Thursday, September 26, 2013

The West Dez

I've been in Utah for what seems like a long time, and feel like I've been to "the desert" a lot.  However, that's always meant down south:  Fruita, Moab, Canyonlands, North Wash, Escalante, Zion, and places in between, and even though I have known about the "West Desert" I had never been west of I-15. Not only are there plenty of specific places I've never been, there are entire ranges that I barely had heard of, much less tromped around in:  Wah Wahs, Confusions, Indian Peaks, White Rocks, Deep Creeks (ok, I'd heard of the Deep Creeks:  supposedly good skiing there), the House Range, etc.  Ash and I - with a rare open weekend in the summer/fall schedule of a director of a community garden  - decided that it was finally time to see what was up with the West Dez.  But where to go?

Because we are Americans, we decided to go for the most superlative place in the area.  Notch Peak, the highest point in the House Range, has the distinction of having the second-biggest wall in North America (behind El Capitan) and sho 'nuff, it tops out over 9000 feet and the desert floor is at 4500, and you can practically throw a rock to hit the "hardpan" (as they call dried lake beds in those parts, apparently).  So it had to be dramatic, and though there are a few LONG, fairly burly, and committing climbing routes on that west wall, there was a nice hike up the gradually-rising east side.  In addition, we had noticed that there's a "Notch Peak Scenic Byway" that goes around the peak, and naturally we figured that something with a name like that had to be a nice bike ride.  So off we went to the Wild West.

A book we read indicated that literally no one lives in what is called the "Jack Watson" area (Jack was a one-armed mercantile store owner on the "loneliest road in America", apparently before it took on that moniker), and that area stretches 100 miles between Delta, UT and Baker, NV.   And I think it's because it's......bleak.  Not a lot out there except sand, rock, hardpan, and wind.  But that's the beauty of it.  We figured we wouldn't be battling people too much as a result.

The Notch Peak Scenic byway actually goes around both Notch Peak and Howell Peak, and goes over a low pass near Swasey peak, and I had very roughly calculated it at around a 50 or 60 mile ride.  A dry cold front was approaching UT which resulted in a high wind warning for that area, so we started out in a pretty random spot:

that was quite a ways downwind of our southern-most point in order to perhaps facilitate a tailwind at the end of the day.

As we climbed up into the hills we actually were surprised to see a fair number of cars (like 4 in an hour).  And soon enough we saw the reason why:

I've heard of U-pick blueberries and raspberries, but U-dig fossils?  In a state where the Feds set up major sting operations for people trading pottery?  But I guess that "Trilobites" are far more numerous than Anastazi potshards.

This place was crawling with people:

and the operation there was run by a couple who charge not a little ($28 for 2 hours) to try to find these things. They were surprised not only to see cyclists ("You're the first bikers ever!") but also that I wasn't interested in digging or even in taking one of their fossils that they generously offered (I did take a bit of water, however; way more valuable).

Just past this place the road had forked, and since I was carrying the map, didn't notice the looming  fork, and didn't specify to Ash which way to go, she naturally took the obvious big-climb option, as is her wont.  I knew that it was a dead end so I chased after her hard for the entire 5 miles to where she had arrived at the dead end and waited for me, looking down on the not-quite-as-big-as-Notch drop down to the desert floor.  But as it turned out, this little foible was not only the best riding of the day, gave us an incredible view of the walls soaring walls as we snacked, but also set us up to re-scale our intentions given the conditions.   Which was wind.

A long descent down to the desert floor put us into both great views of the increasingly-big cliffs:

but also onto a southbound double track where we.....crept.  I am pretty sure we were going the same speed or even slower on the flats into the wind than we had been climbing the 10% grade earlier.  I had seen on the map that there was another pass through the mountains to cut off some distance, and as we struggled against the wind it was clear that was going to be our best option.
Ash going not nearly as fast as it looks like she's going!  It's windy....
Things went well until we saw that not only was there a lot of flood debris at the mouth of the canyon that we were about to enter, but the canyon itself was pretty tight, so the road and the streambed and the same.  The thunderstorms that had rattled through UT had created a bit of flashing, so we had to push our way through sand and baby heads for a fair distance:.

