Airstream Time

Exploring North America in an Airstream

Installing Dimmers on Reading Lights

The LED reading lights in the Airstream are too bright for me, so I end up turning them to the side or taping a paper cup over them. On the Airstream Forums site, http://www.airforums.com, there are others with similar complaints. Some have found filters that tone the light down and give it a warmer, yellow color. Since it has bugged me for a long time, I decided to place dimmers on them. Of course I know nothing about electricity or wiring, but hey, you can learn these things can’t you? I am writing this up here because the videos come up on the page, I can put more pictures up and the links will work. If you don’t need dimmers, you can quit here.

I found two good videos and one diagram page on this subject:

http://www.rv-project.com/gear/dimmers2.php has diagrams of all the possible wiring scenarios. Without these three sites, I could not have done the job.

First I looked at the dining area light where I found two wires from the light to four wires from the house. This little corner has a lot of wiring for a radio and a DVD player. I decided to let that one hang for a while and went to the front bedroom.

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It makes no sense to me that the negative wire (with a minus tage on it) is white and the positive wire is black. From other videos, I learned to put the Fluke multimeter probe in the negative screw connector and the the other on the positive connection. Putting the positive probe on the black connector here, there was a 13.3 reading. Reversing the connections does no harm, but gives a -13.3.

I hooked everything up “on the bench” to make sure it worked. This in NOT connected correctly as I would learn later, but I think it’s a good to connect everything on the bench. It’s just easier to see everything. Then tag everything. Once I put the light back in and the dimmer in, all the wires are coming through a hole where I removed an audio speaker. I was working upside down and made several mistakes before finally getting it right.

I also learned a lot about connectors, going to Lowe’s and Martin Hardware a bunch of times. Twist connectors are great to test everything, but then I found it more secure to use crimp connectors or push-in connectors.

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I ordered mine from Amazon, but it came from https://www.leisurervparts.com: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B079TJZ6DF/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o05_s01?ie=UTF8&psc=1

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I bought a Black and Decker jigsaw at Lowes that is rated well. Two big things swayed me: it costs $30 and it’s very light. Since I had to work upside down, I wanted something light. Don’t buy cheap safety glasses though. Get the sealed rim ones, because all that dust is coming into your face and hair. The dining area light was easier because it was the second one I cut and there is no cabinet rail in the way. I made a cardboard template to mark the hole. Below is the dining area hole. I drilled holes in the corners and a slot for the wires to go through. Then made them bigger. In the dining area there were so many wires in the way, I put a roll of tape above the cutout area to support the wires out of the way. In the bedroom, I could just push the wires out of the way. I taped the speaker wire out of the way.

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With the wires labeled, the light and dimmer in place, working through the speaker hole, I first connected with twist connectors to test everything. Once I was sure, I made more secure connections. Two pictures show highest and lowest dim. It doesn’t show well, but it dims just like the ceiling lights that have the same dimmer.

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The whole story: The first time I wired it wrong. I had the red wire going to light positive instead of the house positive. It turned on and dimmed and I was quite happy with myself. Then I went to work on the dining area light. In the course of working, turning on and off the electric kill switch, I noticed the bedroom ceiling lights were dim. I turned the wall dimmer all the way up, but still dim. I turned the reading light dimmer up and down and they just got more dim. Measuring the power to the light now, I only had 7.6v on the multimeter!

Idiot! Now I have to take it to a dealer and tell them my story. I’ve spent all this money on  parts and tools and now I am going to spend a bunch more. Searching the internet, I looked for a reason for half power. No, it’s not the battery, still at 13.3, and everything else works fine. There were no blown fuses. Could I have cut or pulled a wire loose? How in the heck could I trace it through the walls? Not finding anything on the internet, I didn’t sleep well. Going back to the trailer in the morning, I stood there for a while, trying to calmly figure what it could be. OK, retrace the steps. The battery tested 13.3 and the current through the light still tested 7.3. Checking the fuse box, there was one lit up, meaning it was bad. Replacing the fuse made the ceiling lights fine, but not the reading light. Retracing the wiring steps, I found I wired it wrong, cut the power off, cut the wires and rewired successfully. If I could just follow directions!

