Sunday, June 30, 2013

Notes from the trail

Important lessons learned on the Rogue River Trail.

When you reach my age (64 and closing in fast on 65), you tend to dream up things to do to prove to yourself you’re not really getting old. Many of which are: (a) unrealistic, (b) delusional, (c) potentially fatal (d) not even things you could have accomplished when you were young.

My original plan for the summer involved walking the length of the Oregon Coast Trail, some 360 miles, camping along the way and seeking spiritual enlightenment. This plan ran into some immediate problems, the first of which was my inability to interest anyone else to tackle this project with me. Responses ranged from: “you must be high,” to “sounds great, can I have your golf clubs?” to “you wouldn’t know spiritual enlightenment if it jumped up and bit you in the yin or yang.” Okay then, perhaps it was time to try plan B.

My son Rob, who initially thought he might come along on the Oregon Coast Walk (I think he decided someone needed to be on the trip who knew CPR), suggested we scale back a skosh.  After some palavering (like negotiation done while hunkering), we decided to take a week, jet boat up the Rogue River and hike, camp, and fish our way along the trail. I jumped at the idea—a chance to reconnect with my son, eat freshly caught trout and sing campfire songs (turns out neither of us knew the words to Kumbaya). What’s not to like? Plus, if I could get spiritually enlightened in three weeks, I could be 1/3 enlightened in a week, right? 

It was a great experience, one I would recommend to anyone who wants to spend time away from cell phones, television, people and light pollution. The scenery is eye-popping, the air is clean and it’s amazing how you can learn to love food that only requires adding boiling water. Here are lessons learned and more pictures. 

Lesson #1.  The jet boat up the Rogue River can transform otherwise mature adults into a giggling, gasping, gaping 3rd-grade class. I’ve never heard so many grownups scream whee!!!in my life. Here we are admiring turkey-buzzards snacking on a dead sturgeon. 
Not a big  fan of carrion? We also saw ospreys, eagles, deer, otters, river seals and the occasional dinosaur. 

 Lesson #2.  Hauling a 40 pound pack up a rocky trail is hard damn work. I’m reasonably fit, but damn. Schlepping a backpack 360 miles for 3 weeks? My initial critics were right, I must have been high. We didn’t hike any killer distances.
The two camps we stayed at were between a mile and two and a half miles away from the lodge where we caught the boat home. .  

 Lesson #3.  If you’re going to wash your clothing in a fast-moving creek, be sure to grip it tightly. Some lucky rafter is now the proud owner of a pair of 38-30 cargo pants that descended from heaven via a stream-fed waterfall.

Lesson #4.   You learn amazing things about people you’ve known all of your life when you camp with them. 
I learned that my son, who never picked anyting up off the floor in all the years I lived with him is an accomplished and conscientious outdoorsman. 

He can light a campfire with wet wood in a torrential rainstorm, pitch a tent like a pro (is there a league for that?), and identify all kindsof plants and animals. 

For example, he knew instantly that this was a deer. I was under the impression it was some kind of horned fungus.

 He also insisted we leave our campsites cleaner than we found them. Who knew the kid who grew accidental biology experiments under his bed would be so tidy?

Lesson #5.  Sodden is an entirely descriptive word for a certain state of being. It rained hard for one day and most of another. When I awoke on Wednesday morning, everything I had with me was saturated. I was ready to break camp, hike to the lodge and thumb a ride back on the jet boat. Rob calmly spent an hour and a half starting a fire, making us coffee and telling dad to mellow out. 
Lesson #6.  Nobody likes a hardhead. Thursday morning Rob even allowed as he could be convinced to go hole up at Paradise Lodge for the final night. The tipping point was the realization that we were out of coffee and would face a decaffeinated scramble to catch the boat on Friday after breaking camp. Both of us craved a shower, a meal someone else prepared and drinking a beer (or eight) on the deck and watching the rafters float by. Sleeping on a real bed after 4 nights on rocks and dirt? Near orgasmic. I recommend this place. It’s a tad spendy but includes meals. And the view is phenomenal.
Final and best lesson.  I may joke about it, but there certainly was an element of spiritual enlightenment in my trip up the Rogue River. Even as an agnostic, I felt a level of inner harmony and peace that seems impossible to accomplish in the confines of a city. You look at the sheer cliffs, magnificent trees, abundant wildlife and star-packed skies and wonder whose plan this might have been. 


  1. Lesson learned after returning - the lawn is still waiting to be mowed. The pixies didn't do it while you were out. Just think of it as more nature to commune with.

  2. Great blog, Mike. I have long since left behind any delusions of ever being an outdoorsy, tomboy type as I used to be. Good for you for even attempting it. Me? I like to sit on my patio in the morning , sip Kenya dark roast, and listen to the traffic going by on their way to work...or camping. Poor saps.

  3. Pam: As soon as I can figure out how to get a White Chocolate Mocha delivered to my campsite, life will be good. The experience was wonderful, but it'll be a year before I forget enough of the negative stuff to attempt something similar

  4. Attempt something similar? How about hiking the Oregon Trail? Seriously, I loved this -- great read. Too bad about your pants!

  5. And P.S. -- the jet boat sounds like fun, but was it very loud?

    1. Well, the pants were a $5 special from Goodwill, so it's not like a lost designer jeans. The Jet Boat can bee loud when at full throttle but much of the time it slows so the pilot can point out wildlife or tell stories about the river and it's history. He also does some funhouse spins and splashes water onto the riders at every opportunity by speeding int the rapids and decelerating. The trip was cold and windy on the ay upriver and hot on the way back. Still big fun both ways though

  6. Ah, Mike, you had me at "palavering". :) Except for the sodden element of your journey, sounds like you gleaned a lot from your commune with nature and time with your son. Lost pants in a river will make a great cocktail party story for years to come too! It would, indeed, do us all good to spend more time outdoors "playing". I think I'll start planning a camping trip, er, right after I head to Starbucks for a Caramel Macchiato! ha ha Thanks for the article, well written and fun, as always. Susan