Staff River Trip on the Deschutes!

1 11 2021
First night’s happy hour! As you can see adult beverages on the left AND right!

The Covid years of 2020 and 2021 have been the most challenging – and rewarding – to all of us Alder Creek Kayak and Canoe. Each of us has worked our hearts out – practically reinventing the business in the process – slaloming through countless challenges posed by mask mandates, reinvention of rental and instruction procedures, chronic product uncertainties, and skyrocketing pandemic-driven consumer demand. We’ve succeeded. The business is stronger than ever, and we still command exceptionally high customer satisfaction. Congratulations everybody! So in early October, our bosses Dave and Suzi, as a celebration and thank-you, closed the store for two days and took the staff on a two-day trip on 42.4 miles of the Lower Deschutes River.

The trip was to put in at Buckhollow day use area, below Sherars Falls, and end at end at its confluence with the Columbia River at Heritage Landing State Park. The plan was to meet up and camp at the White River Campground, a few miles upstream from Buckhollow.

Meloy, Matt, Alex, Ethan, Byron and I loaded up the van with our gear and a couple of whitewater kayaks. Dave and Suzi earlier headed out with a trailer full of rafts and inflatable kayaks. Road trip!

We arrived within 30 minutes of each other. With daylight slipping away we wasted no time setting up tents and the all-important kitchen and “campfire.” At the departure date, wood campfires were prohibited. We ordered a propane-fueled campfire set up but it hadn’t showed up the day before, causing anxieties. But it showed up two hours before departure, and it was totally a hit!

Suzi did a bang up job coordinating the food and beverages for this trip. There was NO shortage of anything especially the adult beverages, which included wine, tequila, mud slides and mimosas! Our first night’s meal featured pulled pork burritos with this amazing salsa for the toppings. For dessert, she served my suggestion of brownies topped with whipped cream. The night was pretty cold! I sleep pretty warm. I brought my Mountain Hardware Phantom 32 bag plus a packable down comforter. It’s a hydrophobic down bag. I was so comfy I never even zipped the bag. We all had frost on our tents upon awakening.

Wakey wakey was about 7 a.m. with piping hot coffee. We had a nice assortment of Suzi’s home baked pumpkin muffins, yogurt, cereal, and fruit. The idea was to eat quickly and get on the river!

Once packed up we headed down to Buckhollow. Even though it was chilly, it was pretty physical work putting the boats together, and before long, we were wondering, once we put our dry suits on, if we’d soon be de-layering! Setting up involves sorting out gear, inflating rafts and inflatable kayaks, strapping things down, river feature discussion, etc. I was having trepidations about the dry suit I chose – I suspected it might leak. So I wore thick polypropylene pants and neoprene socks. That turned out to be a wise choice!

Off we went! This river section has a couple of Class II and a Class III (sometimes III+) rapid called Wreck Rapid. Turns out the name Wreck Rapid wasn’t referring to wrecking boats. It was the site of a 1949 railroad crash! As it’d been 10 years since I last whitewater boated, I chose an inflatable kayak. It was an Aire Tomcat. Inflatable whitewater kayaks are kind of two-faced. On the one hand, they are very forgiving, pretty much riding over eddies and opposing currents, rather than being thrown around by them. On the other hand, trying to make any sort of quick move just doesn’t happen. They are barge-like. I found the best way to approach a rapid or wave train is to just point it right at the waves and go. The main thing to avoid is being sideways to a wave. What is amazing is how fast they drain! Many times the kayak would seem to completely swamped, only to drain instantly. I brought along my bomber waterproof duffel by Ortlieb. It’d taken me on the Cordillera Huayhuash Trek in Peru, and the Annapurna Sanctuary Trek, in Nepal. But it hadn’t been subjected to constant thrashing on a river trip! This tough as nails bag came though completely dry on the inside. My drysuit, however, was as problematic as I’d feared. The right leg was very damp and foot wet. Yes, after the trip, on inspection, it had some kind of abrasion inside the leg, it had delamination, and the icing on the cake, a hole in the sock.

