Wednesday 16th August – Through the Vortex

Determined not to have another super lazy start, I floated the idea of a jail workout before breakfast. Dan was in and so we very carefully picked a playlist before getting out of the Cabana. It was cold but there was a sun patch within camp that made everything ok. We had a good little workout session to get our bodies active, doing 50 of everything from squats to dips, pushups and situps. It wasn’t quite enough to get really sweaty, but we’d gotten our heart rates up and reminded our muscles what they were there for.

Dan made himself a coffee while I made cereal and banana for brekkie and we ate on separate sides of camp, me and Cleo in the sun, Dan in the shade. We had one last game of Sticks and Balls to determine the overall winner and I was glad to discover my form had returned to crown me the queen of the game. We’d already decided we’d leave the game set up at camp for the next person who came along. To make it the full package, I grabbed a piece of cardboard and wrote down the rules of the game. Dan laughed at me, with that and the decent pile of firewood we were leaving, I was excited for the good karma.

We took our time breaking down camp, cleaning our vans, so we didn’t leave till around lunch time and we continued our drive south towards the Cougar Hot Springs. We followed the McKenzie River until reaching the turnoff where we were faced with a closed road sign and a couple of official looking people who spoke to Dan explaining that the wilderness was closed thanks to the forest fires in the area. Bugger. We backtracked a bit and parked to make a new plan.

I’d seen a couple of vans with boat trailers near the turn off so my mind immediately went to tubing on the McKenzie River. It wasn’t really cold enough for hot springs anyway, it was actually pretty hot in the sun. Using the tiny spot of service I had, I tried to research the river a bit so we didn’t end up in the same Class III situation we went through in Durango, but I didn’t have a whole lot of success predicting how gnarly the rapids would be. We figured we’d go back over the bridge we’d just crossed to suss it out.

We found a boat ramp on the other side where all the shuttle vehicles for kayakers were parked and we also saw and read a sweet information sign that detailed where the rapids were along the river and all the different launching spots. Great! I was full of excitement, and enthusiasm, so Dan formed the voice of reason and suggested we test the temperature for starters. We pretty much wrote the whole idea off when we dipped our feet in. It was bloody freezing, there was no way we’d be able to sustain warm bodies for a five mile tube session.

Instead of doing a full five miles, Dan suggested we do a one mile section that would take us through one set of Class II rapids called “The Vortex”. Alright, we were committed! Knowing the process, it didn’t take us long to shuffle everything we needed into my car and leave Cleo and the Cabana parked at the boat ramp. As we drove upstream, Dan kept a keen eye out for The Vortex and we both saw it clearly from the road. It didn’t look anything too fierce, but we could see the speed of the river was much faster than what we’d experienced at Durango so that would be new!

A mile up the road, we parked and blew up the tubes with my 12V pump. I left my shoes, hat and sunnies behind this time and Dan carried the backpack with beers strapped onto his front. I balked at him, suggesting that he wouldn’t be able to manage a single beer but he carried them in defiance. At the bank of the river, the speed of the water became very obvious and what had looked pretty shallow from the road was actually deep! After connecting our tubes with rope, we held them in the water as we positioned ourselves to sit back into them simultaneously and launch. On the count of three then! 1, 2… 3! We sat back into our tubes and we were off.

We paddled fiercely for a bit to get away from the edge and we were both blown away by the speed at which we were travelling. We were both a little apprehensive since our last tube down the Durango, but we were committed now! We kept an eye out for the rapids, knowing we had to be on the left side of the river to traverse them safely. The water was icy cold and within minutes we couldn’t feel our arses which were fully exposed to the water through the netting on the bottom of the tubes.

Spinning around and splashing about to avoid a few rocks, the rapids were upon us before we could really see them. We were about as far right as we could be, so much for our positioning. Our stack last time out came to the forefront of my mind as we were carried towards The Vortex. Dan was in front of me and we were both yelling like idiots as we approached the small drop off with a backwave right at its base. We knew to lean forward this time and did so as we came to the top of the rapids. When I saw Dan go though without flipping, I gripped the handles of my tube a little less tightly and the worst consequence was the freezing cold water that splashed all over me. We made it! We both had our hands up in the air in relief and pulled our tubes together. Only problem was we were now in the back current heading back into The Vortex. A bit of paddling into the main stream and we got out of it alright.

