July 18, 2007

Road Trip

After two months of kayaking and adventuring aboard I was lucky enough to receive a visit from my fantastic girlfriend Margot. Having just returned from a trip north to Washington it was into the shower, unpack, wash and repack the car before I headed into San Francisco to pick her up and catch up...

Margot taking in San Fran and the Bay area from the water

The highlight from our two days in San Fran was heading out to Alcatraz Island (the Rock) to take a look around the maximum prison turned national park.

Alcatraz Island aka. The Rock

Visible from all over the Bay area it started out as a lighthouse way back in the day, then a military fortification and then a military prison used to incarcerate military personal and native American Indian. This was followed by a federal prison until 1963, when it became a national recreation area.

Evening settles over San Francisco

We opted for the twilight tour of the Island which is definitely the way forward. You are given a head set pretty early on and then can take the self-guided tour. We spent a couple of hours checking out the sites before we headed back to town to catch up with a C1 paddling legend and mate Norwood and his wife.

Golden Gate from behind enemy lines

From San Fran we headed inland to Sacramento where we winged or way to Las Vegas to experience all it had to offer. Knowing that I was probably only going to get there once we decided to do it in style so, we opted to stay at a place called the Bellagio. Flash doesn't even begin to describe what it's like staying there.

The Bellagio - over the top in every way, just like Vegas

This could be said of most of the places on the 'Strip'. Everything is completely over the top and designed to leave a lot poorer than when you arrived. Apparently the casino's take over a Billion dollars a month from gambling alone from the 44 million people that visit annually. I reckon they're making way more from the beer and food. The cheapest Heineken I got was US$7 and a snack wouldn't leave you with much out of US$15. We also manged to time our trip with a heat wave leaving temperatures above 43oC during the day and in the low 30oC's at night. $$ was spent and gambled, margaritas and long island ice teas were drunk and very little was eaten.

Its like New York, only smaller and in the desert. New York New York with Paris Las Vegas in the background

Room with a view, Las Vegas from the 24th floor - not like Murchison

After two nights in Vegas I was a very sad looking Kiwi checking out on the final morning.

Margot and I had pretty big night to finish in Vegas which then turned into the worst day's travelling I have ever had. Mum you may want to skip to the next paragraph...

My memory is a little hazy but I recall chundering in the hotel room, in a bin at the airport (I think there was a security guard?), in the airport, on the way to the plane, in the plane, at the new airport and back at the car in Sacramento... I think.

Anyone thinking of drinking with Margot, be warned and make sure you eat before hand.

After recovering from my
mis-adventure we headed for Coloma another hour inland from Sacramento to stay with some friends on the American river.

With a night off it was back into party mode at the infamous 4
th of July party with the Cushman's and the Phillip's. Instead of being on the 4th it was in fact on 07.07.07. With two bands, fire dancing goth chicks, three kegs and a very big bottle of very nice tequila we all had a pretty bloody good night.

Needing to detox and get away from it all Margot and I loaded up the
Suby and headed 4 hours south the Yosemite National Park.

Who needs dirt, they do it differently in the high Sierra's

Yosemite is one of the coolest and most amazing places I have ever been in my life. Everything there is big and amazing. Once you get past the tourists (funny coming from me) and get amongst things a little you'll be left blown away. With towering granite domes, dramatic waterfalls and rich green forests it's definitely to be experienced.

Spot the tourist at El Capitan, towering over 1000m from the valley floor. Awesome

We caught up with some friends who work in the park and then headed up onto
Tioga Pass to camp for the night. Waking and driving the next morning we were treated to more stunning views and landscape as we headed higher on Tioga Pass. At 9943ft or 3031m it's the highest pass in California that can be driven over. Getting out and running around is a little more taxing at this altitude for sure.

Yosemite valley with El Cap on the left. See it to believe it

Down the eastern side of the Sierra's with headed for the south shore of Mono Lake. Settled in the Great Basin it acts as an oasis of sorts. Draining a good part of the western states it's a little different because its doesn't have an outlet and has 2 and a half times more salt than the ocean. Its also home to some unusual formations known as Tofa's. While we were exploring the lake we were treated to a lightening storm 8km west of us and the big bush fire it started.

On the road to Mono Lake

lightening strike = fire and a big problem

As with most things you do in America, it was back in the car for more driving as we headed north to Lake Tahoe to 'rest' and take it easy. Being a tourist is great!

July 1, 2007

Six Days, 3 Kiwi's, 1 American and 2600km

America is big! Yes, you already know this and so do I, but every so often I am reminded of this fact a little more.

