Friday, April 24, 2009

Night on Shasta Lake

I was a day later than usual getting home from Louisiana, due to water survival training. Rhonda and Dylan were chomping at the bit to go camping on Shasta Lake, so the day after my return, we loaded up our forty year-old pontoon boat and headed for Greens Creek camp, a boat-in only camp located up the McCloud arm of the lake.

The plan was to spend one night. The lake was just beautiful. The big "bathtub ring" is still there due to the low water level, but at least many of the inlets have water in them again. The temps reached a record for the date, in the high nineties, and Dylan and I spent quite a bit of time in the water. But sheesh, it's still April, after all, and the water was COLD. I seriously doubt our family will ever live in a nudist colony, but if that ever happened, I'd sure hate to encounter water that cold. That would be embarrassing. "Hey, why is Hal wearing that towel?"

Dylan was bummed when it came time to break camp. "Can't we get up early, and go home in the morning?" Rhonda and I looked at each other. We'd done the early morning commute-by-boat thing before, when Dylan and I had dropped Mom off to go to work. We'd have to leave at dawn, but we could do it.

That night, Rhonda woke me. "I think there's a bear outside the tent." I listened, but heard nothing, at first. After a few minutes, I heard the footfalls of whatever it was moving away, back up the mountain.

Luckily, black bears tend to be decidedly less aggressive than grizzlies. In fact, they're usually big chickens, and they don't like confrontation. One ranger told me that about fifty people a year are injured by black bears in California, but the injuries are usually minor, and they usually happen when people try to do dumb things like hand-feed them. Once in a great while, you'll hear or read of a fatal black bear attack, but the perpetrators tend to be large animals from deep in the woods, and have had little or no contact with humans.

Still, it is a little unnerving to hear a bear nosing around the tent.

It was chilly and gorgeous the next morning as we made the hour commute to the marina. Rhonda, Dylan, and Gomez the bear-fighting (if we were to let him) half Chihuahua huddled together under a blanket, smiling at the beauty going by. At least I think Gomez was smiling.

I got Dylan to school with minutes to spare. Two of 'em. That afternoon, we trailered the boat again to the lake, and set off to Greens Creek to retrieve our camping stuff.

Now, my wife is a smart, educated woman. But she tends to be unrealistic about how much time it takes to do things. Dylan is pretty much the same way, but hey, he's eight years old. First off, we were later getting to the campground than I'd hoped. Then Dylan wanted to go swimming. I didn't want to disappoint him, so I joined him in the cold lake.

Afterward, I suggested that we cook dinner and eat it on the boat while heading back to the marina. Rhonda and Dylan looked wounded at such a suggestion. I looked at the lowering sun, and I looked at the clouds forming to the west, and thought about what an overcast condition would do to the ambient light after sunset.

Still, I thought we had a chance to make it back before total darkness wrapped us. I was wrong. Halfway back to the marina, I had to slow down, because I could no longer see obstacles in the water, and with recent torrential rains, lots of tree branches and small logs floated about. I hit the switch for the headlights, since no other boats were in sight.

The headlights didn't work. Quick troubleshooting did not lead to a fix. I had a mask and snorkel on the boat, but without a waterproof headlamp, finding a loose wire running between the pontoons wasn't likely.

We slowed to a crawl across the water, with Rhonda holding two flashlights to spot obstacles. At that moment, I was not happy with myself for leaving the rechargeable spotlight in the garage. I was also not happy with myself for leaving the hand-held GPS in the car. Boy Scouts all over America would be ashamed for me.

Thankfully, Dylan fell asleep. With the overcast, it got harder to navigate by landmarks. Rhonda occasionally called out "left" or "right" so we'd miss floating wood. It was getting stressful, and Rhonda and I were both getting tired.

Finally, I could barely make out the Jones Valley inlet. We continued to motor toward the marina, at speed slower than a walk. Slower, even, than my walk.

Rhonda did a heck of a job maneuvering the boat trailer down the ramp in the darkness. I put Dylan and Gomez in the car, and we headed for home. Rhonda and I laughed at ourselves, feeling relieved that we were making it home. I felt pretty stupid for not keeping track of time, and for forgetting a couple of key items, but I laughed anyway. It had taken us forty-five minutes to boat to Greens Creek, and three hours to boat back to the marina.

It's about a three hundred foot walk from where we park the boat to our front door. I carried Dylan down the driveway, realizing that carrying a hundred-pound kid down a sloped driveway amounted to a pretty fair workout. Dylan was out. When Dylan is out, he's out. I lowered him to his bed, covered him, and kissed his forehead. His eyes didn't open, but he murmured, "The bed feels good, Daddy." I smiled. Most of the time now, I'm "Dad," but the occasional "Daddy" still slips out.

Dylan was right. The bed felt really good.


Mary Paddock said...

Now, my wife is a smart, educated woman. But she tends to be unrealistic about how much time it takes to do things. LOL. I'm married to this too. Famous last words, "This (insert activity here) should only take an hour."

Annie said...

It may have been a harrowing experience for a while, but it still sounds like a GREAT time!

Kelly said...

The whole adventure sound fun, exciting, exhausting and more... but I'm still trying to wrap my mind around the fact y'all were swimming in April in a lake that far north!!! BRRRRR!!!!

Hal Johnson said...

Kelly, I'm convince that Dylan was a polar bear in an earlier life.

Bob said...

Also, that the temp was in the nineties!

Great, great story, Hal, and what great memories.

Of course Gomez would have taken that bear!

Debby said...

It's always the heartstopping moments like this that make memories that last forever!

Dean said...

What an adventure! My wife can't keep track of time either. Worse still is that I know this and still follow her lead...

Glad to hear that it all worked out. It must have been quite frightening with your wife and kid in tow.

quid said...

Well, it was supposed to be relaxing....