The current was smooth now so Dan got a beer out, keen to prove me wrong. When I ordered one, he lobbed it over but he threw it well out of my reach so it hit the water. “Dan! Dan!” I shouted as I reached for it but it sank to the bottom and out of view before I had a chance to wrap my fingers around it. It was the sacrificial beer, given to the Gods of the Rapids for letting us pass through safely. Good thing he had another two beers in the pack so he passed me another.

We sipped and floated down the next half mile with only a few sections that required navigation around rocks. When the bridge of the boat ramp came into view, we were relieved, ready to get our frozen arses out of the water. It was a rough paddle to try and get to the side but with our hands and arms thrashing furiously at the whitewater, we eventually got close enough to shore to stand in the river and work our way over to the ramp.

For a makeshift plan, that had been a heap of fun and we knew now that it was way too cold to do the longer version of the river. We chatted with a guy getting out of his kayak for a while before greeting Cleo back at Dan’s car. I was jumping around full of excitement that I had such a wicked person as my adventure buddy, willing to do the crazy shit I was willing to do. Ready for lunch at a lakeside, we deflated the tubes and went back to the Astro. From there, we drove a short way to Blue Lake, just off the highway.

The place was empty and remote enough that we didn’t have to even pretend to pay the $5 day fee. We parked at the end of the boat ramp and Dan was straight in for a swim with Cleo. I hadn’t properly warmed up yet after the tubing so I stayed out and sunned myself in my comfy chair. While I shaved my legs in the lake’s water, Dan made us a salad for lunch which we ate soaking up the sun. Since there was no one around I took my top off to take full advantage of the sun. Ten minutes of sitting there like that, I was ready for a swim so my pants came off and I jumped in and tried to encourage Cleo to do the same. No dice, she’s been super timid lately, maybe to do with her traumatic near-drowning experience, but she just wouldn’t listen to either me or Dan.

After my swim, a ski boat came close by so I sat modestly cross legged with my knees in front of my chest. At about the same time, another car drove in towards the boat ramp so I was cornered and naked. Dan was swimming in the lake now and he offered to help cover me as I walked back to the car, but I just opted for a quick shameless naked walk. Nothing wrong with a free show. Since the guys in the boat looked like they were getting ready to get it out of the water, we took that as our queue to leave.

Since we couldn’t go south we were going to head east towards Bend. It was 5pm so we were looking for the first camping opportunity and neither of us had service so we were prepared to do it old-fashioned style. We stopped at a small country store where Dan bought some cigarettes and I asked about the road east through to Sisters. I’d seen a sign over the road that said the Sisters Wilderness was closed and the lady behind the counter told us that included the highway. Bugger. This would mean we’d have to backtrack north before heading east. Nothing we could do about it and the fire situation wasn’t likely to change so we just accepted it.

Dan lead the way, keen to prove himself as a proficient camp finder for the second time in a row so I happily sat behind. He drove past a few roads that I would have driven down for a look, but I resisted the temptation, letting him take the lead. When he did stop at a trailhead, he agreed that he should have stopped at those roads, but it wasn’t easy when he had people tailgating and he had spits and spots of phone service. We’d both seen a road just before the trailhead we were at so Dan lead the way back to it. A half mile in, he spotted a nearly overgrown road that lead to a secluded little spot with a fire ring and plenty of firewood around. Looked perfect to me, but Dan wasn’t convinced. He kept thinking about the missed opportunities and how we could have been near the river, but I reassured him, this was a nice spot where we wouldn’t be bothered and it was too cold now for a swim anyway. Eventually he accepted it and as I collected firewood, he backed my car in so the kitchen faced the fire ring.

He’d already figured out what he was keen to make for dinner – damper hot dogs. I was convinced and very proud that he was so keen for something I’d exposed him to. Like a pro, he got into my kitchen and made the damper mix, formed it into rolls and packaged them in tinfoil. Getting some coals out of the fire, he nestled them on the hot surface and returned to the kitchen to fry up some onions and the hot dogs. Minutes later, I had two damper dogs in my lap with a warm fire in front of me. Ummm, heaven?

With the remnants of his damper, Dan had a training session with Cleo which was semi-successful. She fully understands the “sit” command, but she really struggle with “down”. She was really good at wagging her tail whenever Dan talked to her, but that was just about her only consistency. After a half dozen attempts, when she actually lay down without us moving her body, we both praised her like proud parents.

The rest of the night, we enjoyed the fire and listened to a Joe Rogan podcast which was amazingly interesting considering it is just a guy having an unedited conversation with another guy.

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