Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Having an Adventure

It's no secret that I like to get outside and do things - hiking, camping, biking, kayaking etc.  These are the things that I enjoy - they revitalize me after spending so much time doing the things that MUST be done. Getting out in the sun and trees - or the rain and swamp and mosquitoes - or the snow and wind and dark - lets me forget about all the business and nitpicking of my everyday world.  To me so much of that everyday stuff just falls into a category labeled 'FORGETTABLE MINUTIA' - things that you can just as well forget the moment the task is accomplished.  On the other hand, heading outdoors to have fun falls into the category 'ADVENTURE'.

Maybe it's not adventure the way that you think of it - not the Technicolor, fight for survival, travel to distant climes type.  But to me it's a whole process of knowing what to do, getting things ready, getting yourself there, and having unsupervised, unscripted fun.  And it is always an ADVENTURE.

Most of the time things go pretty smoothly, more or less the way that I had planned.  And that's because I've been there and done that before.  I know what works and what has failed in the past.  I realize that things don't always go smoothly and allow for emergencies and other unplanned events, and I'm not going to pout if I get a boo-boo.  I'm not pushing for maximum adrenaline when I head out.  My goal is usually just to have some fun and get some exercise while in the Great Outdoors.

Over the years I've noticed that the ability to plan and have an ADVENTURE isn't necessarily something that everyone can do.  It takes experience and plenty of mistakes to know how to do things the right way.

For starters it takes knowledge (or research) about where to go to do what you have in mind.  Where is it okay to back country camp?  What trails are going to be good to ride?  What level is that creek going to be? Are there bears (or snakes or sasquatch) in the area?

And you have to be able to figure out what gear and equipment you'll need, and know how to use it.  You need to be able to figure out the logistics of the trip as well.  How far to emergency services?  Is there phone reception just in case?  How will you get from downstream back to upstream?  Is there enough car space (and gear, and food etc) for everyone on the trip?

Most of all you have to be willing and ready to just DO IT.  Lots of folks want to go out and do stuff - they daydream about camping, long bike trips, relaxing canoe rides - but the inertia of familiar and comfortable surroundings is too much, so they end up staying home and holding down the couch.  To bring out one more cliche - you've gotta WANT to do it.

This last weekend there was an interesting forecast - the region was supposed to get between 2 and 4 inches of rain over two days.  That ruled out a mountain bike adventure, because the trails were already wet and muddy, and two more days of rain would only make that worse.  But if there's going to be rain then the creeks may rise...  As the rain began to fall I was online, watching the range and intensity of precipitation.  By 10:00 Saturday I knew that the rain was falling hard on the area that I wanted to travel to - northern Clarion county in Pennsylvania.  I wanted to get a kayak ride on one of my favorite easy whitewater runs, Deer Creek.

I made this map over 10 years ago to help me find what creek is going to run when it rains.

It took me less than an hour to load my car with my kayak, bike, gear and supplies for a day on the water.  Before noon I was on I-80 heading east into a steady rain.  Before too long I was on the other side of the Allegheny River and getting off onto Canoe Ripple Road at exit 53.

I headed a bit further east, stopping along the way to look at Canoe Creek.  It's a smaller watershed than Deer Creek, so it fills up faster and can act as a sort of gauge for other area creeks. When I stopped on the bridge and checked it out the water was high enough to paddle - something of a rarity for a creek this small.  But it's quite a bit more difficult than Deer Creek, so I kept moving to the next watershed.

Canoe Creek, class III at a runnable level.

It only took five minutes to get over Huckleberry Ridge and to the road across the mouth of Deer Creek.  Moment of truth - would there be enough water?

Deer Creek at medium high water at the take out bridge.

If you look at the creek from the take out bridge and can see all the rocks on the stretch just upstream from the bridge, then the level is low.  Today you could barely even tell the rocks were there, so the creek was good to go.  Time to get this adventure moving.

