"Mostly sunny with a slight chance of a thunderstorm..."
So said the weather.com forecast for Cashmere, WA back around last Thursday or so, looking ahead to the weekend.
But hold that thought - we'll come back to it in a bit.
My good friend J's consulting firm hosted a river rafting trip on Saturday for their consultants and any friends, significant others and family members who wanted to sign up. The total group was over 100 strong and ready for a day of fun on a guided tour down the Wenatchee River!
Those of you who know me well know I always love a good road trip. On my 4th of July weekend getaway to the coast, the 4-hour drive was definitely part of the whole package of fun. Same with this rafting trip as well, for it's about a 3 hour drive over the Cascade Mountains into eastern Washington to the town of Cashmere where we met up with the group and the rafting company.
I've always been in awe of the beauty of Washington State as well as its contrasts, for once you head over the mountains into eastern Washington you trade the lush green and marine climate for scrubby brush, desert-like surroundings and heavily-irrigated agriculture. Two totally different worlds, each beautiful in their own right.
J invited me to be her guest for this outing and I was super-excited to tag along. The last time I'd done any river rafting was as a teenager on the Truckee River up around the Tahoe area in California. And it was pretty tame...super shallow and calm water and a few people goofing around on inner tubes.
This was totally different. And now reflecting back on it, that's a total and complete understatement.
The drive over Stevens Pass takes you up to around 4000' elevation before dropping downward again and into eastern Washington. Absolutely beautiful, and kind of cool seeing the ski chairlifts sitting quiet and and idle, just waiting for ski season again...
We met up with the rest of the group at Riverside Park in Cashmere and were kept occupied watching a large group of wildfires far up in the hills above where we were standing. They were bad enough to where the side road up the hills was closed, but not so bad that we were blackened out in smoke as they were super high up. Still, it was easy to see the smoke from the fires - most likely triggered by lightning strikes on the super dry brush and trees. Helicopters with long siphons would swoop down in the river to grab water and then fly up in the fire to try to douse them. Wow!
Now we were ready to get rounded up by the rafting company and get on our way! I really have to hand it to these tour companies for I'm sure you need to have some deeply-rooted passion and joy for telling (and yelling at) large groups of people to do things in tandem who have probably little to zero idea of what they are doing. Orchestration! We each picked up a PFD (personal flotation device, something I've always called a life preserver but whatever) and a paddle.
Then we were transported by bus a few miles west to the town of Leavenworth. The idea was to start back upstream and then raft back to where we started in the park in Cashmere. Seems pretty logical, right?
But no one told me that the transport method was by school bus. Yes, my friend, I'm talking the old, yellow-orange school busses with the dark green vinyl seats, zero air conditioning, zero seatbelts...straight outta 1960. And we had to board from back to front, which made sense I suppose. Lucky me - I got a seat right over the freaking wheel well.
So now here I am on a packed school bus with 70-odd people or so. And I'm feeling a flashback to maybe 3rd grade. Only now I'm about 33 years older, with my knees under my chin due to that damn wheel well, in a t-shirt, shorts and sandals with a now-getting-sweaty pfd strapped on - oh, and a long paddle in hand. And for some reason we waited forever before we left for Leavenworth. Thankfully we got going after awhile to get some cross ventilation through those open windows!
As we headed toward Leavenworth I felt a few wet drops hit me in the face. Did someone just spit? Nope - it was a touch of rain.
We got to the raft staging area and walked down a trail off the road to meet our guides and get a quick talk about do's and don'ts and basic safety. Remember, this is a large group of 100+...one of the guides welcomed us and showed us some basics about paddle strokes, commands, everything you'd want to know...
...But let's hop back now to that forecast for a 'chance of a thunderstorm'. Well, that chance abruptly opened up the sky with a huge bolt of lightning and clap of thunder.