The dining area light was easier and more difficult. Easier because it was a nice flat area to cut the hole. Harder because there were a lot of wires up there. It’s actually the same as the bedroom light, except there are two house positive and two house negative wires. I added wire to the light and the dimmer so I didn’t have to work inside the speaker hole loaded with wires. I tagged all the wires. it would have been nicer to have different color tags for wires from the house, the light and the dimmer, but it worked. It did make me appreciate connectors. Four wires came loose as I pushed and pulled things around. I had recently replaced the radio, so I was somewhat familiar with its wiring. Actually it worked out better because I found the wire to the house mike that I couldn’t find before. I show below removing the radio and reconnecting those wires with better connectors.

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Showing the roll of tape I used to hold the wires out of the way. A box would have worked as well, but the weight of the tape kept it in place

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Red and white connections dropping through the hole are radio speaker wires

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Tools for removing the radio. There are two of these that came with the radio. Slim butter knives will work, but these are easier.

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Tools pushed into slots on the side of the radio until they click. Then pull on the tools to pull the radio out

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I found a loose red wire

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Wiring diagram from the radio manual

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The red wire connects to positive as described in the manual. Fortunately the yellow wire also goes to positive too, so I could follow it to find house positive.

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Then I found a loose orange wire. It also went to positive. I reconnected these to positive with a 4-hole push-in connector that should hold better.

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Success! The radio works; the lights work and the dimmer works : }

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Big Meadows, Shenandoah National Park

August 7,8, 2018

Martha was having 12 ladies over for bridge. We have a small house, so I decided to retreat to the mountains in the Airstream. I am embarrassed to admit I have never been to Big Meadows, and why pack up all that stuff and only go for one night, so I signed up for two. It was 91 degrees, and I worked up a good sweat by the time I got everything packed up. It’s a beautiful drive from Stanardsville on 33, then north on the Skyline Drive. We have had great rains, and everything was so green and lush, with flowers blooming everywhere.

A very nice lady, Elizabeth, checked me into the campground. I chose a site that was a foot too short. They don’t like you to have a tire on the grass, so it took me a while to wiggle the truck into a reasonable spot. I was backed up to the forest with some tent sites, but no one was in them. This is a big campground and it was busy, especially for a Tuesday, but it was a good 10 degrees cooler at 3600 ft. I explored the campground and went to the Visitor’s Center. There is a good walk-through history of the making of Shenandoah National Park. On the other side is a huge picture window looking over the meadows across the parkway. I wandered out on the porch looking for what animals might be out there. I poked through the adjacent camp store, which was big and well-stocked.

I was tired by the time I got back to camp, so I built a fire in my new Solo Stove. It worked great, as advertised. All the holes around the top and bottom allow the fire to burn efficiently and hot. Sitting around a campfire is great on a perfect night. Looking into the fire is mesmerizing. However, the smoke is another thing altogether. It seems to chase me around the fire. Move my chair and it follows me. Often I have to close the Airstream windows so the smoke doesn’t go in.  Try to cook over or in it is a unique, smoke-filled challenge. The Solo Stove, as it is advertised, burns more efficiently, so there is less smoke, and it goes straight up. On this night, I am happy to report, it burned as advertised. By the time I finished dinner and the sun went down, the temperature dropped quickly. Somewhere in the night, I pulled the blanket up……in August……in Virginia!

By 6:00 in the morning, I was parking the truck next to the meadows and loaded my camera gear. I was late! There were already five people walking up the road, and two serious photographers setting out ahead of me. One was a lady with a nice Cannon camera and lens, the other a man with a tripod, big telephoto lens, long pants and rubber boots. I tried to follow him, but he was gone before I could get ready. A path led left into the field, and I followed it. There were deer everywhere. On the other side of the road, people were taking pictures of them. Soon there were 15 bucks grazing ahead of me. I approached slowly, but it was soon evident they were used to people, and hunting is not allowed in the park. I eased my way until I was within 50 feet of them and started shooting pictures. It seemed they were all 8-point bucks with fuzzy antlers, and they were all fat and healthy-looking. Trouble was they were so engrossed in eating, they rarely lifted their heads. I could see they were watching me out of the corner of their eye as they grazed along. Soon the two photographers joined me, then went ahead. The lady said she had been following them for an hour. She inched her way ahead of them until she was within 15 feet. They couldn’t care less.

