Staring through clear rushing water under my bow, I fixated on an air bubble that formed off the rock beneath me, squirreling its way upstream in darting swims. As I surfed the wave that formed over that rock, it felt as if I was playing with that bubble, both of us caught in a semi-ordered, semi-random dance with the river.
I finally washed clear of my reverie to find myself on the North Fork of the Smith, a unique top-quality run that is a mandatory visit anytime I find myself on California’s North Coast. At 800 cfs, many locals wouldn’t even bother, but for the rest of us who live in the inland West, where the snow has barely fallen this year, the river was flush. I was especially grateful to share the river with a posse of recent Southwestern arrivals, my buds who had rallied a 16-hour push packed in Doctor Miguel’s storied suburban. They came straight from the severe clear of Flagstaff to the mild moist of the North Coast. They—Mike Flores, John Govi, Pat Phillips, Becky Seegull, and my 50 in 50 girl Lisa Gelczis—brought sunny Southwest skies with them.
Morning fog cleared as we shook off the rust on the Trinity River’s Pigeon Point run. Shirtless sunshine bathed the take-out on the South Trinity’s Three Bears, and sunlight filtered through the big trees as we launched on Redwood Creek. Even the North Smith treated us with blue skies. North Coast drizzle finally returned as we launched on the South Smith, a perfect gloom to test my new Kokatat drysuit, and to heighten the focus for our push into the lower gorge.
The funhog safari ended as quickly as it began, returning us to the arid land of pine and rock, where we can only hope that our California paddlingshape will be used to eke out a season following the dismal season of 2012.