Today’s objective was to get to a few miles past Mack’s Canyon. If we managed that, we’d have a shorter paddle tomorrow. The river passes through beautiful Central Oregon canyon country. The canyon walls are lined with spectacular columnar basalt formations. Flora is mostly sage brush and juniper. We are on the lookout for Rocky Mountain Big Horn sheep! We glimpse countless Blue Heron, Osprey, and Kingfisher. The Cliff Swallow nests are visible, but the inhabitants have migrated away for the winter. The character of the paddle itself is moving flatwater punctuated by pool-drop rapids.

We chose to go further than Mack’s Canyon, the initial destination. We paddled approximately 3.5 miles further, to a campsite called Homestead. This offered us plenty of space to set up a kitchen with plenty of dispersed tent sites. But our late arrival made for hasty tent pitching and set up before dark! Alex set up a long length of line to hang out gear which we availed ourselves of tout suite! Soon, we found ourselves setting out food and drink, and the fire pit was going. This night we’d enjoy Suzi’s home made pasta sauce over noodles. Prior, as appetizers, we scarfed down crackers, cheeses, plates of sliced carrot, green pepper, cherry tomatoes, and more.

Dinner done, it was time to hang out by the fire. It wasn’t long, after a few quaffs of adult beverages, that calls came out for the “Squim” game. Uh oh. This is a game where quarters are carried to a kettle and aimed and dropped in. HOW, do you ask, does one drop them in? By holding the quarter between the butt cheeks! Not all are skilled in this endeavor. But Suzi has buns of steel and is very adroit at this game. Andrew tried it too, and his new found strut made me just about cough up my beverage in laughter.

Suzi nails it!

I announced I was retiring, and went to my tent. But before, I ensured I had everything inside, including my drysuit. This turned out to be super wise, as it started to rain just as I zipped up the tent fly. My MSR Hubba Hubba NX tent was not the tent it used to be. The tent fly did not leak thank God. But the inside tent’s seam tape had completely disintegrated, and the floor became sticky like some kind of tape. Anyway eventually I got up to check and OMG there were little pools forming at the edges. The foot of my sleeping bag was wet. But inside the sleeping bag it was still dry. Lucky it’s hydrophobic. And if I just stayed on my Thermarest pad I was dry. It was hard to sleep, as I dreaded a drip drip drip falling on me from the fly! I prayed PLEASE rain stop. Which it did. I think it rained 90 minutes. About 2 a.m. I got up to relieve myself, looked up and glimpsed a 100% clear, sparkly starry sky! So the rain was a desert passing shower.

Once again, wakey wakey about 7 a.m. And first things first, the morning Constitutional demanded attention. OH, I ought to mention! On this river trip, this situation was practically a crisis! Only myself and Suzi brought toilet paper, and I only had 1 roll. For like 10 people? Damn. I will leave it up to your imagination. Oh come on, we are supposed to be professional outdoors people, right? I only know in my case I never depend on the campground or whatever for TP, I always bring it just in case! Anyway, here I was early in the morning, my body making demands. Dave had set up the ‘stool’ some ways away from camp. Only upon making the hike did I find the spot more than a place to perform the duty. It was a place of contemplation! Let’s just say, it was a unique spot to complete one’s daily dump.

The Throne of Contemplation!

In my case, my thoughts were occupied with the final few Class II, Class III and maybe Class III+ rapids I’d need to navigate in my leaky drysuit. Dave and Suzi, and Ethan told me repeatedly these were straightforward and not that big of a deal. But I didn’t know for myself, right? Oh well. Just forge ahead, right?

Our Chef’s duties called for my group to cook this morning’s breakfast. The pressure was on myself, Tyler and Ethan. The menu called for hash browns, bacon, and scrambled eggs, with melted cheese if we could manage that. And OF COURSE lots of coffee! The hash browns were of a kind I can’t seem to find at my local Fred Meyers. They come in a cardboard container. Just open, pour into the skillet and cook! The bacon was a snap. Suzi had pre cooked the bacon before the trip. Essentially all that was needed was a nice hot pre-heat. The eggs I did in my own simple way, which is to crack them open right on the skillet and add the other ingredients (milk and in this case cheese), scramble right on the skillet. All went well! The paddlers were satisfied! The funny thing about this trip was that many of us had never camped together before, yet it certainly seemed like we’d been camping together for years.

