Remember when I said that when we arrived at our Ashland home exchange we did nothing but sit on the deck and sip wine? That was a lie.
I never just sit there and sip wine. I am always sipping wine and doing something. On that particular day, I was sipping wine and booking a last-minute trip down the Rogue River.
I’d never been river rafting, or really river anything, and I thought white-water rafting sounded like a blast. Pebbles vehemently disagreed. Only when I found a local company offering a “mellow scenic float trip” down the Rogue, advertised as excellent for senior citizens, did she cautiously agree to participate.
We walked back downtown in the morning — this time not so much because we wanted to as because most of the parking in downtown Ashland, while free and easy to get, is limited to two hours only. (Only now does it occur to me that this would have been a perfect time to use the monthly $15 Uber credit from our Amex Business Platinum card!*)
We mustered at Noah’s pickup point on Main Street, right outside the divine-looking Mix Bakeshop, and soon boarded a bouncy schoolbus headed out to the country. “The Country” is about five blocks from downtown Ashland, but we rode for half an hour or so. On the way we passed this cool tableland, which our guide said was formed when a lake bed filled with lava, then the softer ground forming the lakebed and the land around it eroded, leaving only the filling as if the lakebed had been a mold.
When we arrived at the Rogue, our guides busied themselves preparing the large, comfy inflatable rafts we’d ride on, and the inflatable kayak’s we’d have the chance to pilot if we chose. Our family had our own raft, piloted by a sweet and energetic young woman named Atya. However, Toth and I chose a double kayak, so we paddled out. The paddling was more challenging than I had expected at first, with the current driving us downriver even though the kayak guide had ordered us to “eddy up,” that is, gather in an eddy along the side of the flow to listen. Eventually we got the hang of it though. We got a little wet from the paddles dripping on us, but my iPhone never got soaked and I was glad I brought it instead of leaving it on the bus as the guides had recommended. Of course, if I’d fallen in the water with it I’d have a different feeling about that. But it allowed me to capture these moments:
As you can tell from the photos, it was a beautiful day: No wind, sunny, but not unbearably hot. We were allowed to jump in and swim at points if we wanted to, but most of us didn’t feel like doing more than dangling our feet in. When I’d talked to he staff the day before they’d told me most people don’t wear bathing suits, but we wished we had.
The kayaking guide used this tiny, nimble little kayak, and he was super helpful with us noobs, as seen below.
The web site had touted all the birds and wildlife we’d see; we saw a few hawks, and some ducks, but nothing we didn’t see from the car on the highway and everywhere else on our trip. We might have missed things, too, because on the way out, Toth and I were focused on piloting our inflatable kayak, learning to paddle without clonking our paddles against each other’s, and following the guide’s directions to avoid the roughest parts of the tiny rapids we went through. A couple kayakers in the group — a younger kid with no adult copilot and an older woman — had serious trouble controlling their boats, and one lady accidentally went the wrong way around an island, exposing her to a rougher rapid that we were supposed to avoid. But in general it wasn’t hard and we were never scared.
After a couple of hours, we took out at a sandy area and walked up a steep bank to a small clearing in the trees. Our guides hustled a portable table and a bunch of snacks in wet bags up the slope, and obligingly took any life jackets and helmets people had forgotten to take off down to the boats. We enjoyed a buffet of fruit and snacks with cold lemonade and iced tea to drink. We were just in a forest clearing, so there were no bathroom facilities. After we ate — and the kids had seconds and thirds of cookies until they were gone — we walked back down to the boats. This time, Nutmeg and Erik took the kayak, and Toth and I boarded the cushy raft with Atya. Erik was sure he would capsize the kayak, but I told him, nonsense, these boats were not at all tippy.
As we took off, Erik said that we should adopt Atya, and she said that she is a pretty good daughter. She paddled, and I rested my arms and languidly watched the trees go by and the water ripple.
We could sit in various positions: lying on the bottom of the raft with feet propped up, sitting on the padded seat, even sitting on the inflated edge of the craft with our toes dangling in the water, or straddling the side. Since the kids were wearing life jackets and the current was not swift, I had no worry at all about them moving about the boat as they liked; in fact, I encouraged them to jump in for a dip.
We chatted with Atya, learning that she is an avalanche-certified skier and that she lives in a one-room house in Ashland with some other guides, where they sleep on camping mats because they have no beds. She also advised that the raft we were riding makes a good bed in a pinch, like after a staff ladies’ night when no one quite makes it home. At one point, she pulled over, yelled, “Stay there, I’ll get you some berries!” and pretty much ran up a steep bank to fetch us some. We adored her, and even though we didn’t even want berries that much, we ate them since she had gotten them for us.
When we returned to land, we learned that Erik had indeed managed to capsize the kayak he was sharing with Nutmeg, right in the middle of the biggest rapid. The guides wished I had seen and heard it, they said, because my 13-year-old was pretty much body surfing the rapid, yelling, “THIS. IS AWESOOOOOOME!” I very much agree with the guides.
On the bus back, I got to thinking about how amazingly good Henry IV Part 2 had been, and how our friend Ho had told us Part 1 was even better. I checked the ticket site on my phone and found out there were still tickets available, so I bought some for the next day — this time only four because we agreed to let the unenthused Pebbles hang out back at the house while we went.
When we returned to Ashland, we of course needed coffee and ice cream, and Mix Bakeshop was right there. They serve Portland’s Stumptown Coffee, and Strauss Family Creamery ice cream. They also had beer on tap, and Erik and I couldn’t decide if we wanted beer or coffee so we got both.
Nutmeg had this beautiful little lemon meringue, which she immediately Instagrammed because she is 13 and that’s what she does.
Before leaving downtown, we stopped at the entrance of 93-acre Lithia Park and learned about how the 1900s Ashland thought Lithia Water from a nearby spring would be their claim to fame. I tasted the water, and I can say that they made a very good call by switching to Shakespeare. I literally had to spit it out, it tasted so foul.
We took a winding route home, checking out a lot of beautiful Ashland homes and yards — all gardens protected from deer by high fences. This church house was particularly impressive.
And we saw a deer pooping for the first time in any of our lives! It took a lot more effort on the deer’s part than we’d anticipated.
When we got back home, we returned to our precious deck with snacks and listened to the Cubs play for awhile before Erik (!) made spaghetti for dinner. We had some visitors, who we first noticed as they stared right at us, unflinchingly, before going back to grazing.
* Referral link