Tuesday, June 24, 2008

“Some people walk in the rain, others get wet.”
- Roger Miller

I think I walked in the rain and got wet this weekend. I had five days off in a row due to the eight day hitch that I will be going on tomorrow morning. I am optimistic about this hitch, as well as nervous. However, the story and the feelings behind the hitch will have to be saved for another post because too many awesome things happened in the last five days that need to be covered.

First of all, I went on an overnight backpacking trip with a fellow dormie, Matt. We hiked about 24 miles from Cooper Lake, past Upper Russian and Lower Russian Lakes. We took off at about 8:00 pm after work and hiked through some beautiful river bottom areas. We chatted easily and stopped to fish here and there. It is particularly pleasant to hike in the late evenings. We arrived at our first camp site at Upper Russian at about 10:30 pm (nine miles later) and decided to stay in the unoccupied forest service cabin. The cabin was brand spankin’ new and luxurious. There was even a row boat on the lake! At around 3:00 am, I heard the infamous moo-chirp stalking about outside our cabin and I shuffled around from window to window in my sleeping bag trying to figure out what kind of animal it was. After Katie and my experience at Lower Russian Lake with the moo-chirp, I was especially glad to have a cabin in-between me and the unknown animal. Matt supposed that the moo-chirp was a ptarmigan. Perhaps he is right, but perhaps it is a gruesome, hideous animal that stalks people from lake to lake on the Russian River trail. How am I to know unless I see the thing, or am attacked by it? Anyway, my unfounded stress led to a world-class laugh fest at 3:11 am and I simply couldn’t stop for the life of me. Hopefully it scared the fangs right off of the moo-chirp as it fled in terror at my pealing laughter.

The next morning we went on a peaceful boat ride on the lake and did some fishing and some wildlife viewing. I spotted a sow brown bear and her cub on the lake shore and a loon followed us around and dove under the water and swam beneath the boat. We got skunked on the fish, but the bears and the loon were more than enough conversation fodder for the next 8 or 9 miles. We stopped several times to fish for rainbow trout in the river but were unsuccessful. I did catch a fly fishing lure off the river bottom. That, I am proud to say, was the first thing that I ever caught with my fishing rod!!! We hiked and hiked through beautiful country with astounding views of snow fields and glacial valley’s and spruce pollen covered river beds and babbling brooks. I have to say that the babbling brooks are particularly fantastic in this part of the country. We stopped off at the Russian River Falls to view the salmon stacks. The smart ones were using the fish ladder but the adventurous ones were giving there all as they tried to swim up the falls. I think the fish hurdling their mass out of the frothy white water in a last ditch attempt to spawn in their home waters is one of the coolest things I have ever seen. After seeing this, we wanted to try our hand at salmon fishing so we walked past the falls sanctuary boundary and began fumbling around with our rods. I can imagine that our incompetence was fairly hilarious to the other fisher people. We were slipping on rocks, catching our hooks on shrubs behind us and generally looking awkward and bumbling. We were about to give up when a fish person took pity on us and offered to share his prime fishing spot. After our failed casting attempts he offered to hook some fish for us. The first fish that he hooked ran down the river so fast and took all my line of my reel. He was so strong, I couldn’t reel him in fast enough and the current helped him out. He actually managed to unhook himself and I did get my line back. We adjusted the drag and tried again. I think he hooked about 8 fish before I finally managed to land one. I have huge bruises on my hip from stabilizing the rod as I reeled. I have decided that I need at least two more hands, if not more. Matt managed to land a salmon as well and Bill, our fishing expert cleaned and filleted the fish for us! We were exhausted but happy as we hiked the final three miles and Katie picked us up all smiles so that was nice.

The next day, Saturday, was solstice and Moose Pass puts on a world class festival complete with tasty food, wonderful music and arts and crafts. I used Katie’s bike to ride the 6 miles to the festival around 12. I got there in time to see Big Nellie and the Empty Bottle Boys, a loosely held together band comprised mostly of my fellow USFS buddies. They play fun bluegrass tunes. Katie and the fire crew took an hour or so break so one of the crew members could play the washtub bass in the band! I slack lined and had a berry smoothie and chatted with folks that I knew, and didn’t know and generally had a good time. The music lasted until 9:30 and then the party moved to a private home around a bon fire. The scene was basically a bunch of drunks and I didn’t stay long. But I did run into Kristin Schmidt, a friend from high school, who I didn’t know was in Alaska. We didn’t get much of a chance to catch up so I hope she calls me and we can find each other later.

I discovered that a moose had gotten in our garden so I spent a good part of Sunday felling trees, stripping them and fashioning them into stakes for a higher fence. Some folks suggested that we get a bear hide to deter the moose and someone else suggested bear poop. I am keeping my eyes open for both. The garden, by the way, is doing very well and everything has sprouted except the brussel sprouts and the zucchini. Carolyn, Katie and I made salmon feast for dinner. It was nice to cook with people again and have a little bit of a community dinner. The salmon was excellent!!!

Monday, I volunteered for stream watch with Jennie. Essentially, some old veterans of the Russian River and I went down to the confluence area and told people to fillet their fish properly and keep their packs within three feet of them, picked up trash and mono filament line and repaired riparian area protection fences. My fellow volunteers were fairly knowledgeable about fishing and the area and general so I learned a lot from them. Watching the fisher people on the river also gives me a better sense of how to fish for salmon. Hopefully, I will be more successful or less awkward the next time I go.

After Carolyn and Katie got off of work on Monday, we went for an over night backpacking trip to Trout Lake. We viewed the ever spectacular Juneau falls and disturbed a foraging moose. We arrived at the lake and thought about fishing but it started to rain and we still hadn’t found a campsite. So we opted out of fishing and found a place to set up camp. The skies opened up and it began to pour just as we pulled out or tents. Long story short, we opted to all sleep in Carolyn’s two person tent because it was the only one that didn’t get completely soaked in the process of putting them up. At around 11:00 pm we made cocoa and at peppermint Luna bars and them began the slow process of piling into the tent without getting the inside wet. Carolyn first, and then Katie and finally, me. We all made sure to empty our bladders first though. We were fairly cold and wet and miserable but we managed to laugh and have some fun in our misery. I recited a couple poems and read out loud and it turns out we all managed to stay fairly warm all night long. We got up at 5 am and the rain had stopped, thank goodness. We packed up in a hurry and marched the five miles back to the trail head where Katie’s boss picked us up and took us back home. Katie had to work today at 9 which is why we had such an early wake-up time.

I am currently packing for the hitch and replanting some of the garden. I managed to collect some bear poop so I am going to distribute that. I hope that it doesn’t rain on the hitch but if it does, I hope I make lemonade with the lemons!

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