"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Turning Back Place

So I was boppin' down the side of the highway this evening, filling big yellow bags with litter, and thinking about how much my feet hurt. And why. Why do they only hurt on the top of the arch? I haven't a clue, but the fact that they hurt made me think about how far I was going to trudge before turning back--crossing the highway and picking up litter on the way back to my truck. Sore feet, and all.

Then I came to a wide spot in the road where I frequently see vehicles pulled off the two lane highway. It really isn't a pull out; it's an access point for a primitive trail to a mining claim. I also see rafting company vehicles parked here, and I remembered last summer when I was cleaning up litter along this stretch and came upon two women steadying themselves against a rafting company trailer.

The wide spot--the turn back place.

They looked much like I suspect I looked twenty-five years ago when the realization hit that I'd just signed up for SCUBA lessons. Me, the non-swimmer who is terrified of water. They were dressed in the raingear I'd seen on rafters, but the expressions on their faces were the wide-eyed looks of those who knew they'd just survived an all too close brush with death, and incredibly were alive to tell about it. Unlike my friend Kathy who parachuted out of an airplane a couple years ago--in Mexico of all places--and can only say she did it. She can't tell about it because she kept her eyes closed all the way down to earth.

This is the same Kathy who called her son in Anchorage last year and asked him if he was interested in driving up to Denali Park and going on a raft trip down some white water rapids there. To which he snorted something along the lines of, "Why do you want to go all the way up there when you've got the best white water rafting down by you."

"Down by you" means Six Mile Creek in the Silvertip area of the Kenai Peninsula, where I was now walking. And this little wide spot in the road is the turn back place for those who have already had more of Six Mile Creek than they wanted. This is where the rafting company lets those folks go ashore, before it really gets dicey, and where the employee who's driving the trailer downriver will pick them up on the way to meet the raft at the end of the "float."

Nice li'l ol' Six Mile Creek.

Remembering the ashen faces and the quick, jerky movements of those two women, I decided to make this my turn around place for the evening. I dropped my bag and pick-em-up-stick, and wandered down the trail through the forest to see where the raft pulls in to drop off the ones who have changed their minds--before the going really gets dicey.

I took one look, some pictures, and then rushed back to my truck. This story has to be told from the beginning--the place where the rafters put in.

Rafters put-in spot.

So, here we are at this nice big pull off. Plenty of parking, room for the rafters to turn around and back their trailers down to the river edge. All the clients get suited up and are treated to a safety lecture. Then, they have to swim across the river to their raft. Why? To prove that they can function well enough in that COLD water to maybe help save themselves.

Even landscaped with boulders.

Suit up, and swim across the river, then you can get in the raft.

Nice creek. Just the spot for a lovely Sunday afternoon float trip. Gentle, but no pansy, this creek.

A bit downstream.

Even a little farther down--a wee bit of white water to get the adrenaline flowing. Gravel beaches to haul out and have a picnic.

Oh-h-h, what fun.

A mile down, still a nifty creek. Maybe the canyon walls are closing in a mite. Poor creek. All it wants to do is flow downstream with the least difficulty possible.

Hey! Quit crowding me!

And then... Yumpin' Yiminy!!!

This is one mighty ticked-off creek.

There ain't no place to land around here! And the worst is yet to come??? How can that be??? This looks like the pictures I've seen on the front page of the newspaper--where the helicopters hover high above while rescue personnel try to pluck water-logged canoers (!!!) out of the rapids where they're barely hanging onto a rock, assuming of course that they can find a rock on that straight up rock face. And yes, some don't make it out of the Class IV and V rapids alive.

OMG! OMG! OMG! I got this picture by hanging out over the edge. The water's thirty or forty feet down.

There's a few miles left in the trip, down to Sunrise where the rafters haul out. What's between the turning back place and Sunrise, I couldn't say--and I'm not gonna find out.... except by asking a rafter, cuz this ol' gal might jump out of an airplane some day, but she sure as blazes ain't goin' down Six Mile Creek.

PS: I love some of the spelling anomalies in Alaska. Take your pick:

It's either Six Mile Creek or Sixmile Creek.
It's either Puritan Creek or Purinton Creek--spelling depends on which direction you're driving when you see the signs.
It's either Soldotna or Soldatna.
It's either Kalifonski Beach Road or Kalifornski Beach Road.


  1. Thanks a million, Gully, for a nice safe "look" at a ride down the creek. Your photos are great and your accompanying words are even better. I can just hear you saying the words as I read them.

    Lon and I did some rafting in Colorado but it was nothing like this, thank God. I was pretty apprehensive on the bus ride to the take off point but fortunately found out my emotions were unfounded.

    Thank you for putting some real excitement into my life. Just the thought of being in a raft and being tossed around by that white water gets my adrenaline flowing.

  2. Whew!!! to think--I never looked, and just assumed it was a pleasant little rafting river! Brings new meaning to the stories of those that didnt make it across over the years.