Sunday morning dawned just as beautiful as Saturday morning had. We had seriously camped at the rivers edge, leaving our tent open to the star filled sky. I did have a thought of trying to get a picture of it but was too tired to even reach for my phone. It was a bit warm at night, finally cooling off enough to pull a sleeping bag over you sometime around 3 or 4 in the morning.
Our luxury air mattresses weren't so luxury after all. The first night they worked. The second night, Jari's pillow remained inflated, mine didn't. The body of my mattress stayed inflated, Jari's didn't. Must start garage saling for some other options.
I tested the little to go cups of oatmeal before I left and couldn't tolerate them. I am a new fan of oatmeal but folks sort of accuse me of eating "dessert" for breakfast. It's that good by the time I'm done adding things and messing with it. Ice cream wasn't an option on this jaunt, so Mountain House it was and I have to say it wasn't bad. The eggs sort of reminded me of a hotel continental breakfast! Except the part where I wondered if I had chipped a tooth and then realized that it was grains of sand I was trying to swish around my mouth. Definitely not hotel quality in that forkful!
That red/black backpack in the background carried all of our food with the exception of the meat we ate on the first evening. It is amazing what you can pack in a bag. Not only did it hold food, it was the toilet paper supply, the water additives/coffee supply, the weapon I don't know how to shoot, the headlamps that we needed to find anything in the dark. Serious. That thing was heavy but filled to the brim.
I should have taken a photo of the inside of the cooler. It just held water bottles which we filled and refilled and refilled.
The jet boil is my serious friend. We also had along a propane one burner stove that I would leave at home next time. The jet boil works so fast and, had we taken one other piece along, would have served just as well for heating our dinner. Starbucks Pike Place coming up for this mama!
I did have a moment of yearning when I noticed this on the tent! A very brief moment.
Sometime early in the first day, the tent poles for Dean & Keilah's tent went for a one way swim down the Verde. The first night the guys fashioned sticks into quite workable tent poles. The second night it was a bit darker when we were trying to get this camp set up. Paddles strapped together, with one end to the tree did the trick!
Water, water, water. It was warm and we needed to stay hydrated. We had along a water purifying thingamajig. The first day we had some pretty clear water, but after that we were pulling dark colored water out of the Verde and filtering it into our bottles. The stone filter needed some scrubbing once in a while, but it worked great.
Getting ready to roll. Jari woke this morning not feeling good at all. He is sick. Not sure if it is the heat from the day before or the toothache he is nursing. He's flushing in ibuprofen and I'm pushing fluids, but he feels like puking. One foot in front of the other ... one paddle stroke after another .... it is time to roll. There is no other way out of here but down the river.
Beautiful placid waters. We followed herons for a good many miles. I don't know how many there were, but at times it felt like they were leading us down the river. We would see one perched and waiting. As we approached, sometimes getting rather close, they would take flight moving on down the river. Soon we would see another as if they were waiting for us.
This morning we're booking along in some places ....
so thankful for a brief moment of shade in others.
Appreciating the landscape as it changes ...
wading our way through the murky waters at times. This stuff was probably moving backwards it was so still.
Then there were these kinds of spots. It really made me wonder what happens if the river is running twice as fast. Will you just glide over some of these trees or just have deeper waters to navigate when you have to scuttle around them on foot. That isn't water in the top of the photo ... it is sky. The water is down somewhere in the lower part of the photo. I do see a humanoid kind of being who made it through ahead of me! There is hope!! Actually, this might be the place where Dean and Keilah went to the left and we went to the right ....
and we all ended up navigating this! Before I tell you about this, let me first share that I am not exactly a balanced person. Mentally, I think I'm okay. Physically, not so much. You will never catch me doing a balancing act on anything. I'm wobbly. Plain and simple. I wish I had stopped to grab a photo at the beginning of this little stretch. On FB, I called this the tunnel or terror or something like that. A passage that was barely wide enough for the kayak to pass in. Green growth of some kind that stretched up to the heavens on either side of us. Water that was ripping down through this stuff to what we hoped was the river. When water is flowing at that speed ... it has to be heading to someplace we want to be. Thankful (many times during this trip) for the handles on the kayak that help me keep standing upright, it was one foot in front of the other. And, finally, there was this blessed sunshine at the end ... and the river looking mighty fine!