OK. After clean up of kitchen, packing away wet tents and other gear, topping off inflatable kayaks and rafts, strapping down of duffel bags, camp chairs, kitchen tables and propane tanks, it was time to head off! Today’s journey called for much flat water river journeying, viewing of canyon walls, hiking to petrogplyphs, and 4 Class III and III+ rapids at the end of the float. I was definitely nervous about the end, but it turned out to be more fun than fear!

Yes, once we began, Day 2 was sparklly bright and clear. There would be no rain. Wind was our primary challenge on Day 2, especially toward the end! On this day, we had plenty of fast moving flat water. But lay ahead were rapids with names like Washout, Rattlesnake, Colorado, and Gordon Ridge Rapid (where one of our Wenonah Canoe sales representatives dumped).

Some of switched boats, but myself, Meloy and Byron stuck to their original craft. For Matt, it was his first time piloting a raft, and he performed like a seasoned raft paddler. One thing I learned is that as a kayak paddler on a trip like this, you do NOT want to be behind a raft entering a rapid. As a kayak paddler, if you are behind a raft, the raft blocks your view, and secondly, the raft may, without warning, suddenly change direction, leaving you, the kayak paddler, without time to change position for an upcoming river feature like a hole.

I found that my favorite rapid was the Gordon Ridge Rapid. It seemed unanimous that all of us liked this rapid best! It featured numerous small islets which the river wended around, creating innumerable opportunities to paddle the kayak back and forth to meet the demands of the river. And, it was longer than the other rapids, making more fun! At one point, we were so ‘trafficked,’ that we bumped into each other.

We finished the storied Colorado Rapids, which were followed by Rattlesnake. Funny thing was, I paddled through Rattlesnake and did not even know it. Maybe it was the river level, I don’t know. But I just followed, at a distance, Dave and Suzi’s raft, and it was no big deal.

Then the wind roared. How does this happen? So, in the Summer, the Columbia Gorge gets hot, and even on warm Fall days, and the hot air rises. Something has to displace the air rising. And what would that be? It is air from the Pacific Ocean, and it begins to replace the rising air about noon. This every-day phenomenon starts a race-track all the way from Astoria to beyond The Dalles in the Columbia Gorge. And, it also flows up the Columbia Gorge side canyons like the John Day River and the Deschutes River. On our final miles to our take-out, we were experiencing gusts up to 35 mph. So what to do? PADDLE HARD! It constantly forced my inflatable kayak to turn right. To counter, I had to paddle hard to left, which at some point eventually led to a blister on my right wrist. Alex had a First Aid Kit with a gauze self-adhering bandage which I applied. That kept the damage at bay.

In the end, we all paddled against the wind to the take out. It was annoying but not too bad!

We had a terrific trip! We’re looking forward to a great 2022!





Fort Flagler, WA and the Seals

28 10 2021
Suzanne and Bob at Fort Flagler

Right after my September visit to Lake Quinault, I continued up the west side of the Olympic Peninsula, past Port Angeles, and on to the Port Townsend area where my friends Suzanne and Bob live. They live on Kala Point, south of town, on Port Townsend Bay. Bob built himself a dandy wooden sea going rowing shell. We decided to meet up at Fort Flagler State Park, on the other side of Indian Island for a paddle/row. I brought along the Wilderness Systems Tempest 170 I borrowed from work.

Bob launched from Kala Point and rowed over, whilst Suzanne and I drove over to Fort Flagler. After getting the Tempest 170 adjusted for Suzanne, we launched.

From the launch site the whole of Port Townsend Bay comes into view. I could see a ferry carrying passengers from Whidbey Island, the town’s famous clock tower, and a sailboat race taking place right in front of the town docks. The weather was calm, and it was low tide. So very little current when we launched.