In between shots, I looked down and around me. There was so much food, it was amazing – blackberries, blueberries, other berries, and a wide variety of flowers. Butterflies twitted around, sometimes zooming past for long distances. With all this food, I wondered why they were traveling so far. It was partly cloudy, which kept the light perfect for a long time. After several hundred deer shots, I continued up the trail until I saw the gentleman with his tripod set, obviously looking at something. As I approached, he pointed and whispered, “Bear.” I just caught a glimpse of his butt as he walked around a corner. The photographer and I talked for a while. He loves to come here. Living in DC, he got up at 4:00 to get here by 6:00. He said the young bear had walked around for a while, then stood up in front of him, probably checking him out. He spoke to the bear to let him know he was there, and the bear went on eating. As we were talking, the bear walked around a big bush and down the hill. The gentleman said he was going to look for birds along the trees. I followed the bear.

For about an hour and a half, I followed the bear. Same problem though – he was eating so much, he rarely lifted his head. Every couple of minutes, he would briefly check out the surroundings before resuming the buffet. He kept his eye on me, and I on him, but gaining courage, I crept closer. Then he went into some tall stuff, and I couldn’t see him. This made me a little nervous, but it must have made him nervous too because he soon stood up to look around. I clicked off 8 shots before he went back down. A doe walked down the hill before spotting the bear. She turned toward me, walking along the side of the hill, always checking the bear. I was standing still watching both. She walked within 5 feet of me as I clicked off shots. She had a big tag in her ear.

I picked up another trail heading toward the parking lot. Not concerned with wildlife now, I was amazed by the amount of berries and flowers. Then I was walking in water. The middle of the field was a wetland, obviously the headwaters of a stream, probably the Rose River. I went back to the trailer, fixed a cup of tea and downloaded pictures, too many pictures. Thinking I had downloaded all the pictures, I closed the program and reformatted the cards. An hour later I realized there was no standing bear! I had stopped the program too soon! Grrr!

That night while packing the truck, I saw a young bear right behind the trailer. I grabbed the camera and got off a few shots before a ranger came up with an air horn, quickly chasing him off. He said they had to cite two campsites for leaving food out. Brian was his name, and we chatted a bit. He told me the best places to look for bears.

I went to McLean, Virginia on Thursday to visit Sue and Jim Keith. I couldn’t help but stopping at the meadows for a brief walk. It was late in wildlife terms, 8:00. It was sunny, warm, and there were no deer, but butterflies were everywhere. I took a brief walk in the opposite direction of yesterday. I wanted to continue, but it was time to go. I hadn’t driven ½ mile before I saw a young bear cross the road. I stopped and put my emergency lights on. That little rascal scrambled right up a rock cliff and ate berries from a bush half way up. Three bears in two days! That’s pretty good, or were they all the same young bear?

Elizabeth, Brian and another nice gentleman make a great crew at the campground. They are so patient in a busy place with 200 campsites. Lots of Appalachian Trail hikers come to pitch their tents and get a good meal. I want to go back and explore those meadows a bunch more. Wonder when Martha is having bridge again.

Middle Fork Salmon River, Sunday

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Sunday, July 22, 2018

Sipping coffee, I watched these amazing kids carry their heavy bags, sleeping bags, day bags and water bottles to the boats. By now everyone had the routine down. Too bad it’s the last day with two of the biggest rapids. Ron got into the boat with Ty. It was the only day he didn’t fish. Hmmm, how big were these rapids? Apparently they are below the junction of the Main Salmon with the Middle Fork, or what they call the Main and the Middle. Why would it surprise me that Sarah, Llydia and all the girls were in the paddle boat with Bob and Dog. As we came to a gorgeous spot that reminded me of Half Dome in Yosemite, I asked Ty for my Nikon, which I had kept in a Pelican case when we were on the water, only taking it out mornings, evenings and some lunches. I found if I strapped the cast to the bed pad I was sitting on, I could get to it quickly, then put it back in rapids. Geez, it took 6 days to figure that out! By the time I got it sorted out, we were passing the photo opportunity. Next time I will know better. 2020, God willing.

