Monday, September 2, 2013

The Wild West

We have just spent two and a half weeks in America, visiting my husband's sister and brother in law, who are river guides during the summers in Idaho, on the Salmon river. We have long heard of these fantastic trips and were waiting for our 9 y-o to be old enough to enjoy and remember the experience.  So this was the year, and it was a truly amazing experience.

I must admit I have always preferred travelling to less developed, less Western countries, but either it's middle age, having children in tow, or perhaps the experience of living in developing nations for five and a half years, but I found myself relishing the American experience. I think I viewed it the same way I viewed going home for summers in the UK  in that I enjoyed a degree of comfort and convenience I wasn't used to in Sri Lanka or Albania. 

I have been to America  about 4 times, but for some reason it bowled me over this it me just how friendly and helpful everyone was. People bent over backwards to help us, people stopped and chatted to us. It made us realise what suspicious old Brits we were as it took us a little while to realise people were just being friendly, with no ulterior motives, and people weren't stopping to tell us off, move us on, ask what we were doing, they just wanted to chat. I imagine this is because we were in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming; generally more rural and slower paced.  On one occasion, we had stopped to have a picnic lunch off the main highway and an old couple on a huge motorbike stopped and said hello, which I confess,initially we felt was a bit odd, and wondered if they were checking out what we were doing. Anyway we had a really nice chat, & as he left he pointed out his house, saying if we needed anything to just pop by and ask. 15 minutes later he came back with a map of Montana which he gave to us to use for our road trip.

We flew standby as usual. No one who hasn't worked for an airline or flown standby appreciate the stress of this way of travelling. As my husband puts it, "Staff  travel (retired staff in his case) is always fantastic in hindsight." During, however, is almost always a very different matter, especially when you are flying during school holidays. We got on the Seattle flight, then got offloaded at the gate. We were booking, unbooking & rebooking hotels for our first night. Finally we got on a flight to Denver. However our luggage didn't. This has happened to us many times before, pre children, but this time, despite having been told it was a priority, as we were going on a river trip, our luggage  didn't arrive during the FOUR days before our river trip started. It was there by the end of the river trip six days later, but how many of those ten days it took to arrive, we are not entirely sure. So thank Heavens for Walmart. We each bought shorts & t shirts, and swimming stuff and 'river shoes'. Our13 y-o chose some very  fetching stars n stripes swimming shorts which he loved and the Americans on our trip were very amused by. They seemed surprised he had actually chosen them.  The worst of it was I didn't have  my contact lenses with me, so I had to wear glasses and buy those 'clip on' sunglasses. Very attractive. And not ideal for a river based trip. I also bought a strap to keep my glasses on and tried not to capsize! Fortunately for us, because our sis & bro-in-law work for the rafting company, we could borrow their gear, mats, and sleeping bags, clothes etc etc.  The funny thing was the friend who had packed clothes for me because my sister in law was already on the river, decided  i needed cute little dresses and skirts to wear at the camp each evening on the river, so whilst I had not a single t shirt and only a very itsy bitsy pair of shorts, I did have a different dress to wear each night at the camp.......

And it was magical. We rafted class 3 and 4 rapids and lesser ripples in rubber rafts & paddle boats and inflateable kayaks, called rubber duckies down a beautiful stretch of river. 100 miles in 6 days - a wilderness area with no roads at all, about 5 or 6 settlements tops; mostly old homesteads once farmed by pioneering settlers or failed gold diggers living incredibly  remotely, now in disuse, or caretakered by people with a similar adventurous and reclusive spirit.  But slightly more modern conveniences....  we saw bald eagles and golden eagles. Some of our group saw mountain lion. None of us saw bears, or rattle snakes for that matter.