The sky suddenly went dark and opened up with shower-like, pouring down rain. Huge, dramatic bolts of lighting were striking down in the hills on the other side of the river and the thunder bolts were so loud the ground shook and the guides had to stop talking each time for a few seconds until they stopped. And we stood there and stood there, trying to listen about safety-related stuff as the rain POURED down. "So if the raft capsizes you should...[a bunch of stuff I couldn't hear]" Oh, great. I was glad to be dressed mostly in synthetics...sports bra and the synthetic t-shirt I wore on last Sunday's 5K. And I was ready with my Merrell river shoes - great rugged-soled sandals with ankle straps which are good both on the ground and in the water.
Below the waist was a different story. I do have a couple of pairs of synthetic shorts I got from athleta.com awhile back which I just love - they're a girl's version of board shorts and are perfect in the water as well as casual strolling around town. Sadly, both are too small for me right now so I had to resort to the good old J. Crew cotton shorts. After a few minutes in the rain the soaking crept downward into my shorts - and undies too. And folks, there is NO worse feeling in the world. Good times.
After the safety lecture (I could probably hear less than 10% of what the guide was saying even between the thunderbolts) we walked down to the river where the rafts were waiting and grouped up into teams of 8. Keep in mind the rain was still pouring down all this time nonstop. And we all stood there in a sort of surreal daze wondering if this was really gonna happen or not. Anyone remember the movie Romancing the Stone (with Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner)? Remember when they were in the jungles of Colombia and the rainstorm suddenly pounds down and they end up on a mudslide? That was us, sans the mudslide - but I wondered what could possibly happen next.
We stood there for quite awhile and I thought for a split second that this whole thing might possibly be called off. But then I thought, no, if the guides had any concern about us toodling down a river in severe thunder and lightning they would have scrubbed the whole thing. We waited out the storm and I guess it was good in a way that by the time we launched our rafts we were already soaking wet.
Onto the river! We had a 9-mile float down the Wenatchee, about 3 1/2 hours or so. Absolutely incredible. Our guide was awesome and did a great job steering us (our job as a rowing crew of 8 was to just paddle when he told us to), as he knew the right parts of the river to be in, where the big, hidden rocks were and on and on. It was still raining somewhat but was starting to taper off a bit. But for the first few miles we could still see lightning strikes in the hills around us. Amazing.
The route was a fun mix of calm water and 6 or 7 sets of rapids, each a little different from eachother. We got used to the bobbing up and down motions of the raft, learning how to paddle in synch when we needed to and the funny feeling of passing over the large, flat rocks where it was more shallow. Maybe that's what it's like passing over a large whale?
And we peppered in a few water-related jokes: "iceberg...dead ahead!!" or, "...we're gonna need a bigger boat" [that's from Jaws if anyone doesn't recall, heh.]. And, "...what could POSSIBLY happen NOW?" a la some old Scooby Doo episodes if anyone remembers those. We had a razor-sharp witted group and really fed off eachother's humor.
When we all first got underway a bunch of people got into splashing eachother big time with the paddles. And why not, given we were already soaked from standing in the thunderstorm for about 20 minutes? After awhile, it got old and it died down. Except for one dickhead who would NOT let up and just kept whaling on us from his raft. I was thisclose to yelling at him to knock the fuck off but I thought hmmm, I'm a guest of this corporate team-building event and who knows if this douche is a major heavy-hitter in the firm? He got my visual daggers. Oh well - when his raft got stuck high and dry for awhile on a large rock I knew Karma, that gorgeous bitch with a capital "K", was watching close.
We saw everything from Osprey nests (complete with actual Ospreys in them) to old, beat up homes (which we jokingly called meth houses), multi milion dollar mansions, bundles of old garbage, a random guy standing by the side of the river alone and texting, a party with dudes cranking bass-loaded music and smoking a ton of pot - it's so funny and amazing taking in the world from the viewpoint of the river. You trust the water, as our guide told us. It knows where it's going.