Then Ty said, “There’s the road.” Damn! Civilization! I looked back at the paddle boat behind us as we entered the second worst rapid on the river. Was that Llydia riding on the front of the paddle boat???? “The Bronco Seat”, Ron said. They were too far back to get a good look, but then we came to the second rapid. With the camera strapped down, I got on the floor and grabbed the rope. Ty handled it expertly as all the guides had done the entire week. We eddied out the watch the paddle boat in case something happened. There was a dark-haired girl in the Bronco Seat now, with a GpPro on her head. Sarah! The story goes she asked her parents if she could sit in the Bronco Seat for this rapid. Her father, Chris, said, “We all make decisions Sarah.” Her mother said, “Good luck” as they kept fishing. These girls are my heroes, and they were from the first day! As the boat floats past, Sarah just flashes that beautiful smile.

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There was a great lunch at the landing. Jess was there. I had a great talk with Carla, who helps with driving, loading and whatever else is needed. She told the story of riding a bike across the country from the Oregon coast to Virginia in the 70’s. She talked about the roads, the difficulties, but mostly the people she met, and the generosity of them. As I have seen time and time again, the adventure is one thing, but the people we meet make it special. That is certainly the case on this trip.

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We loaded on a very nice bus for a one-hour drive to where Ron had his car shuttled. I could easily have fallen asleep, but the entire drive followed the Main Salmon River. It was too pretty to sleep, and I shot a few pictures out the window.

Group photoOur group

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Here’s to you, all my new friends. That FireBall is darned good! Thanks for sharing!

Middle Fork Salmon River, Saturday

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Trying to define the way Cartwheel Bob came down the mountain last night, Steve asked Sarah and Llydia to demonstrate handstands and cartwheels. The crowd voted it was more cartwheel.

I got in the boat with Steven with Brian in the front fishing. Many had said their favorite day was the 5th, and now I see why. Early on we stopped at an incredible, ancient cave overlooking the river. A perfect, grassy area was in the front for a perfect camp. Pictographs were all over the cave. Probably used for thousands of years as a major camp, I can only imagine the stories that went around those campfires. Back down the rocky climb, Tristan, Tanner, AJ and Steven were jumping onto a big rock and then doing flips into the river.

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The next stop was a hike up to a brilliant little waterfall tumbling over the wall of a blind canyon. This was the home of a man who died in the 1930’s. He was one of many who enjoyed the beauty and solitary lifestyle. He had a tiny cabin beside the river and a ladder up the cliff wall, which led to an grassy, open area where he built a larger cabin. He had a garden and grazed his animals. Steve had climbed the cliffs to explore in years past. I gazed at the cliffs and imagined climbing it.

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We stopped for lunch next to Big Creek at 11:00. Steve said we could jump off the bridge, which of course the guides and the girls did, and that’s a high bridge. We could hang out, swim or walk up Big Creek. I opted for a walk up Big Creek. I hadn’t gone far before I turned back to get the Nikon camera. What a gorgeous, classic western, clear blue trout stream! Maureen, Cathy and Sharron walked ahead. Steve warned to be careful fishing it, as it is hard to get to sometimes. I found John casting from a rock above the stream. Flowers and berries were everywhere. I kept looking among big rock slides for a rattlesnake, but never saw one. I did find several grouse, and John caught me to point out some sheep. I walked up to a bridge, passing the ladies as they walked back. I later learned that Steve has a 6-day trip to Big Creek. You fly in, then take a horseback ride to a cabin. He said the stream rarely gets fished. Now there’s a trip I would like to take!

