Monday, September 10, 2012

Day 1 on the Copper River - The Start of the Journey

Tues August 21st – Afternoon
There were two rafts pulled up at the river access area. A small group had rafted down from McCarthy to Chitina, a 3 day trip, and only the guide, Dale, and one other guest, Kate, were continuing on with our group.
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The guides were busy unloading gear, drying out tents, reloading the boats, resupplying the food stuffs, and repacking everything.
Meanwhile, we busied ourselves with eating lunch and getting to know the people that we would spend the next 6 days with. As an ice breaker, we were introduced to the game of Kube, a sort of knock down the pins kind of game that works well on a beach.
I did talk with our guides about my no ID situation. They called their office and plans were made to take our camper key and pass it along to a bush plane pilot friend who was flying to Anchorage the next day. The pilot would take our instructions as to where to find the camper, locate my purse, and bring my ID back with him. This would then be put with our luggage, which was traveling to meet us in Cordova. With a bit of luck, my ID would be in Cordova when we got there…….fingers crossed……nothing to do but put it out of my mind and concentrate on having fun.
Time dragged on a bit as we waited for the Copper Oar van to go get more supplies that were waiting to go with us on this trip……but, for us, the adventure had started, and we were just along for the ride. Finally, around 4pm, it was time to put on our life jackets and get ready to raft…..
Our group would consist of, from left, Mark, a retired Navy man and Naval Academy graduate who is about our age. Mark was traveling around Alaska and sightseeing most of the same places that we had been. Mark’s wife had been traveling with him, but returned home to get ready for a tennis tournament. She was on the past state champion tennis team. Mark is from Las Vegas and Utah, and North Carolina.
Then there was Dale, one of our guides. Dale is 30 years old and has worked for Copper Oar for 3 seasons. Dale attended Stanford and Cornell and has a master’s degree in engineering. Very smart, very capable….but still looking for which direction that he wants to go in life.
Then Kate, Dale’s girlfriend, a law student at the University of Washington at Seattle. Kate is going to start a 12 week internship at a law firm in Berkeley in September, which gave us a lot to talk about. Kate is interested in working in legal mediation with native populations. Dale is planning to go with Kate to the Berkeley area and find some temporary work until Kate graduates.
Next was Reeve,  28 yeasr old, and Dale’s brother. Reeve is a Naval Academy graduate, like Mark, and works with the Naval Nuclear program. Reeve’s background is in math, and he is very detail oriented.
Then me and Fred….
And finally, Allison, our other guide. Allison is 26 years old, and has been guiding for 6 years. Allison’s father had been a rafting guide on the Colorado River, and she grew up rafting. Her parents now live in the California Bay area. Allison had gone to film school at NYU, worked on a Ken Burns film doing some of the research, finished school at the University of Washington, and has traveled extensively for her young age……though she seemed older and more mature than her age would suggest.
The more that we learned about those in our group, the more fascinated that we became. This was a very intelligent and well spoken group……with so many different experiences between them. With enough similarities that we could relate to each of them, it promised to be a very easy group to visit with.
Dale and Allison, our guides, seemed to be well in control of the process of loading up and getting ready to go. They exuded a sense of confidence, which was reassuring, and spoke with experience. So, with a quick safety talk under our belts…..we climbed in the raft and shoved off on our journey that would take us 5 nights and 100 miles down the Copper River.
The Copper River is big and wide, flowing through the Wrangell- St. Elias mountain ranges, with snow capped mountains all around. I wish that I could take a picture of the water. It is a milky grey…..full of glacial silt which remains suspended in the water. The water is cold, about 45 degrees. This section of the Copper River has no real rapids, just a steady flow.

The rafts were set up with oars in the middle for the guides to use, and we were just along for the ride. This took a bit of getting used to……most of our experience has been in canoeing, where we are doing all the paddling. Nice to sit back and relax, but we did feel a bit useless.
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Our job was to spot wildlife, like this eagle, who looked like he was posed, just waiting for us.
And, to enjoy the beautiful scenery. We were lucky with the weather. It had been a beautiful day….no rain.
We rafted for a couple of hours, then we pulled into a nice beach area where we would make camp.We quickly learned the routine…..we would all help unload the rafts, then we would each pitch our tents and set up our own gear.
We were learning the ins and outs of this rafting life. We even learned a new term, ‘groover’. The ‘groover’ is a portable potty with a bag that was set up at each campsite in area away and out of sight, usually with a nice view. Rafting is a ‘leave no trace’ activity which necessitates taking everything back out with you…….yes, including that. Not as yucky as one might think, the groover gave a whole new meaning to the phases: feeling groovy, getting in the groove, etc…..much easier to just deal with these things in a straight forward manner.
Each evening, Dale and Allison, would set up snacks and drinks for ‘happy hour’….IMG_0080
Then would fix dinner in the kitchen which was set up under a tarp. I liked the organization of this. The kitchen, with tables and cook stove was set up the same way each day, so that it was easy to use. Only the location was different.
While the guides cooked, the 5 of us ‘guests’ would relax. This part was easy to get used to…   : )
Kate surprised us when she pulled out her violin. I did not even think that one could safely pack a violin on a raft. It was amazing listening to her play with such a beautiful backdrop……
Each night we had a wonderful cooked dinner with a salad or vegetable…….Dutch oven Lasagna, baked salmon with asparagus, stir-fry with rice, grilled steak and chicken, fajitas…..followed by dessert baked in a Dutch oven….chocolate chip cookies, brownies, even pineapple upside down cake. One thing for sure, we did not go hungry!
About 10 pm, we crawled into our tent, warm and snug, and went to sleep.

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