It was a bit reminiscent of our push-fest on our Idaho bike tour, but given the lack of load it seemed a lot easier this time!

Finally back down off the pass and back to the car.
Ash the ever-courteous cyclist indicating her intended direction to the local traffic
The Notch Peak hike is surprisingly easy; only 3.5 miles and 2500' up, and it's unusually beautiful.  We felt like we were in Zion with cottonwoods and pines in the canyon

and walls soaring above us.
it's a good thing she's as melodramatic as I am
And finally near the peak the near-5000 drop to the desert floor was breathtaking.
Inspired the the peregrines, ready to take flight.....
After cruising back down we decided to head for Crystal Peak, a unique "mountain" (sort of a large bump) in the desert that is striking in that it's the only thing around that is white, crystaline, volcanic "tuff".  It's about 800 feet high and is super cool, again with a great view (this time of the Wah Wah mountains; great name!)

Although it has taken us a lifetime to get out exploring in the Wild West Desert, there's enough fun stuff to do there and it's such a bleakly-beautiful area that it'll likely start to compete with it's more-famous, further-south brother-deserts for our attention.....

Friday, September 20, 2013

Green River Nuke Plant

Wednesday night we went to a fundraiser for HEAL Utah (Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah) hosted by Michael and Jill Jeppesen to find out more about the Green River nuclear project.  

When I first heard about the concept of a single guy spearheading an effort to build a new nuclear plant on the Green River a few years ago it seemed so preposterous that I sorta dismissed it.  However, despite the fact that no new nuke plants have been commissioned since 1977 and price tag of at least $12 billion dollars, the cozy relationship between “entrepeneurs”, state legislators (in this case, one of those people is both), and the state engineer’s office (that is funded by a committee chaired by the “entrepeneur”) has resulted in the very real possibility that the Green River nuke plant could indeed happen.  Here’s a link to the details:

and here’s a link to way more than you ever wanted to know about the economics of nuke plants:

There’s a trial that starts next week that will be the best chance yet to defeat this boondoggle that will result in not only taking ever-decreasing water out of the Green/Colorado (the Bureau of Rec just announced that they will be dramatically decreasing the Glen Canyon dam outflow indefinitely starting next year due to inadequate inflows) but also divert resources and energy (so to speak) from ongoing efforts to continue with wind and solar power, both of which Utah and surrounding states have aplenty.   But at least nuclear power costs 2-2.5  times the rate per kilowatt hour than the current national average. 

Additionally, I’m no counterterrorism expert, but I would think that the considerable news that America’s first new nuke plant in 36 years would raise the eyebrows of someone who might have designs to disrupt life in these United States…..

There’s no “action” per se to take on this issue at the moment, but you can follow the trial and get all fired up via email updates from the HEAL site , and if you want to know that a charitable donation will immediately go 100% towards a good, immediate cause, you can donate to HEAL, again via their website to help them pay for the considerable costs of assembling a strong legal team and expert opinions to argue the case.

Whether or not you live in Utah, if you’ve been through Green River on your way to ride in Moab or float the Colorado you know that it’s a sleepy town in the middle of nowhere that understands that the jobs touted by the plant’s proponents will be fleeting during construction. 

If approved, Utah would have the dubious distinction of being the only state in the country to both create nuclear waste and store it.  

And though we all use energy and intuitively know that our dependence (here in the intermountain West) comes primarily from dirty coal, the economics, meltdown risks, and water demands of nuclear power is not necessarily the answer; there's are many reasons why a lot of nuke plants have been prematurely decommissioned and dismantled.  

We threw down $250 to HEAL after hearing their compelling arguments; it’s a worthy investment.  

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Two fun runs

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been part of a couple of big runs, both interesting in their own ways. 