I drove up to the put in and locked up the boat and my gear, then dropped off my bike at the top of the hill halfway through the shuttle, and returned to the take out.  The first part of the shuttle involves a mile plus walk up the 300 foot tall ridge, made even more fun by the steady rain.  At the top I got my bike out of the woods and did the rest of the shuttle - nearly two miles of downhill gravel road through a hemlock forest.  At the creek I got my boat ready and locked up the bike.  Looking at the 'gauge' I realized that the creek had come up 6" while I was doing the shuttle.  That meant it could come up another 6" while I was on the creek.  This was more water than I wanted, and it made me nervous as heck.  But I figured to take the most conservative lines and get through the ride in one piece.

The boat locked up by the creek at the put in.

I was right - the water was higher than I'd ever seen it before.  I set a good pace and skirted the biggest of the waves, always keeping an eye out for trees in the water.  After an hour and a half I breathed a sigh of relief as I saw the take out bridge come into view downstream.  A good run with no incidents, although it wasn't nearly as much fun due to the high water level.  But that's how it goes sometimes - not exactly perfect.  It took a little while to gather my gear and load up, and then it was a drive back west to Ohio.

And that was a good adventure.  Not the best, but good.  Sunday morning Diana and I got up fairly early, and sat around drinking tea.  I told her about the trip, and said that it was likely that the water level would have come down enough to be at the perfect level this morning.

One thing I have to acknowledge is the role that my wife plays in all this.  Diana is almost always willing to let me get out and play, and makes plenty allowances for my adventure prone personality.  So when I wistfully mentioned that the water was likely perfect, she gave me the okay to head back over that way if I wanted to.  Of course I DID want to, but I hadn't actually thought it would be possible.  But you don't have to tell me twice, so I gathered up all my gear, reloaded the car, and headed back east.

This time when I looked at Canoe Creek the water level was down quite a bit.  Despite 3" of rain this tiny watershed was already running out of water.   I hoped this would be a good sign for Deer Creek. When I pulled up to the take out bridge and looked at the rock I was using as a gauge I couldn't believe that it was entirely under water.  That meant it was way too high.  Disappointed, I decided to go up to the put in and take a photo or two for future reference.

That iron plate is my 'gauge' at the put in.  This is a good level.

I use an old iron plate from the old bridge as my gauge at the put in, and was flummoxed to see that it was showing a lower, friendly water level.  After a minute I figured it out - the water at the mouth was really high because the Clarion River was way up with all the rain, and it had backed up the water at the mouth of Deer Creek to show a false high!  In a jiffy I stashed the boat, left the bike, and started my hike up the ridge from the take out.  To make things even better a local stopped while I was walking and offered me a ride to the put in!  One million thanks to friendly locals - they can really add to the experience.

This time the water was right where I wanted it.  I was able to pick the biggest wave in most of the rapids (though there was enough wood in the water to force me into secondary lines several times).  This kind of easy whitewater on a wide waterway like Deer Creek is just a blast - lots of water in your face with very little real risk.  There were several great surf waves along the way, so I had plenty of opportunities to play along the way (I did keep out of the big Double Surf Wave though - no desire to swim!).

This time the run was so much fun that it was a disappointment to see the take out bridge ahead.  The sun was out, the water was right, and this adventure could not have worked out better.  Well, maybe ONE thing could have been better - I could have NOT lost my house/work keys somewhere along the way.  But hey, at least I still have my car key!

Storm clouds blowing over the Allegheny highlands.
Heading home I took a little detour and headed up around the northwest corner of Shenango Reservoir.  Along the way I stopped and looked at a little creek - small enough that its likely that no one has ever paddled it before.  But the topos show it has some gradient and a big enough watershed - and it has a rocky stream bed...

Booth Run.
Hmmm.  Could this be the scene of an upcoming adventure?  Could be!

(PS - I made a GoPro video of the second day's run and edited it together as a kind of guide for other paddlers interested in the run.  It's kind of long, and probably only really interesting to other kayakers, but it does give an idea of what the creek is like.)

1 comment:

  1. Steve, your words of inertia are very wise. I find for myself, and maybe for most people (especially those of us over 50!) that push to get away from the house and heading out on an adventure is the hardest part, but, always worth it. I found on my little short tour I lined up two weeks ago I am ashamed to say that after a mechanical in the first 20 minutes my first thought was to bag it and just go back home. I was proud of myself to push through and fix my broken chain and get on with the trip. Always, always worth it.