We came to a sand spit across the way, and spotted a colony of maybe 35 seals. They were all laid up on the beach soaking up the sun. But they were wary and all stared at us as we approached. I paddled slowly, mostly gliding toward them. Then, one by one, they moved into the water. Eventually the whole colony was swimming around looking at us. Sometimes, I could see a seal swimming under my kayak! They’d swim upside down so they could see my kayak above.

As you can see from the videos, the seals were wary, yes, but they were just as curious! The cutest part was the pups and their mothers “kissing.”

The tide started coming in. And boy, in that area, when the tide makes it move, it starts cranking! By the time we turned back, the surface was a one-way river!

The experience was very refreshing. I grew up in the northeast 15 minutes away from the shore. Sailboats and salt water are in my blood, so this was so much needed! I shall return.





Lake Quinault, WA Over Labor Day

27 10 2021
Chiyo in my Current Designs Sisu

My good friends Chiyo and Chester joined me for a couple of days camping and paddling on the Olympic Peninsula at Lake Quinault. Lake Quinault is managed by the Quinault Tribe, and they only allow motorized craft for tribal members and home owners on the lake. So, it can be pretty quiet for paddling. On this trip, even on Labor Day weekend, I saw only one power boat. The lake borders Olympic National Park with its legendary rivers, rain forests and mountains.

Any drive up in the Olympic Peninsula involves passing logging trucks!

I brought along my sea kayak, a Current Designs Sisu, and I borrowed a Wilderness Systems Tempest 170 from Alder Creek Kayak and Canoe, where I work in Digital Marketing and as a sales associate and kayak guide. One of the perks is we can demo and borrow kayaks!

My kayak, a fiberglass kayak, came through the drive unhurt. The other kayak is a plastic one, and it deformed, in industry terms, “oil canned.” Storing it on edge somewhat helped. But the polyethylene plastic is so soft and can deform with just a little heat and pressure. Either way, we enjoyed our paddling on the lake. My tent is a pretty simple backpacking tent. Chester and Chiyo’s tent is more like the Taj Mahal!

We paddled along the east end of the lake. At one point I went ashore to take a look around. It wasn’t long before I found evidence of the wildlife living in the area! There were big elk prints in the sand!

After our return, it was time for a sumptuous lunch. Two friends from Portland had brought along their kayaks and paddled with us. Chiyo even brought tiramisu for dessert. I was so stuffed at that point, I could not accept.

The sleeping that evening was the low part for sure. Labor Day had its way with us. One of the other campsites ignored the rules and invited half of Seattle. There must have been 20+ people, and about 10 cars with all the camping gear showed up after dark. The camp host made them pay for all those extra cars, and enforced the quiet hours on them. But there was more! Another campsite went on partying until after midnight. Lesson be learned, think twice about car camping Labor Day Weekend!





Waldo Lake: Clear Water Paddling and Huckleberries

26 10 2021

There’s a magical lake high in the Oregon Cascades. Waldo Lake. It’s so pure, you can see down 140 feet! And since there are no powered boats allowed, it is the same experience as hundreds of years ago. Sailing or paddling along its shores is a truly memorable experience. In fact, just sitting by the lake, listening to the water lap at the shore can cure a multitude of urban stresses.

Speaking of stress, we picked a weekend early in August when there happened to be a number of wildfires in the area. On the way up each of us, in different vehicles, experienced smoke so thick we considered turning back. But our experiences told us to push on, because depending on the wind, it just might be good. And voila! In the last 5 miles of the state highway to the turn-off, it cleared up and was beautiful!

Jessie, Joel and I met up with Bill and Julie and their kids. We had two campsites, both walking distance to the water. Many of the car camping sites at Waldo Lake have significant real estate! Some have an eighth of an acre.

A four-minute walk away were Bill and Julie and their kids. They all brought their kayaks as well.

The smoke was still very close. As it turned out, mornings and mid day were always clear, but then in the afternoon, the wind switched and smoke would to start to cross the lake. Toward day’s end, one couldn’t see the other side. Then at night it would switch revealing a star studded sky.

Sunsets were spectacular!

The following day, after breakfast, we set off to cruise along the north shore, with the goal of finding the headwaters of the Willamette River. We had beautiful skies, warm weather, clear water, and yes, we found the treasure: Huckleberries!