Chris Adams asked me earlier this summer if I was interested in helping pace him for a section of the Wasatch 100. It seems like I’ve been running a little bit more each successive year, and while I still feel like I’m a long ways from being willing to tackle something as monumental as a 100, I have to admit that the prospect is a bit intriguing, if for no other reason than it means a bit of a leap of faith into a new realm.  Since I haven’t done it I don’t know, but I’d guess – and veterans concur – that the difference between running day-long 50 miler or a 100k and a 100 miler is huge (some might say: “it’s like night and day”) and not only is it tough to train for (doing a near-hundred mile run to train for hundred mile race seems to be inadvisable) but the effect that it has on your body and mind is nearly impossible to predict.  So yes, I’m intrigued.  So when Chris asked me to help him out, I was keen to at least get a taste. 

Our blistering hot summer seemed to want to put an exclamation point on its profound and prolonged heat spell, so even the first week of September was still in the 90’s, and race day was no different.  Chris had told me that he was most-worried about the 13 mile section that I was to run with him, because not only is it exposed and relatively low elevation, but it’s also done in the middle of the afternoon.  My natural reaction was:  sure, it might be hot, but it’s “only” 40 miles in and doesn’t have nearly the high-elevation vertical gain and huge quad-crushing descent that the last – critical – 25 miles has.  But as I waited for Chris to show at the Big Mountain aid station I saw that indeed, the heat was already taking a major toll; seasoned vets were coming in already badly crushed.  Indeed, this section was going to be a challenge. 

Being a newbie pacer I wasn’t quite sure what I was supposed to do:  run in front and “pull”? Run behind and “push”?  Encourage, commiserate, cajole, berate?  Fortunately the latest issue of Trail Runner magazine came the day before the race and had an article called “How to be an effective pacer” which I read (but promptly forgot).  But as we eased out of the shade and comfort of the aid station  (and within a couple hundred yards I tripped, fell and banged up my knee and elbow!) I realized what was going to go down:  Chris was going to go his pace, and I was there to chitter-chatter merrily at him to keep his mind off his suffering.  Since I’d had plenty of good practice yammering at Tom McFarlane on our hike the week before (for that matter, pretty good practice my whole life) this turned out to be easy, though not surprisingly the normally-also-chatty Chris let me do most of the talkin’. 

Looking better than he feels, methinks. 
And so we trudged.  Walking all the climbs, trotting the descents, and sometimes trotting the flats.  The heat was oppressive, and Chris very matter of factly said a couple of times “I’m hurting bad”.  But there was pretty much steady movement, and we finally rolled into the party-disguised-as-an-aid station at the freeway crossing exactly on his desired schedule.  Team Adams was there to help him wash the grit off his feet, get him fed and rewatered, play with him (kids), and send him off on the mercifully-cooler climb up into the shadows of Lambs Canyon.
The Team Adams entourage:  Andrew McLean, Chris, pacer Andy Southwick, Denise Adams, Polly McLean, and a pack of smaller - but no less-rabid - fans.  And of course, dad Barney in the background.  
When Chris picked me up he was placed in the high 50’s, and the conservative pace that he took through our section resulted in him losing a fair number of places.  I asked if he wanted to try to use some of the folks passing us as incentives to go a hair faster, and he replied that he only cared about one person in the race.  I was quite impressed at his self-control; I know only too well the strange incentive that we get to “stay with” even random people we don’t know once it becomes a “race”,  However, in this case his strategy was correct; he ended up in about 41st place, well-ahead of many of the folks who passed us in that section and very near many people who were well-ahead of us then.  Well played, Sir Chris. 

And then this past weekend we did a completely different kind of run; Chad Bracklesberg spearheaded a drive to do a one day blast up Kings Peak, the highest point in Utah in the center of the Uintas with Christian Johnson and the Ultra Emilys:  Bracklesberg and Sullivan.  The weather was a bit dicey; I had returned from 95 degrees in Portland to find it raining in SLC, and the thunderstorms that week had been impressive.  And the Uinta range is infamous for being a thunderstorm magnet (my theory:  summer monsoons flow northward from Mexico and Arizona, and as the only E/W axis-ed range in the country the Uintas broad blocking swath offers up a perfect opportunity for warm air to rise and convect).     But a 4am departure and a forecast of simply wet without actual thunderstorms was encouraging. 

