Thursday, August 4, 2011

Day 4: 8/3

Elk mean business
Tuesday, August 2nd
Departed from: Eureka, CA
Arrived at: Humbug Mountain State Park, OR
DUNC: The three of us woke up at 9 and got the hell out of Eureka and that godforsaken motel as fast as possible. We planned to drive up to Redwood National Park, hike around for a while, and then drive up as far into Oregon as we could and camp on the coast. Thus, we set out again, fueled by a breakfast of Cliff Bars and water. The arid grass-and –shrub patchwork soon gave way to towering forests of thick-trunked redwoods. After a few hours of driving, we pulled over at an elk viewing point and observed a few of the beasts through binoculars from a healthy distance. Just as we were about to leave, I overheard a man in a group of fellow observers say something about a whale trapped up a river. I walked over and inquired further, and sure enough, he confirmed that there was a whale that had wandered up the Klamath river, gotten lost, and was now circling around a bridge located just eighteen miles North of where we were. Raffi, Horea and I all exchanged looks of exhilarated disbelief. We hopped in the car and made a beeline for the Klamath River.
We arrived at an RV park on the bank of the Klamath shortly thereafter. We gathered from our inquiries that the whale was, in fact, still circling the bridge just a quarter mile north of the camp. However, there was no trail from the campsite there, and a couple suggested that to get a more intimate look at the whale we should wade along the river’s edge to the base of the bridge. Horea and I decided to do so, but Raffi didn’t feel like it, so he stayed with the car. After about 20 minutes, we arrived at the base of the bridge. We could hardly believe our eyes. The thirty-foot-long titan of the sea swam no more than 40 feet from us, circling the bridge and sending up geysers of mist from its blowhole every so often. The fact that this scene was unfolding in the middle of a redwood forest made it all the more surreal.
I jokingly suggested that we should go swim with it, but Horea didn’t miss the hint of uncertain earnestness that lay under my jest. We slowly gathered up our courage, and before we knew it, we had stripped down to our boxers and jumped in the water, swimming towards the spot we had last seen the whale surface. The crowd of about a hundred people gathered on the bridge to observe the whale erupted in cries. Everyone seemed to be either encouraging us or telling us to get the fuck out of the water, so we decided to listen to the former camp and persisted in our pursuit of the enormous animal. We did so apprehensively, however. I know logically that a whale won’t harm a human, but the primordial fear that arises when you’re in the water with something that big is difficult to overcome. The closest we got was probably about 35 feet. At that point, someone who might have been a park ranger (we couldn’t really tell) shouted at us in a booming, authoritative voice to “get OUT of the water!” We obliged him, snuck up a narrow trail, and hitchhiked back to Raffi and the Golf.
We continued our journey through the redwoods, detouring of the 1 along the 199 with the intention of eventually rejoining the 1 by way of the 197 North. We stopped along the beautiful, powerful Smith River to take pictures. I brought my goggles down as well, and, finding the water surprisingly warm, swam around in its pristinely clear waters. At some points it was over twenty feet deep, but I could still see all the way to the bottom. We got back in the car and I soon fell asleep.
When I awoke, we were lost. We had taken a wrong turn (we stayed on the 199 instead of turning onto the 197 back toward the 1) and ended up well west of where we thought we were going. We figured out that we would have to take a huge detour to get back on track, a detour that would add a full hour and a half to our trip. As it turned out though, making the wrong turn that put us on this detour was an excellent decision. The road climbed through redwood-covered mountains and took us to some unfathomably beautiful views. As Raffi put it shortly after the sun set red over the blue mountains, “That might have been the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen.”

A short stop during our detour
We finally pulled into the Humbug Mountain camp site at around 11 p.m. We set up our tent, cooked some franks and beans on our camp stove, Horea and I packed a lip, and we fell asleep. Day 4: unforgettable.

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