Thursday, June 28, 2012

Fascinating Detours

McKinley and Trinity River at Big Bar 
28th June 2012

Sleeping at Safeway wasn't perfect due to trucks delivering stuff all night but a pair of earplugs helped a lot. Nobody stole our bikes. A homeless guy slept in his TINY Toyota Hilux nearby and Luke says he saw a couple pull up after 11pm and smoke a joint having suspiciously pulled the stash out of their gas tank.

We headed off with the full intention of striking off East on Highway 299 but the tourist info book said there was a good biking trail at McKinley, just north of Eureka. The Hammond Trail is about 10 miles long and runs along the coast, often on a paved ex-railway line. After giving up on one parking spot because a shifty guy wearing only socks was hanging around, we put the RV in a very upright, clean street with basketball hoops on the edges of the gutters. This suburb was very high class, thank you, right near the beach, with two story wooden houses right out of The Birds.

We released the bikes and headed off on a very pleasant, if rather mundane, 10km bike ride along the shore. It was mostly beside the highway but we got to see some new flowers, birds and homeless people on the way. We pushed our bikes across the endless dunes (in single file, to hide our numbers) until we got to the beach. The Pacific on this side is pretty murky looking and the sand is almost black, with a quick-sandish feel to it. Nonetheless, people were in their swimmers and kids were happily building castles. We tootled along the tideline on our bikes, avoiding giant seagulls, but it was cold and the beach was endless so we turned around and headed back.

Made it up the gravel hill... just.

It was a nice ride and we decided not to do the full thing, intending to fill the rest of our day with driving the arduous mountain track that is 299.

Off we went through countryside that resembles Bli Bli... like all ex-forested land, I suspect. Then it was into the windy stuff, miles and miles of endless mountain curves, interspersed with campsites and old mining towns.

The road tracked with the Trinity River throughout all this spectacular scenery and as we went I started taking photos out the side window, admiring the pure green clear water and all of its rapids. Eventually I said “I think it would be nice to raft on this river.”

Within a few miles we'd happened on Big Bar, where two white water rafting companies were operating. It was 3pm and I didn't think we'd be able to do it but we pulled in to ask. The Trinity Rafting Co was a laid back office with a bunch of hippies in residence. We expressed concern about the cold water and so they threw in a free wetsuit for me with the $69 experience ($65 plus RIVER tax... plus tip). We were feeling adventurous so decided to go ahead.

After kitting out in swimmers, wetsuit, life jacket and helmet I looked pretty silly but never mind that... I was about to do some level 3 rapids. Which sounded fairly scary – especially when our guide (who'd recently been to Australia) told us what to do when the boat flipped over.

Still, we steeled ourselves, survived the van trip upstream and soaked up every bit of safety info Pete had to give us. Luckily his new bride of 2 years came long for the ride so we figured he wouldn't risk her too much.

We hopped in the small inflatable raft, gripped our oars and set off. The initial set of rapids were piss easy, giving us a false sense of security, I suspect. Pete pointed out scenery and we talked travelling. The first big rapid saw me get fairly wet so I was glad of the wetsuit. We coped well, paddling our way through the major waves and dips. Then came the Hellhole. It was pretty scary. I nearly fell out, Luke fell into the middle of the boat but we didn't get dunked. Thank goodness. The water was freezing.

After that we felt fairly brave and survived the next few big Level 3 rapids. Stopped and had beer and chips and salsa on a little beach. We also saw two minks, a rare sight. They look like tiny brown otters. And a bald eagle, although we couldn't give him much attention since the rapids were approaching.

We made it through without drowning, although by the end I was very wet and cold. But it was fantastic. The river is gorgeous.

Having tipped our guide heavily we set off because Luke thought he might like to get the rest of the drive done. I suggested we check out the Pigeon Point campground. It wasn't what we needed but by then I'd opened the chardonnay... so we headed back to the RV park near Trinity rafting. This dusty tiny strip by the road is also right on the river so we can't even hear the traffic. We have spent the evening drinking by the rapids. We probably should have cooked dinner but who cares when there's the most gorgeous river RIGHT THERE.

I wonder if we'll sleep OK with this rapids noise right there.

All up, a wonderful day.

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