It was overall quite a pleasant outing; the Uintas seem to be characterized by long, relatively flat valleys with big talus/scree nobs at the ends and on the sides:

and we just chugged along up the valley, over a pass, into the next valley, and onto the bouldery summit ridge.  

While there was a bit of some fresh snow still in the crevices of the rocks up high, the sun actually came out briefly while we were on the summit:

 affording some limited views of the heart of the Uintas through the patches of fog.  It started to rain in earnest on our descent, slowing the pace a bit due to the slippery rocks and muddy trail, but as I had learned the week before, continuous movement tends to add up. 

Lemme see here....the top of Utah, Oregon, and Washington....only 47 more and I can be a coolguy highpointer too!  
Christian being a little less melodramatic on the summit than I.....
Any trip to Kings Peak will involve bumping into plenty of folks since it’s the High Point, and while most folks were fine, a few of them took the opportunity of our very-brief encounter with them to very loudly complain about the rain.  Uh, what part of “it’s been raining for a week and the forecast indicated pretty much a 100% chance of rain today” don’t you understand?  If you don’t like it or can’t deal with it – and clearly this was the case – why are you here?  Stay home and watch The Big Game!  Misery loves.....staying the hell out of the mountains where it might rain!  

Some amount of time after we started we arrived back at the trailhead, and I guess now I can officially say “I’m an ultrarunner” because apparently it was 28 miles!  I’m so excited.  And boy, those next couple of miles past 26.2….hard! 
Look at that powerful ultra running stride!

King's peak pics by Christian and Chad
A coupla fun outings.  Thanks again to Chris for entrusting me to accompany him in his darkest hour (he later told me his hurting was “the worst ever”; he’s a tough bastard, because I sure didn’t sense that!) and kudos to him for persevering and beating his goal – and a ton of seasoned vets – handily, and thanks to Chad for driving and he, Christian, and the Ultra Emilys for being fun pards. 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Best Party of the Year

Note that this Thursday night at Black Diamond is the annual soiree (hands down the best party of the year....) to celebrate not only the imminent arrival of winter - which admittedly is a bit hard to believe with 90+ degree temps until a blissful respite today - and the ever-so-critical Utah Avalanche Center.  It's the social extravaganza of the year, and I can't think of another better cause (except, perhaps, the Wasatch Community Gardens!).

It's a bargain for the price, and remember that all the stuff being auctioned was donated by really nice local folks/businesses, so respond in kind and be prepared to spend some extra money.  And if you don't need/want anything at the auction, throw down some extra money anyway.   And if you have parents/relatives who don't live in these parts but care about you, tell them that the UAC would be a good place to send their charitable donations this year!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Packrafting the Salmons - part II

Since the first part of our hike was to be a long climb up a west-facing hillside and the daytime temps were high, a morning start to our hike out of the canyons was important.  Which meant that we needed to do our Main Salmon paddling in either two or three days, meaning either 28ish miles per day or 19.   My first couple of paddle strokes off the boat ramp threw the bow of my donut back and forth wildly, and my resulting thought was "28 miles?!   I'll be wiped at 10!". But of course it wasn't hard to adapt an efficient stroke, and down the river we went, and actually made surprisingly good time.

Our first lunch stop was on a nice little beach and we had just busted out our food when a startling yell echoed across the river.  "HEY!   What are you guys doin!?   What are your names?!  You're both named Tom?!?  Where are you goin?!  Do you know how many mountains over 10,000 feet I've climbed?!   Do you like Nascar?!  How about A-Rod?!  I've been to 33 states!" And on, and on....and on.  We had unwittingly bumped into the Salmon River Rainman.   Once we understood what was going on (it took me a bit) we tried to be a bit more patient with this odd conversation being yelled back and forth across the river, but we didn't linger.  As we left I saw his companion, and.....a goat.  Huh?   "What's up with the goat?" I asked.  "Pack goat."  (He was as taciturn as his buddy was chatty).   I have heard of people using burros, mules, and llamas, but one goat?   "Yep, had three.". A pregnant pause as I waited for more info before asking what happened to the other two? "Dead".   Wow, edible pack animals?  "Nope, they wandered off. Now they're dead." Uh, sorry, I guess......and onward we paddled.

