Tuesday-Wednesday, September 6-7, 2005
Yuba Gap Take 3 (Dostoevsky)
You can’t see anything from a car… You’ve got to…walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees, over the sandstone and through the thornbush and cactus.
---- Edward Abby
We stood beside our parked cars on the soft, pine needle covered strip of flat ground in front of my little abode otherwise known as the tool shed. “Hey! Have you seen this?” Scott asked pushing a button on his key chain. His Subie sprang to life seemingly on its own volition. The engine purred while, simultaneously, the entire car lurched forward – think Herbie the Love Bug. It abruptly ceased its forward progress after it had settled itself onto the small wooden barrier that separates my parking strip from the downward descent of the tree-strewn slope. In that lengthy moment I believed that our Yuba Gap, Take 3 had concluded there and then on my parking strip. But the car rested, now silently, on the wooden beam instead of hurtling itself into a tree. There was no need to call someone with a big truck and a winch: A good start indeed.
This time we borrowed packs with mesh and drain holes from Tym at Gold Rush. Everything was stuffed inside both packs, including my camera, which was nestled in a real Pelican case this time. We took the time to drive further up the dirt road past Washington to leave my truck parked a few miles up river at Canyon Creek (heeding Matt’s advice). And we brought wetsuits. Oh, yes – life-saving shortie farmer johns from work. (thanks, Dan!) We, I had to admit, were no longer looking so marginal this time.
We parked Scott’s car at Lang Crossing below Spaulding Reservoir. Scott insisted we bypass the ¼ mile from Take 2 and forgo that long, shady canyon. I balked, but in reality had no desire to revisit the location of the failed attempt of the week before. Hiking down a steep trail to a popular jumping spot called the Emerald Pools, we began our trek.
The pool 40 feet below where we stood was deep and green and, from last week, I knew – cold. Scott hucked his pack off the cliff. After a considerable time gap between lob and thud, it landed in the water below. He stood perched on the rocks for a very long time contemplating the jump. I, on the other hand needing no time for contemplation, hucked my pack off the cliff and began to scramble and slide as far down as I could get before needing to jump. I nearly made it all the way to the water. Scott jumped with a graceful quarter turn into the water. And so, we began swimming.
We hiked and climbed as much as possible to keep the cold swimming to a minimum until the sun began to go down and our ears and eyes became infested with gnats. Committing ourselves to one deep canyon after another, surrounded by granite and cold green water, we knew that we needed to find a flat section where the walls opened up before dark. I hesitated less and less before jumping, mostly because my pack would more than likely drift somewhere I didn’t want it to go – meaning I needed to spend more time in the cold water. Traversing the rock wall was a different story. I hesitated plenty when we needed to do that. It’s amazing how much less confidence I have when not attached to a colorful dynamic rope and harness and dropping into frigid water is the consequence of falling.
While it was still light, we found a beautiful beach that happened to be on the other side of the river than where we were standing. Luckily, wading across was easy enough. We peeled our wet clothed off, draped them across the rocks and made a cooking fire. Settling into the sand we ate freeze-dried macaroni and drank a bottle of red wine that we had transferred into water bottles with caps reinforced with duct tape.
Waking up in the clear morning next to Scott, I felt like I wanted to stay there forever. Nobody was anywhere near us. The place was ours alone. Somewhere in the distance – we couldn’t tell exactly from where – we could vaguely hear a train. We lingered under our joined sleeping bags until we started to get hungry and desperately needed to pee. I pulled on my shorts and my shoes and wandered around topless in the morning sun taking photos of algae and water while Scott cooked breakfast. We didn’t make any pretense of rushing to leave.
Our trek started out with more of the same – steep canyon walls, waterfalls and clear cold emerald pools of water. Nearing lunchtime we lobbed our bags off of yet another cliff face into the water, jumped in after them and swam to the other side. But this time the impact broke my camera lens. It would no longer focus.
We needed to keep moving because we didn’t know how much longer we needed to hike that day, nor did we know what time it was. We walked. We swam. We jumped. My knee started to give out.
The rocks began to turn from cliffs into boulders. No longer climbing, we jumped from one to another to another. Scott would stride, seemingly effortlessly to me, from one to the next with his long legs. I jumped, slid on my butt and lowered myself with my arms. This went on for hours, but it seemed as if that’s all we had ever been doing our entire lives. The gnats came and incessantly buzzed in our ears again as the sun began to lower. My knee got worse.
Scott found an old mining road that we hoped would free us from the rock hopping. It did for about 50 feet before it demoralizingly dead-ended into thick overgrown bushes that relentlessly grabbed my hair as I tried to charge through them with the hope that we could forever avoid another boulder hop by staying on the road. But it was not to be so. The only thing we could do was return to the river. I began to slip and fall a lot. My knee wouldn’t support me as I jumped. We both had the same thought – that we were going to spend another night out there, but this time we had no dinner and no wine. I was filled with guilt for having the faulty body that would cause such an unwanted night.
Again, Scott strode ahead as I plodded along, slower and slower. The darkening sky was streaked with orange. I raised my head when I heard Scott yell, triumphantly waving his arms and hollering. He had found a dirt road out. We had finished the crawl. At least that’s what I thought briefly.
Night came and we veered away from the river into the trees, stepping blindly through shadows. We continued slowly, he, with my pack hanging from his shoulders on his chest and his own on his back, supporting me with every protracted step. Time and distance was meaningless with nothing by which to measure either. It was dark time and we were walking. That’s all that was.
We were exhausted by the time we found my truck. Without saying much we peeled off our booties and downed warm cans of Hamm’s. Scott drove us back down the dirt road, through Washington, up to highway 20, and back to his car – away from my bed.
Even though this has been the greatest adventure on my forays on the Yuba, I feel reluctant to write in much detail about specific events or places. The idea of the place held so much mystery for me before experiencing it. I want to uphold that - it still holds much mystery. But for me the real story isn’t about the waterfalls, the jumps, the granite, the cold swims or my bum knee anyway. It’s about an internal shift beginning to occur. My connection to the river is deeper after going in there. I feel proud of it. It called the shots and I was humbled. Now I have a greater appreciation for it as its own entity and being. I belong to it; it doesn’t belong to me. And because of this, I love it. And, in teaching me about itself, it so generously taught me more about myself and about Scott.
We drove separately from the starting point of our trip back to highway 20. He was turning left to go back to Coloma for work the next morning and I was turning right to sleep late into the morning in my bed. I set my parking brake at the stop sign and hobbled from my truck to his car window to tell him what I had learned from the river. I stared at him with so much love, respect and admiration, but all the words got stuck somewhere deep in my chest. I stood there so long, as frozen as I had been a week earlier before my first jump into the water, that it became an awkward and ridiculous gesture. Turning around, frustrated and defeated by my own self, I limped back to my truck. I drove home thinking I once again let Dostoevsky down. In the entrance to my little tool shed abode I have taped a quote written in red marker to the wall, Much unhappiness has come into the world because of things left unsaid… Whether Dostoevsky was thinking most importantly of the unhappiness of the incapable sayer, or if his words benefit the intended recipient of those unsaid things mostly, or are meant only as an endorsement for the simplistic beauty and grace of clarity, I don’t know. But in this case it was I who drove away unhappy because I was too afraid or too incapable to divulge the things that seemed to become so clear to me crawling, on hands and knees on the Yuba, to the person who crawled the entire way with me.