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We heard stories about “The Wall”, where Maureen had turned over her kayak last year. That’s why I wasn’t in a kayak and was in the boat with Steven. As we rounded a bend into a long stretch of calm water, I could hear the rapid in the distance. I have learned through the years if there is a big calm area, there is often a big rapid at the other end. As the first boat neared the rapid, Steve yelled, “STAY AWAYYYY FROM THE WALLLL”. Each guide echoed the cry up the river until the paddle boat made some defiant cry I couldn’t understand. The river makes a right-hand turn where the whole force of the river powers its way up against a giant wall. We barely touched it – the only rock we touched the whole trip, with the exception of some shallow rocks we floated over. All the boats eddied out below and beside the rapid. A group was camped across from the rapid, and had obviously been practicing the run through it. Our paddle boat came through like professionals with everyone cheering.

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When we got to camp, we settled into the routine, which entailed finding our tents, rolling out the sleeping bag, finding a headlamp, shaving kit and other essentials. Then to the chairs for cocktail hour…s and so many stories, great stories and lots of laughter. Then Steve began asking “Who was born on the first? The second?” Of course the question came, “What month?” “Doesn’t matter. Who was born on the third?” Then he starts digging a hole in the sand and buries a white bucket and fills it with water. Then the same about 40 feet down the beach. He filled beer and soft drink cans with sand and water and explains the game. It’s like horseshoes, or Cornhole. Nearest to the bucket gets a point, a leaner two points, in the bucket gets three. Two practice throws and off you go. I was paired with Tristan, but let him down. Cathy, it turns out, is a senior horseshoe champion, and they crushed us. Who knew? Before going back, I will have to practice. With everyone playing, including guides, it takes a while, but drinking is not prohibited. Steve forbids electronics of any flavor, and makes you sign a form in agreement. At one point during the game, Sarah was showing the ladies the GoPro movies of going through “The Wall”. “Put that away!”, he said with authority. “You can watch that next week.” With no TV, no cell phones and no computers, there is so much more interaction, so much entertainment and so many great stories! The game resumes, and it was lots of fun. The evening was topped off with Smores brought out by Maureen.

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Middle Fork Salmon River, Friday

Friday, July 20, 2018

What fun it was to paddle kayaks in the morning with Llydia and Sarah. Although most of the rapids weren’t bad, we had a couple of challenging ones. They both hit a rock in one and I think came out of the boats. By the time I got past and looked back, they were in the boats laughing and having fun. We kept hearing about “The Wall”, so none of us paddled after this, although Ron said it was all fine. He has paddled the entire 102 miles in a kayak.

We visited a huge Native American cave with pictographs. Steve quipped, “The Smiths have an overhang honey. Why can’t we?”

That evening there was a cake-eating contest, which Bob won. I didn’t see much cake under the whipped cream, but he did have extra strawberries.

Mountain Challenge #2:

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After we setup camp, I was into my second glass of wine when Steven ran down the side of a raft, dove in the river, swam across the river like an Olympian and ran up the mountain, finally standing on top of a granite rock, arms in the air. I am guessing there was some record-keeping for fastest times because soon enough Steve jumped in and hustled up the mountain and climbed on the rock, arms in the air. I wasn’t keeping time, but I think Steven won. Then Tristan dove in the water and hustled up the mountain, and there were three standing on the rock. When no one else followed, they came back down. I stopped drinking and toyed with the idea. I could swim across the river, though the current is fast. The first part is very steep, but after that it looked like it leveled off for the second third. The last part was steep again. By then everyone was back down, and Steve asked the girls if anyone wanted to go. There were no takers, and the regular conversations went on. Then those two darned girls, Llydia and Sarah, raised their hands and said they would go. “Put on a life jacket and some good shoes”, Steve said, and they ran off. Couldn’t believe it. I picked up the camera and followed them to the river when Bob and Maureen walked past me. “Hell, if they’re going, I’m going” I said, scurrying back to put my camera down. It was a harder swim than I thought. Bob reached out a hand, but I declined. The “trail” up was loose gravel and sand with little to hold onto but grass. Gasping hard, I tried to keep up with Maureen when we got to the top of the first third. It didn’t level off. Steve yelled down from somewhere above to take our time. By now he was ⅔ the way up with the girls right behind him. The last third was very steep and slippery. I was pretty sure we didn’t have a shot at the record! We made it though, still gasping for air as we climbed the rock. Steve was talking and telling stories, knowing we needed time to recuperate. Meanwhile Llydia was climbing around on a ledge on the other side of the rock. I didn’t know if I was going to have a heart attack from breathing so hard or watching Llydia so carelessly climbing around. Finally I couldn’t contain myself. “Llydia, get back over here!”