Paddling the main salmon was uneventful, though we did get a chance to try the boats in whitewater, as the "new" Salmon Falls rapid (formed when a landslide came down, created the new rapid, and backed up the water enough to "drown" the old Salmon Falls) was steep enough to be fun and require some moves.  The boats performed quite well; pivoting is, of course, their strong suit, but in the thick of things they also were drive-able without a ton of effort.

And the stability of them is extraordinary; no real need for a roll in class 4- whitewater.
I agreed to jump off the bridge with this kid, but on his count of "1-2-3".....I was duped!  

But the next time he was game
After a night on the river and two nice all-day paddles we arrived at the confluence with the South Fork, de-rigged, and walked a couple of miles up an ATV trail to the foot of our trail to camp.  Not long after our spartan camp was set up a quad showed up with a couple of guys on it.  One was a friendly forest ranger, and his buddy saw our paddles and said "you guys on the river?". We explained what our mission was and then he surprised us with the next question:  "you with an outfitter?"  We kinda looked over our shoulder to see what vast amount of gear might have suddenly appeared behind us to give this chap the impression we were traveling "with an outfitter", and shrugged and said no, no outfitter.  "Oh, so you came down the south fork and you are flying out?" Uh, no, we are hiking up and over to Big Creek.   "Oh, you're going for a hike and then going down the Main to Riggins?". Sure.  I mean, never mind. Of course!  Again, an indication that the concept of packrafting has a ways to go before getting accepted by the collective consciousness.

The morning of our hike was the most salient example yet of a trend that had been appearing; Tom was way more efficient than I was and was constantly waiting for me.  Maybe it's a characteristic developed as an ER doc (and a busy parent who still gets after it outdoors!) to maximize movements, but literally I was puffing on the twigs of a fire for my morning cup o' tea when I looked over and he was literally packed and ready to go. Oy, I better get on it. But between the still-long days of an Idaho summer, more or less consistent movement once we (actually I) got going, and Tom's easygoing nature we were still able to make good time.  

Looking down the south fork from our pre-hike camp
You can take the doc out of the ER, but you can't get his scrubs off him!

Why is it so onerous to get a river permit, but these guys have absolutely no limitations?  
The first climb was fairly stout: 5000 feet in about 6 or 7 miles.  Despite the early start (delayed by my tea!) It heated up quickly and I tested the limits of the sweet drybag rubber/plastic right against my back and I worked myself into a fair lather (good thing I had some morning tea!).  We then rolled along the aptly-named Horse Heaven ridge that generally separated the Main Salmon, Big Creek, and the South Fork, all by now far below.  There are thankfully a few springs up there to provide water, and while the bare-ish ridge offers great views it feels unusually bare when the inevitable thunderstorm moves in.   As Tom succinctly put it as the flashes and peals were simulizing all around us:  "we are at risk here", but we survived despite ourselves, and continued marching.
Hard to escape lightning exposure up here
Idaho appears to have a couple of different types of trails:  "maintained" and "primitive".  Given the recent spate of fires and - perhaps? - the dwindling number of backcountry travelers and FS trail maintenance dollars, the primitive trails seem to be getting reclaimed by the forest.  The only important beta that we had gotten from Andrew was to avoid dropping into the belly of their primitive-trailed descent canyon since they had to wallow through a "miserable bog".  We decided to do a favor for the global packrafting community and explore an alternative route on the maintained trails. Tom figured that it may have added up to 8 miles to our route, but since Tom and I hadn't hung out much he hadn't heard all my stories, so he at least tolerated my incessant yammering (who's calling who the Rainman?!) and it made the miles crunch away underfoot as we made our way down to Big Creek.  For what it's worth, when we got to the "intersection" where we met up with Andrew's crew's primitive "trail", it looked like a giant's pile of match sticks of downed/burned logs.   We were glad for our detour.  As we approached Big Creek we started seeing a lot of impressive bear scat
proving that long held adage

 and Tom - ahead, as always - surprised one of the large local residents mid-shit and he (the bear) bounded frantically down the trail.
the first person we've seen in days and - go figure - his name is also Tom.  Note the sidearm.  "Fer barrs, wolfs, and mooze" Really?  a pistol?  

