Sunday, May 27, 2012

Rafting Trip: Off the Grid

I had the opportunity to go to the Kings River for a school trip. It consisted of a 323 mile 6+ hour bus ride up the state. We drove up to Fresno and took a right toward the mountains. The highway turns into a road and it was one of the windiest roads ever. The last hour and a half is all winding roads around the Pine Flat Lake and follows the Kings River.
That was the worst part of the trip. So 5 teachers and 70 graduating seniors did this trip on two buses. We left campus around 11:45am. On the bus I was on we watched "Rush Hour" and "Mean Girls" on the trip up. We stopped for a quick break just before Bakersfield. We arrived at the campsite around dinner time. We had all of the students set up their tents before the sun went down because there was absolutely no light at all and having all of those people put up tents in the dark would've been a disaster. The camp/rafting people were not prepared to feed us dinner and thought that we had eaten before we arrived. Eventually they set up sandwiches and we all made our own. It was standard lunch food. They have an outdoor kitchen and picnic tables under a tarp for the eating area. Other than that, there wasn't much else to the campsite besides the 4 individual trailer portapotties. This is what the campsite looks like.
It's basically right along the river and the tents are set up on the white sand. There is also a firepit that we huddled around and told stories once the sun went down. Since we were in a canyon it became fairly cold once it became dark. It was fun having all of us around the fire. Everyone had flashlights since there was no light at all. They did have little solar lights that show the path to the bathrooms. Around 10:30p or so everyone was going to sleep. Breakfast was going to be served at 8:00am. The sound of the river rushing by was quite relaxing even though I had a hard time falling asleep. I have a hard time sleeping anywhere different the first night, so I expected not to get much sleep.

The morning came quickly and I was awake once the sun started coming out around 6:00am. I woke up and realized that it was really cold. I bundled up and left my tent. To my surprise people were already awake and sitting by the fire. It felt great to sit next to that warmth. For breakfast, they served fruit, muffins, bacon, eggs, and pancakes. Thankfully the coffee was good, otherwise it was going to be a very long day. After a few cups and some food, they made the announcement that we would leave the camp on the buses up the river around 9:15am. We had to pick up wetsuits too and everyone was getting dressed with their wetsuits and sunscreen. The camp has two old school buses to get people up the river. They have a truck full of life jackets that they passed out before we got on the buses. We went about 10 miles up the river and it took about 45 minutes on a very bumpy dirt road. At one point there is a turn that the bus makes that requires everyone to get on the left side of the bus. Crazy. Once we arrived at the launch area the rest of the guides and rafts were waiting for us along the riverside. We had about 9 or 10 boats in total. Each had 7 or 8 people in it along with the guide. It took some time for everyone to decide on a boat since there were lots of groups of friends. I was in a boat with the lead guide, Katie, so we went first just about the entire time. We spent a good 20 minutes going through safety checks and training. There were lots of different commands that we had to master in order to get on the river. So once all the boats were ready we all hit the river. We looked like a river caravan with all the boats going down the river. The water was very cold and thankfully we had the wetsuits.

After almost 2 hours traversing rapids, whirlpools, water fights, and rocks we stopped to have some lunch. It was just a clearing on the riverbank where the rafting company brought lunch meats and sandwich fixings. Since I was in the lead boat, I was one of the first people onto the shore. I had to pee so I took a nature walk until I found a suitable bush. When I got back to the shore where the rest of the boats were coming in, one of the guides found a baby rattlesnake where they were going to set up lunch. One of the guides took the snake down the road and they turned over two boats to make them "tables" for the lunch food. We probably stopped for about an hour and we all had our fill of sandwiches, chips, fruit, and cookies. There was no shortage of food. Many of the students took the time to warm up by laying on the rocks along the shore. Even though it was warm the wind was blowing and made it a little chilly especially since we were all wearing wetsuits. Once everything was cleaned up and many nature walks later, we all got back in the boats and headed down the river. The second half of the river was a little calmer, but it had a bunch of rapid in quick succession. There was a swimmer's rapid where many of the kids got out of the boats and into the river to swim down a rapid. There was no way I was going to do that but many kids and some teachers did. It looked scary, but many of the them said they enjoyed it even though it felt like they were drowning. Around 3:00pm we arrived back at the campsite and helped deflate the boats and got everything back in the trucks for the next day. Everyone changed out of their wet clothes and many of us took to the picnic tables to play card games and dominoes. All afternoon there was chatter among some of the students who wanted to prank Pof, but no concrete plans were made that I was aware of. They set out some snacks and drinks for us around 4:00p and dinner was around 7:00pm. They served us a great meal of Mexican food and I don't know if it was because of the location or the burning of large amounts of calories throughout the day, but every meal tasted great. When it was completely dark, they set up a generator with a computer and projector for a slide show. They showed a ton of pictures from the day on the river and it was hilarious. Our kids are such hams. We finished another night around the fire, but many people turned in early probably because they were so tired from being in the sun and on the river all day long.