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OK, going down should be easy. Maybe if you are Steven, who ran the 90-some miles up this canyon, or Steve who has spent a lifetime guiding hunting and fishing in these mountains. Totally unaffected, he climbed this mountain twice today. As we trudged down, Steve and the girls walked over to a vertical cliff overlooking camp. Making our way almost to the bottom, Bob’s knee buckled on him and he went head-over-heels down the trail! He was behind a tree, so Maureen and I couldn’t see it, but those in camp thought he was going to die. Thinking I was safely down, I took a slide on the loose gravel with my arm catching a sharp rock. I hit it hard enough, I thought it might have broken, but it was fine – just some good cuts that Steve would later say looked like a bear bite. We walked along a ledge on the river bottom to get upstream before swimming across. Bob and Maureen are expert swimmers, so I followed Maureen. Unfortunately we were swimming downstream. By the time I looked up, I was at the end of the boats, but got safely to shore still panting hard.

After some rest and water, Steve, who looked like he hadn’t done anything all day, said “Get yourself a drink. It’s margarita night.” Then we heard the others talking about Bob’s fall and how scared they were. Steve asked the girls if they could demonstrate a cartwheel to see if that’s what it looked like, but no, that wasn’t it. Then he asked Bob to do one, and everyone agreed that was it. From then on, he was known as “Cartwheel Bob”. I was hoping for “Bearbite Greg”, but it didn’t happen.

As I got ready for bed, I handed out dental floss. We had been discussing the need to floss and that you only have to floss the ones you want to keep.

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Middle Fork Salmon River, Thursday

Thursday, July 19, 2018

How can you go wrong starting your day with eggs Benedict? It was another perfect day to be on the river. It was Ty’s first day taking the “Sweep Boat” down. This is a huge job. All the gear is in that boat, and it must weigh thousands of pounds. It’s called a sweep boat because of the two paddles front and aft that sweep back and forth. AJ said in some ways it is easier to control, but here’s a man with years of experience on the Salmon, Colorado and recently the Red Nile in Africa. A book could be written on the stories he told me on this day. AJ is the one guy I would trust to take me down the Colorado. I think he has made 22 trips down it and may be on it after this week.

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The sweep boat goes down first and sets up camp. How Steven got that boat down the small river we started with on the first day, I’ll never know. It would be fun to ride it that day. It is bound to get stuck on rocks, but how would you get it off?

Middle Fork Wednesday

Wednesday, July 19, 2018

It’s interesting to see how the landscape changes every day, and how the river gets bigger. It was a treat to buy an ice cream bar at fly-in “Flying B Store”.

Once we made camp that night, we saw the first challenge. I was sipping my wine when I saw Steve making the challenge to swim across the river, climb up the other side and up a BIG hill on the other side. I got up to take a picture, and he asked if I was coming, but I quickly shook my head. David, however, went with his youngest girl. Amazed, I watched them slowly climb to the top of that hill. Steve cut them no slack as he led the way, setting a pretty quick pace. David and his youngest didn’t quite make it. Still it was a lot for that cute little girl, her older sister anxiously waiting on one of the boats. Just swimming back across the river is a challenge, and she was quite proud to have done it. When Steve came back with Josh, Tristan and Sarah, he was talking the whole time, and they were laughing while swimming across the river.

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Meanwhile our guides, AJ, Steven, Tristan, Tanner, Ty and S……………..prepared an incredible dinner. What they can do with those 5 Dutch ovens is amazing.

