitting space for another brief from Billie and a paddleboat demonstration by Cortni before applying fresh coats of sunscreen, filling our water bottles and dragging our boat down the wooden ramp. Uncle John, Sue, Elliot, James, Jim and I jumped into the paddleboat with Dave as our guide sitting at the back and steering us down the river… And then we were off!
Our trip, to provide some context, was a six-day rafting trip down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, a 167km long stretch of river in the centre of the 2.5 million acre Frank Church—River of No Return Wilderness Area. It is a visually stunning part of the world, complete with crystal clear water, countless feed-in creeks and streams, numerous waterfalls along the river banks, flora, fauna, seemingly a million-and-one hot springs, and plenty of beautiful wide open spaces.
We probably only spent an hour or less on the river before stopping for lunch, just getting our river legs under us and getting rather damp in the process. Lunch on these trip is, apparently, always a two-part process: the guides put out chips, biscuits (no, not American biscuits, I mean biscuits, because Oreos are not ‘cookie’s), and the makings of PB&J sandwiches to keep the ravenous hordes busy while they put together the more nutritious and elaborate part of the lunch. This is a set up I can really get behind, because it’s really like having two lunches one after the other, and who wouldn’t be a fan of that? Plus, the food was excellent: like really tasty. I wish I’d written down what we ate for every meal, but then I thought not only would a lot of people find that kind of boring, but it might also seem kind of weird… And as we all know, I’m really opposed to anyone knowing that I’m weird in any way.
Anyway! We got back on the river in the afternoon and made our way through a few great rapids, including Velvet Fall and Ram’s Horn… And since there seemed to be around a million different rapids, creeks and spots to name and try to remember during the trip, please keep these ones in your head, because they’re probably the only ones I could remember and actually wrote down. Regardless, Dave and the other guides have this incredibly immense store of knowledge about these rivers, rattling off names and stories and fun facts, while simultaneously directing us through rapids (and managing to keep us all in the boats!) and maintaining a weather eye for any interesting wildlife or topographical features. We also had the chance during quieter stretches of the river to chat and to find out a bit more about Dave (Disclaimer: we all also talked about ourselves a bit, but since we all already knew one another, that was the less interesting part), who it turns out has been a full-time guide over the summer for about the last seven years… Which I guess goes some way towards explaining all that expertise! We also stopped later on to see a hot spring and dip our toes in: anything more than that was completely beyond my heat-tolerance capabilities, all the more bemusing because the river was so cold. During that brief stop off, I found myself entangled in a strange conversation with an ex-US Air Force gentleman called Mike, who possesses that strange and indomitable desire to be the only person talking in what is otherwise ostensibly a two-person conversation.
We stopped along the river at some campsite—that I can’t remember the name of because, as I said above, there were far too many names to try and remember them all—and moored the boats. For someone who had had a terrible night’s sleep before starting on this trip, the thought of making camp was especially welcome one. We helped to unload the boats and get things set up before James and I found a little spot to erect our awesome Marmot tent (does anyone think that I should be getting some credit from all of these companies for all of the free advertising I do for them?). It was too tempting not to nap, so we collapsed in our little orange cocoon and promptly conked out: it was amazing.
Luckily, we managed to wake up in a timely fashion so as to have dinner with everyone else, which was delicious. James and I settled in for a good long chat with John and Sue, only to find our conversation rapidly hijacked and dominated by Mike, who seemed to care very little for the fact that other people might have wished to contribute. In order to avoid blowing up, James bailed rather quickly, but I attempted for a while to persevere before finally calling it quits and heading up to our tent. Just as we were settling in for the night, Brett swung past for a chat and invited us up to the nearby hot springs for an evening dip with him and Cortni: who can refuse an offer like that? Despite the scorching heat of the water, the four of us had an amazing time sitting out under the stars and chatting as I wriggled myself around trying to steel myself to bear the heat. By the time we went to bed, I think I was asleep before my head even hit the pillow.
Tuesday 11 July. We are, it seems, too indoctrinated to sleep in or not pack our gear up: we woke at around 0600 and packed everything up, toting it down closer to the boats before grabbing ourselves coffee or (in my case) hot chocolate). Hardly surprisingly, no one else had quite the same sense of drive as we did, but it made me feel more relaxed to be all packed up, so each to their own, I’d argue. Our first full day on the river saw us straight back into the paddleboat again, with Uncle John maintaining his iron grip on the front-left command seat and James jumping in on the front right (where, I’d like to point out, he did a truly wonderful job). We had a fairly relaxed morning until we reached a spot along the route where we realised that we hadn’t seen the two gear boats behind us in some time and we pulled over to wait for them.
It wasn’t long before we realised that someone must have gotten stuck, and while we paddled in the water and waited patiently, Dave hiked back along the riverside to see if he could lend a hand. Not long after he was spotted hurrying back our way, and we kitted back up again, jumped into the raft and pushed on down the river. We stopped off to hike later on near the mouth of a creek that Billie had been wanting to explore for a while, and started to clamber over rocks and through narrow spaces, only to find that rockfall had blocked it off and we had to turn back.