meeting back up with a rio.  Looking forward to floating again and let water bear the weight!  
 We had to walk down Big Creek a few miles

 to a major trib that added maybe 30 percent more water, which was a bit tough; floating seemed a lot nicer than increasing the shoulder and hip discomfort.  But finally we arrived at the trib, quickly changed from backpackers to floaters (at least, Tom was quick!) and we recommenced bobbing merrily along in our little boats.
Happy to be bobbing again

It was here that the shallow draft of the packrafts came into play; Big Creek is aptly named and it's mostly pretty wide without much water, and while a few more inches of water would have been much appreciated, we were able to float along without getting out, which would have been impossible in a hardshell boat.

After miles of flat but scenic floating the walls of the Big Creek canyon rise up and close in for the last plunge to the Middle Fork, which almost invariably means "good rapids".  And it was super fun class 3 technical creeking, with the "intensity" (well, maybe just "drama") pushed up by a ferocious morning thunderstorm right on top of us as we bobbed and weaved through the gorge.

We popped out on the relative "sea" of the Middle Fork (sporting all of about 1000 cfs) and started stroking downstream towards the Main Salmon.

Another couple of hours down that and we were back to our put in to complete our first-ever river loop! Here are a couple of reference maps:
Our route in yellow.  Pink is our July bike tour.

Stats......oh, like any baseball game we had plenty of statistics from our trip thanks to the handydandy GPS that were of mild interest to us - and I alluded to some earlier - but the reality is that it was an awesome adventure with plenty of paddling in goofy little boats connected by plenty of charging around the mountains on foot, and the stats....they are of no matter.

And wither the wayward wheel and tire to be repaired?  Sure enough, there was Tom's wheel with a tire on it, and a note underneath saying "We found a slightly-used tire and had it put on, so we didn't need to use your credit card number.  You owe me a six pack of Gatorade and a box of donuts"

You gotta love the folks you meet on the river!  

Thanks again to Andrew's Team from last year for coming up with this great trip, Bruce Tremper for his generous loan of his little boat, and Tom for figuratively driving the bus on this trip and literally driving the considerable distance to the adventure from SLC and being a great (and patient!) pard
Nothing quite like "Loaded, Baked" local "Buds" to keep a guy moving efficiently!  

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Packrafting the Salmons- part 1

Question:   What to do if you are a washed up ex-class 5 expedition kayaker who has finally acknowledged he lives in the desert way too far from any good rivers?
  1. Drive way too far for way too little kayaking
  2. FLY way too far for way too little kayaking
  3. Pout and be bitter about being too far from “good” rivers and having a limited season, even while acknowledging that said kayaker’s still got it pretty good
  4. Lap up the other good adventures that the local mountains and desert present
  5. Go packrafting! 
As it turns out, it’s all of the above; at least, as of now, since I just completed my first-ever packrafting trip: a most-excellent loop incorporating some legendary sections of river with some quite-remote and beautiful hiking to link them up. 

When I first heard about packrafts it occurred to me that they represented something along the lines of that old adage:  “First they laugh at you.  Then they fear you.  Then they join you.”  I’m not sure I really “feared” them, per se, but I didn’t really “get it”.  They look like Kmart toys, but at least they are expensive, and being a snobbish kayaker I thought “they can’t be nearly as much fun as a kayak, so why bother?” 