Pictures say it all! Considering that there were wildfires not 10 miles away, we totally lucked out! If you ever come to Oregon to paddle, put Waldo Lake on your checklist. FYI, there are dozens of wild campsites on the west side of the lake with guaranteed privacy!





Birthday Campout on the Metolius River

26 10 2021
Dine-In at Hola! in Camp Sherman

For my June birthday, I reserved two campsites at the Allan Springs Campground on the Metolius River. I’ve always loved the Metolius region. It is a sparkling jewel, and the river is a designated National Wild and Scenic River. It’s one of the largest spring fed rivers in the USA. The river winds around the campground. All along its banks one can fly fish and hike. But there is more in the area. One can hike to the 360-degree view summit of Black Butte. Or, swim and fish at Suttle Lake. Or hike to Three Fingered Jack along the Canyon Creek Trail.

For the first night we went out to dinner at Hola! in Camp Sherman. Saturday, some, like myself and Janis, went to Suttle Lake and went kayak fishing. Others, like Brent and Joel, hiked Canyon Creek Meadows trail all the way to Three-Fingered Jadk. On the second, birthday night, we made dinner in camp and then enjoyed a stir-fry meal! Then, enjoyed a roaring campfire. It was a terrific way to spend a birthday weekend!





John Day River Glamping at Service Creek, Oregon

25 10 2021

In April 2021 I had a couple of mid-week days off, and a great weather forecast. I also had a newly minted fishing license and was anxious to go angling! The John Day River is a beautiful, snow-melt fed river originating in the Elkhorn Mountains of northeast Oregon. Its flows are most favorable for fishing and rafting in the late spring to early summer. After that, as the snow melts, its levels drop. I hadn’t been out there in some years, but I remembered a riverside business at Service Creek. It’s called Service Creek Resort. looked at their website, and discovered they were launching a glamping (luxurious camping) area! I called, and they told me to come on out. I would be their first and only customer, being so early in the season. It’s a 4-hour drive through the beautiful Columbia River Gorge and into the rolling farms filled with rows and rows of wind generators.

Service Creek Resort is a multi-service operation. They rent river rafting gear, have a shuttle service, a small bed and breakfast, a restaurant, and the new glamping area. It is in a field behind the bed & breakfast. In old-school style, a staffer was waiting for me at the B&B and came out to greet me. I parked at the B&B, we boarded an ATV and she took me to my glamping tent.

The B&B has several rooms to rent. Glamping is behind, across the creek!

The glamping area has several tents of different configurations in a field. There is a common area with a fireplace, propane grills, and games like foosball.

My tent was set up on a platform. It had a porch with chairs. On the inside, an area carpet, king size bed, nightstand, and sofa. Very comfy! $65 a night.

The staff was great! As I work in the paddling business, and we rent rafts and other gear, I was instantly brought into their family. We heartily shared stories about customers and renting gear. I felt right at home.

I took my fishing gear down to the river and tried my luck. A number of fishermen floated by on rafts, in inflatable kayaks, or drift boats. VERY beautiful. It is canyon country, and in springtime the canyon walls can become green.

I picked a spot easily accessible by foot, with a deep pool I hoped held fish. After some time, and trying different lures, a strike! The John Day River is a warm river, and holds lots of Smallmouth Bass. The fight was on! But this one got off. Oh well, try again. After a few minutes another hit! This one I brought home. It flip flopped around and got all dirty but I snapped a photo.

That made my day! When I showed the photo back at the restaurant the waitress said it was a good one. I quickly took out the hook and let it go back into the river.

I had dinner at the restaurant, and enjoyed sharing stories with the staff. The waitresses on this night were high school girls, and this was their first night of the season. So I was their training guinea pig! It was super fun.

Sleeping in the tent was very comfortable. The bed was sumptuous. I left the mosquito netting at the front zipped, but left the canvas open. Later in the night, a breeze kicked up and I closed it up. It warmed up quickly without the breeze. It was so nice I would definitely do it again! Glamping is glorious!