I was in bed by 11:00p and it turned out that some of the students actually did prank Pof by tying the zippers together on his tent so he couldn't get out. The only problem was that they tied together ones that moved in the same direction, so he wasn't even aware of it until the next morning when the kids were asking if he got out of his tent ok. Nice try. He said that he heard rustling near his tent and even got out to hide and catch anyone trying to prank him, but nothing ever happened. It sounded like they tied his zippers together before that. Breakfast was at 7:00am the next day so that we could get an early start on the river without stopping. Then we'd have lunch back at the campsite. Friday was really windy and cold. About 16 kids and two of the teachers didn't raft that day, so we had 2 less boats on the river. I was in a boat of all boys that day and we had two guides, one who was training and learning the river. Because of the wind and other factors, the conditions on the river were much different from the day before. The water was a little lower but the water was rougher. There weren't as many water fights because it was so cold, so many of the boats resorted to stealing/kidnapping people from other rafts. Many times along the river we bump into each other or row near each other and if you aren't paying attention another raft can come right next to you and grab the lapels on your lifejacket and steal you over to their boat. It's actually quite easy to do this because you sit on the edge of the raft. We had one person stollen from our raft and there were several attempts on me. Many of the boats were getting stuck on rocks and a couple of the kids were sitting on the bows of their boats. Eventually they all ended up falling into the river and the best wipeout of the day was the very last rapid that was probably 100 yards from the campsite. The boat after mine had three boys knocked into the river. One of them just stayed in the river and swam/rode the current down to the campsite. It was a quick day along the exact same stretch of river, but it felt like a completely different river. Our guide said that every day is different on the river because the levels change depending on the weather and snowmelt.

After we arrived at the campsite we all changed clothes and began to pack up tents. Lunch was served about an hour later around 1:00pm. They served burgers, chips, and cookies along with some candy that we stocked up on for the road. Once we finished eating, packing, and bringing everything up to the buses, we were on our way by 2:00pm. I was expecting everyone to be cranky and tired, but most everyone was just tired. It was a much quieter bus ride home than the ride up. On my bus we watched "Wedding Crashers" but they didn't start it until about 2 hours into the trip. We weren't finished with it by the time we stopped for dinner at the same stop just before the grapevine. We gave the students about 35 minutes to eat and I went to Chipotle for my dinner along with about 25 other students.

When we got back to the bus, our driver was extremely upset and was apparently quite rude to the students. I was the last person to get to the bus so I missed the drama. However, the problem was that someone took a dump in the bathroom on the bus. Apparently he called it a "urinal" even though there was no sign that gave it such a designation. It was definitely a toilet so I don't know what that guy's problem was. We finished "Wedding Crashers" and didn't hit any traffic going through LA. We arrived back at campus around 8:30pm and everyone was happy to be home. Many parents were there to meet the bus and within minutes the buses were empty and all bags, equipment, and students were gone. When I finally got home, never have I enjoyed a hot shower like I did that night. The only time I've gone that long without taking a shower, I was on an airplane for 20+ hours. I had an awesome time camping and rafting and spending time with the students in a completely new way.

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