But last year I was a bit taken aback when I read Andrew McLean’s account of their “River of Return” trip going down the Main Salmon to the South Fork Salmon, then hiking up and over the mountains to Big Creek, paddling down that to the Middle Fork, and floating back out to the Main.  Huh?  That sounds awesome!  And why the hell hadn’t I ever thought of something like that?

Clearly - and I fully admit that I am showing up quite late to this party – I hadn’t quite been able to comprehend the travel implications of having a “kayak” that rolls up to the size of a tent and weighs only 5 pounds, vs an 8-9 foot hardshell boat that weighs 35-40 pounds.  
Which would you like to have slung over your shoulder - along with all your food and camping gear  -for several days? 
And packrafts float a lot higher – ie easier across very shallow water – than a kayak.  So not only can you use your feet or your bike to access remote rivers, but due to the lower draft it’s possible to float rivers at lower flows, taking away the dependence on snowmelt flows. 

But a winter of skiing, a teeny bit of kayaking this spring, a few fun bike tours, and the fact that I still see way too much water-oriented crafts/gear in our packraft-free garage made me sorta forget about the possibility of a packraft adventure, until Tom McFarlane – with whom I’d reconnected skiing this spring via Colter a few years after a single ski outing – sent out an email saying “ok, you said you might be interested in this; let’s go next week.”   I was in, despite the minor fact that I don’t own a packraft.  But fortunately Bruce Tremper was kind enough to loan me his boat and (perhaps taking a quiet hint from my brother who has spent 40-odd years watching me methodically destroy most everything I own/use and works closely with Bruce), he made sure to mention that I would bear responsibility for any damage, to which I gulped (they are spendy!) and agreed.  And we were off!

The trip had an interesting start when we got a flat tire on the gravel road heading down the Salmon.  

An otherwise uninteresting event, but when we saw that we’d be relying on one of those silly go-kart spare tires to get us back up the same gravel road that had already cut a decently-good tire, we strategized that perhaps we could somehow take care of this whilst we were on the river.  We met a couple who had just shuttled a river trip vehicle down the road, and were willing to take the wheel back into town, get it fixed, and send it back down with another shuttle driver.  Not only was it super nice of these folks to do it, as we were saying our goodbyes we realized that the guy was planning on not only changing his route from the beautiful Panther Creek road (that Ash and I had pedaled up a month prior) but was also doing it on a motorcycle, and was going to strap the car wheel to his moto!   River folks are invariably nice (a year ago, at virtually this same spot, I gave a forgotten spray skirt to a rafter from Missola asking if he would mind taking it home and sending it back to our friends who had left it:  “No problem!”) .

This also provided the first opportunity to witness a theme that ran through our trip:  trying feebly to make people understand what we were doing.  After a brief explanation of our plans, the other shuttle driver (who was joining the guy on his moto with the wheel strapped on!) said something to the effect of “Ok, so you guys are getting your rig shuttled down to….”  Uh, no.  That’s not it; we don’t need a shuttle.  “Oh Ok, I get it.  You are flying up into Big Creek and…..”  Uh, sorry, no, not that either.  Never mind, please just get the newly-tired wheel back to the car at the put in and we’ll take care of it.  And thanks so much!

Doing a packrafting trip that starts on the river has the potential to create over-gearage; it’s easier to put stuff on your boat than it is on your back.  I tried to leave stuff behind, but still brought too much (I carried a small dry bag in my hand for a full day of hiking) and at the put in it’s awfully easy to say “Keeping my stuff dry is more important than being comfortable hiking, so my “pack” will be a dry bag with shoulder straps” that is only intended to be hauled up the beach from the boat to the camp, not 50 miles…. 
backpack features?  who needs 'em!  And I'm making boy scouts jealous with my good danglefest
Tom with his gear sleekly stowed inside his tubes and my "pack" strapped to the bow of my boat
Then a bit of the paddling reality set in: I didn’t quite understand before we left that it was 57 river miles down to the South Fork, and we were doing that in only two days at basal flow. I looked at those 6 foot long donuts that probably had a top speed of about 1.5 mph, shook my head, got in, and started paddling......

To be continued......