Roughing it… the easy way
As I laid down on the hard concrete near the boat ramp, I watched the moon duck in and out of the fast-moving clouds. For a moment, the clouds cleared and thousands of stars twinkled in the black sky. “This,” I thought to myself, “is going to be a great trip.”
Volunteering to go on a three-day rafting trip to the Rogue River in Oregon with Truckee’s Bio Bio Expeditions (pronounced BEE-OH BEE-OH), I was joined by 10 other people and one dog for what was to be an amazing experience.
This wasn’t a normal trip for Bio Bio – it was a private trip, and had no commercial customers. Normally, the group runs the Cal Salmon River in California, the Futaleufu River in Patagonia, Chile, the Apurimac and Cotahuasi rivers in Peru and the Zambezi River in Africa. For all these rivers, Bio Bio has a commercial permit.
I started out not knowing what was going to happen and only knowing two people – my brother, Brian, and Brinn Wellise, the owner of Truckee’s Switchback Public Relations.
However, through two 12-hour van trips and three days and 40 miles on the Rogue I was hooked on rafting. While it sounds grueling, the Bio Bio crew – led by owner Laurence Alvarez-Roos, guides Damara Goddard and Matt Halter and helper Nicole Bradford – made it seem like I was camping in my backyard.
While nobody got a shower for a few days, the guys on the trip had varying degrees of stubble, we had to go “No. 2” in a “groover” and Inca (the dog) had rolled around in some salmon, it was probably the easiest camping trip I have been on.
I’ve only rafted the Truckee River before, so it was great to get to a river with something a little harder than that. The Rogue was low and was subsequently all between a Class 2-plus and maybe a Class 4-minus in some spots. While it’s not too hard, it gave me enough experience to really get into rafting.
Alvarez-Roos, Goddard and Halter were the guides for the three boats – two were passenger rafts and the third was the supply raft – and took us expertly down the river. The guide was usually on the back of the boat, rowing us down the slow, flat parts of the river with large oars. The rest of us – four to a boat – rowed in the rapids parts when they needed a little extra help.
I was on Goddard’s raft most of the time, and she let each of us do the rowing for a while. I ended up doing quite a bit and even rowing through some rapids. She and Halter both gave me great instruction and it turned out that I learned a lot about water, currents and rowing. The next step for me, possibly, is to seek out a guide school, where they teach you everything there is to know about rafting.
We rowed six or seven miles the first day, approximately 12 the second day and a grueling near-20 the third for our trip. The time on the river was amazing, offering a different view of Oregon. By far the best part of the trip was through Mule Creek Canyon. The river in that part couldn’t have been more than 20 feet wide and the rocks stretched up next to us. Simply incredible.
For the meals, most would probably think of the typical camping or backpacking food – dehydrated and then re-hydrated for your eating pleasure. Let me assure you, Bio Bio does just the opposite. With an extra supply boat we could bring a lot of food and supplies, so we ate better than most eat at home.
The first night we pulled up to a rocky spot and the Bio Bio people went to work setting up our kitchen. We ate chips and drank beer and wine for happy hour, had barbecued chicken burritos for dinner and readily consumed brownies for dessert, which was made in a Dutch oven.
The second night we had chili con carne and cornbread with a brandy dessert drink later in the night. The last night of camping we had a very tasty jumbalaya and smores for dessert, which turned into a game of “Chubby Bunny.” Four or five of us caught trout right off the rafts, and all three nights we enjoyed a fresh fish appetizer.
Lunches mainly consisted of sandwiches, the third day which we ate while floating down the river. We even had extravagant breakfasts, complete with fresh fruit, breakfast burritos and French toast. Let me tell you, this was anything but roughing it.
When the group travels to Chile, Peru and Africa, they even have a hot tub in some camps and Bradford and some locals help out with professional massages for free.
What made the trip the best, though, was the people. We hardly knew each other before the trip but with all that time together, we quickly became good friends.
Alvarez-Roos and Goddard’s husband, Marc, started the company in 1992, and they work out of their Truckee homes doing bookkeeping, trip planning and marketing. Both Alvarez-Roos and Marc are world-class rafters and have been rafting since they were in their late teens or early 20s.
I found that rafting can be fun, educational and sometimes very relaxing. The thing Bio Bio stresses, though, is that water is a lot more powerful than you might imagine. A raft can get trapped on a rock for hours, a raft can flip, even with over 1,000 pounds of people and gear on it, and people do sometimes die on the water. If you do it right and follow the guide, however, you should be just fine. Bio Bio also discourages drinking on the river or before a day of big rapids.
While their trips to other continents cost anywhere from $1,950 to $3,000, the California trips cost approximately $400 each. They also offer kayaking schools in California for $450 each. All their trips are listed at http://www.bbxrafting.com, or you can call (800) 2-GO-RAFTING.
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