Being the clumsy human being that I am, I managed to slip when a rock shifted under my feet (not entirely my fault then, I would argue) and scratched up the back of my ankle. Luckily it wasn’t too bad and other than a bit of blood, not too messy, and I was good to carry on. Lunch was conveniently in a spot across from a great jumping rock, so after our feasting and packing up again, we pushed across to the other side compete with our lifejackets and a bunch of us had a go at jumping off the rock. I did the staid and boring straight jump, but James did a flip in (I know, I too ask whether I am in fact cool enough to date this human sometimes) and another of the guests on the trip caught it on camera. I don’t have it yet, but when we find a way to track that down, I will definitely be sharing it, because he looked cool as shit.
Afterwards we did some big rapids including Lake Creek and Pilot (Pilot involved us smashing into a large rock without hurting anyone and with a lot of whooping and otherwise general joy) before stopping off again to allow anyone who was interested to have another jump. Every time I get to the top of a jump and look down, I can feel my stomach drop and twist, like its not 100% sure what we’re doing up there: funnily enough, every time I’ve found myself in that situation, I find the best thing is just to do it before my brain can back up my stomach’s misgivings… And I haven’t died yet, so it seems to be a good way of doing things! Billie decided that the water level was looking about right for getting the inflatable kayaks (or ‘duckies’ out) and the call went out for a single person who might be interested. I demurred, since I wanted to ducky with James, but his frustration with people dithering came to the fore and he ended up ducky’ing alone! Thus, with a spare seat in our paddleboat and a heart ready for adventure, Jordan joined in with us for the afternoon.
We had another quick stop off at Indian Creek to see the airfield up there: when the river’s water levels are too low, the guests are flown into Indian Creek while the guides bring the boats down the river, and they start their trip further down. We tramped up to have a quick squiz (although—surprise, surprise—it was a strip of grass to allow a light aircraft to land on, as one might have thought of an airfield) before getting going again down the river to make camp. The evening swim, by the second day, had become a beautiful and refreshing ritual to cool off and clean up before getting into some clean dry clothes.
Wednesday 12 July. James and I started off the day in the duckies on Wednesday! It was a bit tough on my lower back—finding the right spot where I wasn’t uncomfortable was a bit of a challenge—but we had a lot of fun and it was nice to just drift down the river at some spots and be together.
After lunch, James and I decided to get back into the paddleboat with John and Sue, which I was grateful for, but my back was sore from being twisted at various angles while paddling and kayaking and all I wanted was to rest. Luckily we made camp quite early that afternoon to allow some time for hiking: James decided there was nowhere good or suitable for us to set up camp on the flat and ended up climbing to a small plateau (via a rather steep hill, I’d like to point out!) above everyone else, where there was plenty of space and flat ground. We set up and then were gathered up by the group hiking out to the nearby hot springs at Loon Creek.
It was a four mile round-trip, and it was a hot tramp out there (though there were a number of horses to be seen when we passed by the rangers’ hut!). By the time we arrived I was sweaty and headed straight for the river to cool off. It was almost hard to persuade myself to get into the carefully crafted hot tub—the hot springs have been augmented as you can see in the photo, with the hot water from the springs piped in—with the river so cool and inviting, but we eventually made our way in there and posed for some photos for Kelley.
Of course, after such a beautiful, scenic and relaxing dip, it was a bit of a shock to the body walking back again: it felt so long!! Jordan had spent a bit too much time in the hot springs and felt sick, which made the return trip a little laden with concern, but she picked up once we’d put a wet towel over her head. Then of course by the time we’d returned, we were warm enough to warrant another dip in the river to cool off before changing and sitting down for dinner. James did burger night magnificent justice and managed to eat three (how? How is that possible?) and we topped it off with some brownie for dessert before bed. The stars were out in full and radiant force.
Thursday 13 July. We were up early again on Thursday (what is WRONG WITH US?!) to a few interesting surprises. The first came when I decided to peer inside my large dry bag, which I had left partially open all night (though thankfully hadn’t left any food in there), and saw something scurrying around on the bottom of it. A quick upending revealed my new uninvited tenant and also my dancing skills as I jigged around trying to evade this cunning river mouse. The persistent moon was still awake, but when James pointed it out to me with his mouth full of toothbrush, another visitor greeted me: a mule-eared deer finding breakfast on the slope near our tent.
With our bodies (mostly mine) a little sore—not the standard occurrence for anyone else, but the oh-so-fun world of those with pesky back problems—we decided to jump into Brett’s gear boat for the day, and it was honestly one of the big highlights of the trip. For a start, Brett is awesome (actually that may sum it up all together…). We spent some time learning how to row the boats—harder than it sounds and also harder than the guides’ skilful hands make it look—under his watchful eye and had a brilliant chat to shoot the breeze on any and all topics under the sun. Honestly though, I spent a not insignificant portion of my day thinking that maybe my triceps were going to abandon my body in protest of the unfamiliar workload. Luckily we got a bit of a nap in over lunch while some other people went hiking!