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Middle Fork, Tuesday

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Since I was early to bed, I was early to rise, at 5:30, but Steven (Steve’s son) was already up, making coffee and starting breakfast. The chairs were all rearranged and a fire was going in the middle. Coffee was ready at 6:00. I almost stepped on AJ, who was sleeping on the beach, between rocks. In fact all the guides slept out every night. Soon Cathy got up and got a hug from her old friends Tanner and Steven. Then a huge skillet went on the fire with sausage. This “roughing it” isn’t going to be bad!

As I wandered around camp, I found Bob shaving! This would be his habit every day. Another VMI grad, ’74 I think, I could see he was setting a standard. We would soon learn there are options every day. This morning, we could hike 3 miles to a hot pool and meet the boats. It felt good to stretch the legs and walk. However, the trail is very narrow with loose footing, sometimes along a cliff over the river. Not great about heights, I tried to keep my eyes on the trail. Besides the river, this is the only way in or out. Well, there are a few fly-in places. Later in trying to learn more about this trail, Steven said he, and some of his high school buddies, ran it! 90 miles! They stayed at camps with the outfitters.

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There were boat options. You could fish, sit back and enjoy the scenery, ride the paddle boat where you take a greater role in navigation, and get more thrills in the rapids, or you could kayak in one of three inflatable boats. llydia and Sarah opted for the kayaks that morning. On the River of No Return, I watched these 14 year-old, best friends forever laugh, play and handle all the rapids just fine, despite never having been in a river kayak before! I was smitten. Over the next six days, these girls would take on every challenge, jump off every rock and bridge, laugh and pitch in and help with any task. They led the way with kayaks in the morning, so Bob and I tried it in the afternoon, while they went to the paddle boat.

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Ancient pictographs are found all along the river. Imagine hundreds or thousands of years ago, the salmon running up this river by the thousands, trout, sheep and mule deer everywhere and a wide variety of berries. Cool summer days and great campsites made this an ideal place. It’s so crazy to think of Lewis and Clark coming across the country in 1805/6 and what has happened in the short time since then. Chief Joseph led his people through here, trying to escape the US cavalry in 1877. Outnumbered, he managed to elude three cavalry units for four months before being caught 40 miles from the Canadian border.

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Middle Fork of the Salmon River with Steve Zettel

Monday, July 16, 2018

Monday July 16, 2018

Visiting Ron Lowry last summer in Boise, he said, “You MUST float the Middle Fork with us next summer.” I had seen his pictures from previous years, and he has been going for 14 years, so it must be good. He goes with Steve Zettel and Idaho Wilderness Co. (www.floatidaho.com). He has been hunting with Steve since Steve was in his 20’s, and he is now 56. Ron has the highest respect for him, along with many stories of their adventures. The trip is down “The River of no Return” through the Frank Church Wilderness Area where there are no roads. You can walk through it, ride a horse, or float through it. Hmmm, how bad would these rapids be? “The River of no Return”! Am I crazy? Well, he has been doing this for 14 years, and he is a year older than me. OK, I’m in. 

Ron picked me up at the airport after a long day of flying. A glass of wine at “The Ram” helped, along with nice conversation with his friends Dennis and Theresa. When we got to his house, he gave me a book, “Anything Worth Doing” by Jo Deurbrouck recounting the incredible stories of Idaho river guides Jon Barker and Clancy Reece. I read a few pages before falling asleep, but quickly picked it back up in the morning. What a story!

I repacked my stuff into two waterproof bags Ron gave me to use. Then we set out for Stanley, Idaho. Along the way, we met Bob and Maureen Marks, Mike (Mad Dog) and Sharron Tennent and Brian Auge. They took us through Sun Valley since I had never seen it. Along the 2.5 hour drive, Ron told hunting and fishing stories. Most of the hunting stories were with Steve Zettel, while most of the fishing stories were with his great friend, Mad Dog. We stopped for lunch in the busy town of Sun Valley where a rain storm came through while we were eating. 