We slept out under the stars, gazing sleepily at the sparkling embroidered cloths with the gauze veil of the milky way trailing across it, listening to crickets and the rush of the river. We were fed like kings. The guides used dutch ovens which they placed on charcoal and then placed some charcoal on the lid, and so they could bake! They made brownies, cornbread, huckleberry pie out in the wilderness on these dutch ovens. They also had coolers assigned to each  day which they didn't open till that assigned day, so everything stayed fridge cold.  We were in a fantastic group of people. Our son has added about 12 friends to his Facebook profile, ranging from 23 down to 13 yr olds. They loved his accent. And his shorts....

Our daughter sat on the gear boats for the first few days, the guides called it the 'princess boat', because you sat up high and just kicked back & enjoyed the view, without having to paddle and the rapids were less frightening from there too.

Our son took to the Stand Up Paddle Board and used that mostly. My husband, after being in the paddle boat for 2 days, on day three and the day of the first class 4 rapid decided to try it in a rubber duckie. He managed it fine.

I am very envious of my husband in that he is afraid of nothing. Whereas I am afraid of lots of things. And it seems to get worse as I get older. I used to be much more gung ho and dare devil ish, though never a big risk taker like him. I realised this afresh on this trip. He didn't worry about falling out in to a class 4 churning rapid, (whereas I have fallen out at the top of a nasty class 4 rapid in Chile and it wasn't fun). He didn't worry about sleeping in grizzly bear country, he wasn't at all concerned about hiking through bear country, he rode a jet ski later in the holiday, getting it up to its maximum speed of 50 miles an hour, managing to get flung off it three times at high speed because he was turning it so tightly (Our brother in law said it was almost impossible to flip them & they were so stable they were very hard to come off too) So you can see what a 'girly woos' I feel in comparison to him...But I still do everything, I'm just scared doing (some of) them & hubby isn't!

Yellowstone. I guess being British I just couldn't get used to the idea that you camped under a flimsy piece of nylon quite happily in GRIZZLY BEAR country. I mean, we Brits are just not used to large, dangerous mammals roaming the countryside freely. I couldn't work out why people were so relaxed about it. After all, warnings were everywhere about being 'Bear Aware'. We had bear lockers at each camp spot and instructions nailed to them about what we could keep in a tent and what we mustn't. Every loo, every shop, every parking area had Bear Warnings.  What to do, what not to do. You were told never to hike alone, to make a lot of noise when you did hike, (clapping, shouting, carrying a bear bell though please note they also add about the latter "This is NOT enough", to carry Bear Spray ($50 and works once, though obviously once would be more than enough. I doubt you would go hiking again after also encounter with a Grizzly) I realised that most bears would be afraid of you, and are more interested in your food. Even so, you do have to assume a degree of confidence to sleep in an area with your food near by up a tree, with only that thin bit of nylon between you & a bear hug.  But also if they are used to people camping and hearing people's noise and seeing humans around, that means they get more used to them & correspondingly less afraid of you. And they are carnivores too, of course....

I did one hike, with just the children, whilst M went back for the truck. It was late afternoon and there was no one on the trail, which was a main one near the Old Faithful geyser area. It was also through pine forest. We didn't have our bear bell. So we clapped and sang & chatted loudly. After about 15 minutes of walking, we met another family in front of us and stuck with them all the way back. At the end of the trail there was a sign which said 'Mother grizzly with cubs frequenting this area. Proceed with caution. Be alert. Make a noise."  Can't say I would have proceeded at all had I seen that notice at the start of the walk.

So, summer in the Big Country. Big distances, big cars, big breakfasts, big hospitality & big animals. To coin a phrase, "it was awesome."


Expat mum said...

I know exactly what you mean. I was out in Colorado a few years ago, happily walking through the village we ski in during the winter, and I suddenly realized this was now bear country in the summer. Eek. But so glad you had an "awesome" time.

Iota said...

Sounds wonderful (except the lost luggage bit).

Awesome is, as you say, the word.

nappy valley girl said...

Sounds like a fab trip. We spent 2 weeks in Colorado on the way back from the US and did similar things (although decided the boys were too young for white water rafting). My husband actually saw a bear while out hiking by himself - he thought it was a mountain biker at first! However it was a black bear, not grizzly.