We were back into the gear boat afterwards and starting to get the hang of rowing (James more than me!) with a very convenient stop off at the Flying B Ranch for ice cream as a timely break. We also had the opportunity to stop off and have a look at some pictographs just off the river bank before taking the boat through some rapids, which James managed with admirable aplomb. We got into camp that evening out in the open on a somewhat rocky piece of ground after setting up elsewhere and having to move: there was a mutant tree covered in, and wildly dripping, sap, that we thought it best not to sleep beneath. Once we were established, we indulged in our daily swim in a small calm area of the river with almost no current whatsoever: though the air was hot, the cool of the water managed to bring our body temperatures down quickly enough!
We spent the evening sitting with Brett, Dave and Jordan for drinks and just chilling, which was lucky enough to include a surprise sighting of some bighorn sheep on a nearby rock face before dinner and bed.
Friday 14 July. The moon was incredibly bright overnight and we found ourselves awake not long after six with some restless sleep under our belts. Once the camp was packed up though, we grabbed our water bottles and cameras and hiked up to a nearby ridge line, which meant a lot of uphills and some fairly vocal protestations from my calves before we reached the end: hot work! The views from the top, however, were stunning, and well worth the labour. On our way back to camp, we stopped off and saw some more pictographs that Dave had found in his ventures earlier.
Kelley was in the oar-paddle combo for the day, so we (James, Elliot, Jordan, another guest and I) gleefully piled in with her for a day of rafting, rapids, chanting of her name and other adventures. We were lucky enough to see a proud-looking bald eagle perched at the top of a Douglas Fir before we stopped over at Bridal Falls. There was, of course, some climbing to do—and some large swathes of poison ivy to avoid—in order to reach the falls, but it was well worth it. We played under the waterfall, a tempestuous and temperamental being which kept moving around the area as we tried to stand beneath it, and whose flow was so strong that at times it felt almost as though we were being hailed on. Inevitably, photos (especially on an iPhone!) can never do justice to such sights, but it was truly beautiful.
Unfortunately we couldn’t have lunch down on the beach, as another group had beaten us there; even more unfortunately, Jim suffered a nasty fall on the rocks during his descent. He was left with a bandaged arm and large ugly scratches along his legs, which understandably caused some ruckus. We managed to find a place at McAllister, River Wright between Goal Post and Upper Red Side rapids to stop off and have some lunch, which was a welcome relief: I was hungry! It was a big afternoon for some wild rapid rides too, but we managed to keep everyone in the boat.
That last evening was a relaxed one; after making camp and having a swim, we sat around in some of the boats playing two truths and a lie and relaxing with some of our favourite people on the trip. It was a fun game and interesting to hear the various stories we all came up with to try and trick the others, while Kelley’s interrogational skills left us all amused and perhaps also a little intimidated! Plus (wait for it)… we saw a BEAR. A real, live BEAR scrambling across the mountain slopes on the other side of the river [Full credit for spotting the bear has to go to James ‘he of the eagle eyes’] and if anything was going to make my trip, that did it! There are photos of this phenomenon, but sadly they’re on the ARTA camera and I haven’t gotten copies of those images yet. If they come along, I’ll update this post!
Saturday 15 July. We slept like the dead on the final night and awoke early in the morning for our final half-day on the river. After breakfast Elliot was off in a ducky while James and I were back in Dave’s paddleboat with Terry and Randi, two of the other guests on the trip. It was a beautiful day to finish the trip, with a few fun rapids including one in which we thought we might end up smushed against the canyon wall. We also had a fascinating brief stop over at Earl Perrett’s riverside hut for a brief about him by Kelley and Dave: Perrett was of the few people known to live along the Middle Fork and the only one known to live in the Impassable Canyon… And I’m sure it’ll shock no one to hear that he didn’t like other human beings.
We had a wonderful last lunch together on the river before a short stump down the river to the trip take out point (please note that ‘take out’ is nowhere near as much fun as the ‘puddin’ point for more than one reason), which is just past the confluence of the Main Salmon and the Middle Fork. James, Terry, Randi, Dave and I had the challenging opportunity to carry out boat up and out of the river—which required some careful manoeuvring and the risk of a broken ankle but was successful in the end—before getting rid of our gear, executing a rapid-fire change of clothes and farewelling everyone. It was a long bus trip back to Stanley for us, which included farewelling John, Sue and Kelley along the way, before we collected ourselves, saddled up and began the long drive back to Lawton.
It is, as always, wonderful to be home again… But we had a complete blast rafting with family and friends in Idaho: it’s definitely something I would recommend to anyone who would love to see some of America, who enjoys the outdoors, who loves adventure, or even just has a deep appreciation for beauty (because you will get that in spades). We did our trip with ARTA, a non-profit river rafting organisation that my family has been rafting with for over a decade: both of my cousins work there as guides and love it, and I can’t recommend them enough. They are FANTASTIC and if you have any questions about rafting them or any aspect of our trip, please ask me because it was an incredible experience.
Now, I also have a truckload of uni to work through and this blog post has used pretty much my whole Friday morning: off to hit the books!
Have a great weekend and see you all next week.