Due to the low snow fall over winter here in California the rivers haven't run as long as they would most seasons so by mid-june California kayaking had pretty much dried up. After a painful week in Coloma with minimal kayaking I managed to rally a team keen to head north to Oregon and Washington to search out some better kayaking options. After a few frustrating logistical problems we got everyone one together early-ish on a Monday morning, packed the cars with gear and people and headed for the freeway. The 'real' team NZ, author Ben Jackson, Josh Neilson and Brendan Bayly and Team America, Dave Maurier.

travelling will wear you out. Brendon practising 'taking it easy'

Now, for a Kiwi a big days driving might be 3 or 4 hours driving but over here things are a little different. 12 hours, 4 sore arses, 1 hot chick meet on the freeway (ask Josh Neilson if you want to figure out how to meet someone while doing 120km/hr down the freeway) and 1100km's later we peeled ourselves out of the cars and into our sleeping bags some where in lower Washington state.

petrol and red bull. all the fuel you need

"OI, YOU KAYAKERS, WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE!!! YOU CAN'T F@#!*N SLEEP HERE, GET UP!!! OR THE SHERIFF WILL GET YA!!! WHAT THE F*^$ DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING? Turns out that you can't crash out and pitch a tent on the side of the road in Washington either.

We decided to base ourselves out of the Hood River area for the trip as it was close to some fantastic kayaking. After a quick departure from our camp and some food we headed up to a river called the Little White Salmon.

rush hour at the Little White Salmon

The Little White is spring feed meaning that it pretty much flows most of the time making for a low but still super fun flow. Davey (our token American) had done the run once before so had a good idea where to go. The run started off with some fantastic technical paddling very different to most kayaking found in California but very similar to some rivers back in NZ. We worked out way down as a team stopping to take a photos or video. As the run progresses it the drops (waterfalls) start to get bigger and cleaner (less obstacles). Some of the drops that stand out on the run are 'double drop' or at least that's what we called it, Nate's room of Doom (again our name), Wishbone, the 'unscoutable, unportagable (can't look at it or walk it) drop and the amazing Spirit Falls. Feeling fired up Josh gave Spirit Falls (12m) a nudge and had a good line of the drop. After a big hit at the bottom came out smiling.

Josh getting into the spirit of Washington
Spirit Falls. Little White Salmon

From here down the intensity eases off until the take out with a little over a kilometre to the car. With the photos and video, scouting and portaging we took three hours to get down this fantastic section of river.

Our home in Washington. No Red Necks

Hungry and happy it was back across the Columbia River to Hood River to eat and a have a beer.... At least that was the plan. Turns out you can't buy beer in Oregon with a kiwi drivers licence. A few of the boys threw the toys out of the cot over that one.

Josh was feeling under the weather the next day so in the interest of not paddling anything new with out him we headed back to the Little White. Now that we knew the run we bombed (paddled really fast with few stops) down most of the run much to Davies dismay early on. Brendon felt inspired and stepped up to run Spirit Falls. Davey and I still weren't interested (My lovely girlfriend Margot was turning up in the U.S in four days and there was no way I was going to have a sore back for that.....)

Brendon Bayly tucking in early

An hour 40min's later much to Josh's surprise we rocked up to the car very happy kayakers.

Day three had us heading up to the White Salmon to a section called the Green Trus. Slightly bigger in volume and very different in it's nature the Green Trus is a pretty cool run but not quite of the quality of the Little White Salmon.

Due to the volcanic nature (Mount St Helen's is less than 70km away) of the area the river bed was very weird and sharp in places.

After lowering the boats into the gorge, we pushed out into the current and off down stream. With some nicer drops and cool moves the kayaking was fun, added to this we had no idea where we were going, an adventure was being had.

The author setting safety for the cave on Big Brother
Photo: Dave Maurier

The biggest drop on the river is called Big Brother standing at about 25ft high (about 7m) and very impressive. Sticking to my 'don't hurt my back, 3 days to go' plan I offered to set safety for the cave at the bottom of the drop.

We didn't know it at the time but a pretty famous Olympic kayaker had drowned here.

Brendon on Big Brother. Air is good!
Photo: Dave Maurier

Brendon lost paper, scissor rock so had to probe the line. The lead into the drop wasn't super straight forward but 'B' got a good line off the lip and landed carrying enough speed and got through. Josh was next up and dialled the 'line' completely making the drop look easy. Nice 1 bruva. With the team back in the boats it was off Little Brother and off down stream. Some pretty cool paddling followed but it was the scenery that had our attention. We were paddling down a beautiful gorge with fresh water springs pouring in from both sides at river level. Choice.

Our token 'Greek Adonis', Brendon
Photo: Josh Neilson

Josh Neilson, an intimidating specimen

For our final days paddling we decided to head back to the Little White because the paddling was so good. We also wanted to see how fast we could get down the run as well... Fresh from the past two runs down this section the pace was hot and the paddling fantastic. None of the team braved Spirit on this run so with a quick portage we were back on the water and down to the take out in 1 hour 15... Sweet As.

Heading home, some where in Oregon

Back in the cars with 3 hours to Bend in Oregon to stay with a good friend Jason Arbeter and then the final push back to Cali the next day with 10 hours in the car. America is Big!