Sometime before we came to this spot below, we found what must have been the Honey Tree. It was marked on the map like so many other landmarks and I think that tree and I now qualify for having a very close relationship. Jari had gone down that particular rapid first and he was yelling something back to us. We usually had a heads up that went something like "Oh Boy!!". The yell from the front runner usually keyed us into whether we should proceed or get out and walk. This time the water was loud and I couldn't understand what he was yelling. So I did the logical thing and went for it. Between the spot where I started down and the spot where Jari was stuck in a whirlpool, or eddy, at the bottom, spinning circles, was the Honey Tree. It sat there in the water with the trunk upright and this lovely big branch veering off to the right. It probably wouldn't have been bad if the waters path didn't head straight toward the V in that tree and if I wasn't zipping along unable to do anything about it. So, I found the Honey Tree. The inflatable (thank goodness at this point!) kayak landed on the middle of that branch with half draped over each side, myself inside the kayak and the water making dislodging it nearly impossible but trying really hard to get at me. I don't know how, but somehow I got out and Dean got that boat of mine off that Honey Tree. Yikers!
It was one challenge after another. We're tired by this point and ready to see Sheeps Bridge. We have missed any landmarks that we're looking for to tell us that we're getting close. We have to be! And then we came to this little humdinger. It looks totally doable but past that little smooth bit of water is a serious kayak dumper just waiting to grab us and dump us. It is bad enough and moving fast enough that it has to be navigated another way. After much contemplation and attempting, the inflatables are floated down to the flat spot on ropes and other hard ones are carried around by rock filled earth. As we were playing with this little spot of the river, I had the hope that this was the last one ... that we were ending this stretch with a bang.
And we did!! The sight of Sheeps Bridge looming in the air had to be the most glorious thing I had seen for several days. We have been to this spot many times by land, traveling over miles of bumpy terrain to camp out here as lately as last year. Last year I said I'd never drive the road in there again. It was absolutely awful! We could have been picked up here, but I know the trip in and out is horrendous and wouldn't ask anyone to make that drive for us. We ate. We swam for a bit.
Dean attempted the rope swing ...
and we buckled down for the last 10 miles. While I've camped out here, I've never seen this part of the water. Gorgeous!! The storm was brewing behind us and the clouds looked wonderful. The air was a tad toasty and some rain drops would have felt blissful.
We found some shade for a moments rest. Had my brain cells been functioning, I would have climbed into Jari's 2 person kayak and we could have towed mine. He was not feeling good and still offering to tow me when I was tired. What a guy. And a dolt of a wife.
This may have been the last place we had to get out and move over some low waters. Jari emptied the accumulated water out of kayak, making the ride a little lighter. The scenery is stunning in this stretch of space before we hit the flat water that keeps us paddling and paddling and paddling to get to the large part of the lake.
We were about half way across the lake when the rain started. It started with light drops that felt good on parched skin and the water was relatively calm. I don't know how much further we had to go when the white caps started appearing on the lake and the wind started pushing us toward shore. Thank goodness it wasn't pushing the other way. As it was, I was having a hard time keeping myself moving in the right direction. By the time I was abreast of that tan piece of dirt on the left, I was counting paddle strokes by tens. "Maybe I'll reach 100 by the time I hit the end of this stretch." The closer the shore got, the harder it was to paddle. 42 miles of strength building and it was kicking my butt. We made it off the lake and the rain drops started to feel like hail they were so big. Anna and Wylon (with Wyatt) came out to get us. We loaded stuff in pouring rain, hopped in cars with soaking wet clothes and headed straight to a drive thru for burgers! (Photo below courtesy of Anna)
I never expected to even attempt this sort of thing yet alone complete it. I said I had added it to my bucket list and crossed it off. That meant I was done. It was done. I wasn't going again. Ever. And then Jari said, "what if we got out at Sheeps Bridge and we took 4 days instead of 3" and I said "yes!".
The awesome power of the river at times combined with the power of human resilience, when you never imagined the possibility of such a thing, is amazing. There were certainly lessons we learned along the way and I'm so glad my dear hubby has done this a few times and was willing to be our experienced tour guide. I'd never do this with just the two of us so will be eternally grateful that Dean & Keilah chose to join us. Keilah is also writing about our experience over here.
And that, my friends and dear readers, is the Verde River! In the great scheme of things, just a tiny little snippet of God's glorious creation. And we were able to feel it, bathe in it, drink of it and be refreshed after it tossed us around and wrung us out. Awesomeness!