Before we left blighty the online predictions of what we were likely to encounter on our trip looked like this:
"…..Nam flashbacks……………we got rattlesnakes………Poison Oak is endemic through out California………we got bears……a month of misery you will not forget………..gun waving drug fabricating methamphetamine addict land owners ………lynching……….your burning cars being pushed into the river…………angry rattler…………."
It was the wildlife worried me most, and yet suddenly on the third river of our trip I was encountering "Nam flashbacks". Which is odd as I’ve never been near Vietnam in my life and anyway the war ended when I was only two years old.
The thought of lugging my overweight Fluid Solo down the side of a mountain to reach the river didn’t particularly fill me with joy but I had been assured that it was no more that a couple of miles, so I hoisted the boat on to my shoulder and started down the track. Unusually for me I was making good progress, keeping up with the leaders of the pack and feeling quite good about it. My boat didn’t even feel particularly heavy. I should probably point out here that, somehow, we managed to convince a non-paddling Liz to carry our helmets, BA’s and other associated kit down in a back pack for us. Which was something I was going to become extremely grateful for later.
Half an hour into our walk the five of us at the front stopped for a quick breather and to give the stragglers a chance to catch up. After a few minutes of waiting Mark decided to run back up the hill to see what was keeping them. Pretty soon he returned with the news that they’d gone the wrong way taking a small side track. Cursing their stupidity we decided to carry on down the track figuring that we could then paddle down to where they were sure to end up and laugh at the fact they would have missed out on the first part of the river.
Soon after we started walking again I realised that my previous vigour seemed to have disappeared during our rest. My boat became increasingly heavy and the sun felt hotter with every step. To make things worse I was steadily falling behind the others who seemed to of gained a mountain goat like ability to navigate the rough track. As time passed it started to occur to me that track was getting much worse underfoot and that we must of covered much more than two miles by now. Yet the bottom of the valley and the river seemed just far away as it did during our rest stop.
The rest of the group stopped to enable me to catch-up with them and inform me that they’d come to the conclusion that I’d been coming to myself; it was us who had taken the wrong path not the others. Still never mind they said, we’ll carry on down to the river this way and paddle down to meet the others. So off we went again.
As the forest grew closer around the track and signs saying trespassers would be shot started appearing on fences that blocked the track, I quickly fell behind the rest of the group again. Eventually I gave up carrying my boat and started to drag it behind me. As then sun reached its mid-day zenith my mind started to wander. Thoughts of the rest of my team vanishing never to be seen again started flashing through my head and the smallest rustle of a tree in the wind caused me to twitch and check if Charley was hiding in the undergrowth waiting to take me out. We’d already lost half the platoon and now the rest had left me behind. The trail became steeper and I started trying to run, dragging my boat behind me stumbling along desperate to catch-up with my team not wanting to be left alone behind enemy lines…
Fortunately my Apocalypse Now daydreams were interrupted by the sight of brightly coloured plastic through the trees; I’d reached the river and caught up with the others (who seemed strangely unaffected by the entire experience).
The trail we’d taken ended up next to what looked like a mining shack on the bank of what we decided must be a tributary of the main river. After a brief rest we distributed the kit that Liz had carried down which belonged to our lost friends and headed off to try and find them.
The tributary we had found was in a narrow, boulder clogged gorge which was a little scrappy in places. It wasn’t long until we encountered our first portage, the first of quite a few, each of which seemed to get increasingly harder. This was was mainly because I hadn’t recovered from the walk-in though, everyone else seemed to make it look a lot easier. Bashing our way through the rocks we eventually came to a fork where our tributary and another joined to form the main river. With the river now wider, deeper and faster flowing we saw in the distance the bridge that Mark thought was where we should have been getting on. Only one long rapid stood between us and there. Mark raced off to see if the others were waiting whilst the rest of us sauntered down more slowly.
Halfway down the rapid I spotted Dave waving from the bridge; They were there waiting, hurray! We’d found them. It turns out they’d actually just stashed their boats and started walking back up the track when Mark arrived and shouted after them. Fortunately they’d heard him and returned to the river.
Re-united we rested and ate lunch whilst those of us who’d gone the wrong way deservedly had the mickey taken out of us. Once fed and suitably recovered we started to think about our primary objective; paddling the Giant Gap section of the North Fork of the American River. Slowly we got in our boats and set off, only 14.5 miles to go…
Note: This entire tale might of been hugely exaggerated and over dramatised.
Photo: The picture above is Ol checking out the walk we had ahead of us.