Back on the road, we headed for Stanley, about an hour away. As we came over a big mountain, Ron pulled over to an overlook of the Sawtooth Valley. It is the origin of the great Salmon River at 9,200 ft. elevation. It is one of the only free-flowing rivers in the Continental United States, traveling 425 miles to meet the Snake River, then joining the Columbia. This is one of the prettiest overlooks I have seen, right up there with the Peace River Valley in British Columbia, which is soon to be lost to a new dam. 

Sawtooth Valley

It was a beautiful drive to Stanley where we checked into the Mountain Village Resort. Still having a few hours before orientation, we drove up to Redfish Lake. Once known to be teeming with sockeye salmon, now teeming with tourists. Some salmon still make it, which is amazing. They have to get around 14 dams on the Columbia River. There are an astounding 60 dams on the Columbia River watershed! That is what makes the Salmon River so special, as it is still free-flowing. 

Redfish Lake

At 8:00 we went down for orientation in front of the river. It’s a beautiful, big creek at this point. Steve introduced himself, along with Jessica and his son. He told us how to arrange our gear into a big waterproof bag and a day bag. We would leave at 7:30 by bus in the morning and plan to be on the river by 10:00. We would have another orientation at the put-in. 

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The first rapid

As it turned out, we were on the river at 10:00. 20 seconds later Ron was sitting in the water beside the first rapid. My first thought was, “Man that must be a good fishing spot if Ron got out there!” Turns out he got popped out of the raft. He was tangled up in his fishing line and his rod was 40 yards downstream. It was a struggle to get him back in the boat, but our guide, Tanner, held the raft in position in a strong current. We managed to pull in the fishing line and finally the rod as we went through the rapid. Hmmm, “The River of no Return”! A few drinks into the evening Ron would have a new name: “20 Second Ron.”

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We only had 10 miles to go to the campground, so we stopped for lunch at a nice, big pool. I was surprised to see almost everyone fishing, and most were catching. There are lots of salmon smolts in the river that were hungry. Mostly, people were catching cutthroat trout, although there are rainbow and bull trout. Within 30 minutes a great lunch was produced, after which we headed downriver, making camp by 4:00. Tents were all set up, the “kitchen” was set up and chairs arranged. Finding our drybags, we set up our tents, rolled out sleeping bags and our group of 8 sat around for cocktails, and the stories flowed. By 8:30 I was tired and went to bed.

Bike Greater Allegheny Passage

Thursday, June 21, 2018

After a night of very heavy rain, we waited until 10:00 to start biking. In the meantime I had to go see the slide, a natural shoot on Meadow Run. It is the most popular place in the park where you can slide down the river on the rocks. You are going to get bumped up on the rocks though, and our river guide recommended wearing a helmet. There is one spot where you could really bang your head, and you’re going pretty fast. I wasn’t brave enough the first day, and I sure wouldn’t do it now.

We then biked the rails-to-trails that runs all the way through the park, following the river. We started at the train station, going east, 10 miles out and 10 back. The “Yough” (Youghiogheny River) was raging. There was so much rain that every 50 yards was a waterfall. With puddles and muddy spots, you were going to get dirty, but once we got over it, we just went on. Not far from Confluence we saw two rafts filled with people hanging onto a tree. I was amazed there were people on the river. A half mile further up, there was a raft stuck in a hydraulic. It looked like it was tied up there, but it was just the churning water holding it in place, bobbing up and down.

When we got to the put-in spot, a raft group was getting instructions for their trip. I went up and reported the hydraulic hole. They said they would check it out and call the raft company. Apparently everyone got dumped out of that raft, or got out when they couldn’t exit the hydraulic. That’s why the two rafts we had seen were overfilled. We headed back down the trail and passed them. As far as I know, no one was hurt. I thought is was pretty crazy to risk being on that river that day, and the middle section is much calmer than the lower with Class II-III rapids normally. 50 miles south is the Upper Youghiogheny with Class V rapids, which is world-class kayaking. 

We had a nice lunch at the Ohiopyle Bakery and Sandwich Shoppe. Their breads are great. Then we biked west for an hour before returning tired. This is one of the best state parks I have ever been in. If you like outdoor adventures, you can’t ask for more. It is beautiful, unspoiled despite many visitors. The campground was nice, with plenty of room.