Then at another turn in the river we spotted a woman on the banks by herself yelling at us about "jackets!!" Some sort of jackets! What?? Did she need help? Was she hurt or did she need AAA? We yelled back at her that we had NO idea what she was trying to say. Finally the dry-witted guy in our group said "...OK...and YOU have a nice day." We all roared laughing. Then our guide explained that she was explaining how the rafting company sells splashjackets - and that she works for the rafting company itself. Oops! Here we were ripping on her like she was looney-tunes and turns out we were wrong. But what were we supposed to do...just shout our orders and Visa numbers from the river? Too hilarious.
By this time the rain had let up for awhile but it was still a tad overcast. One of the guys up in the bow looked back at me and joked, "Wow, it's a good thing you brought sunglasses." Dripping in sarcasm, of course. At this point I was just glad they were still up on my head. I'd made a point to leave the nice watch and rings at home but did bring a pair of my favorite sunglasses, knowing there was a teeny risk they'd end up at the bottom of the river. Even through the roughest rapids, they stayed on top of the ol' head here. Whew!
At one point we had to pull over onto the shore, pick up our rafts and walk for about 10 minutes on a mud trail to meet up again with the river further downstream. Turns out this was to avoid having to go over the 8' drop of Dryden Dam, which I suppose was a good thing, ha ha. We even saw a few crudely-painted wooden signs on the river that said "move right." And one of the guys exclaimed, "HEY! Movie night!!" And we all cracked up. Maybe he needs his eyes checked? And maybe he shouldn't have been one of our leads up front? We were dying laughing.
As we were hauling the raft over land (called "portage" as I learned), I declared outloud: "OK, this is the Lewis and Clark portion of our trip." And everyone laughed again. That's how it was this entire afternoon - nothing but water, laughs and an occasional sunbreak!
There were 7 or 8 rafts total in our group - turns out a few people out of the original group of 100 or so did opt out due to the thunder and lightning. Our raft was one of the last ones to launch, so we had a funny view downstream of a couple of other rafts in our group who were well-equipped with water soaker guns and we laughed as they kept blasting eachother nonstop the entire time. Ahhh, everyone loves a water-logged Gaza Strip!
The last set of rapids was the most intense and we screamed and whooped the entire time. Our guide would give us the command to row "forward!". But there were times we were tilted over so much I had nothing to row but air for a few split seconds! Too funny!
Afterwards we met up in Riverside Park again to be welcomed by a fabulous steak barbecue with the whole works - corn on the cob, rolls, potato salad and lemonade. But before all this, J and I and a few others REALLY wanted to change out of our wet clothes. The funny part was was that we were about 20 miles away from the hotel where we were going to be staying and hadn't checked in yet. What to do?
Turns out there was a community clubhouse not far from where we were parked with restrooms inside, but the restroom was packed full of a bunch of girls in evening gowns getting ready for a Sweet 16 party. Oops! Where else could we change? We did it one at a time and old school, wrapping in polar fleece blankets hidden between the car and some large trees. One changed while the other stood guard. Hilarious! But so worth it to get into dry clothes.
After the barbecue we headed further east into Wenatchee to get checked into the hotel, unpack and get some well-deserved showers. Turns out the fiance's brother of my friend's co-worker (how's that for Six Degrees) was the GM of the hotel where we were staying and not only picked us all up to take us out for pizza and beers but also made sure we had the lowest rate possible on our rooms. Love that!
So we had a few more laughs recapping the day at McGlinns in Wenatchee; well worth a stop if you are ever out that way. Good food and nice people.
I was so glad we had decided to stay overnight in town rather than drive back 3 hours over the mountains so tired and drained. J and I grabbed breakfast in the morning and had a wonderful drive back, complete with a surprise fog cover over Stevens Pass - so thick we barely knew when we'd gone over the summit!
What an amazing 24 hours....it felt wonderful getting out of town after pretty much feeling like a homebody the past year or so.