Extreme Smoke – The Getaway

by Nancy Soares on September 4, 2017

Normally you can see the Cascades from here but all we've got now is a Wall of Smoke

Normally you can see the Cascades from here but all we’ve got now is a Wall of Smoke

As many of you know, Southern Oregon is on fire. For nearly the entire month of August, the Rogue Valley has been filled with smoke from multiple forest fires in the surrounding areas. Even the coast has been smoky because of the fire in Brookings. And like many of my fellow Oregonians, I don’t have air conditioning which requires me to open windows at night to cool the house down. That means I’m breathing that crud all night long. Gah! We’ve also been having triple digit temps. Hella hot, and we can hardly breathe. Many people out and about are wearing various masks and filters to protect their lungs. It pretty much sucks. 

Fires to the left of us; fires to the right of us...

Fires to the right of us; fires to the left of us…

I wanted to go to Crescent City but thinking it was probably smoky I decided to go up to the Mountain Lakes to see if I could get out of the heat and smoke and get a little lake time in the X-O. It turned into another one of my sagas. Here’s the story.

Mt. McLoughlin

Mt. McLoughlin

The Mountain Lakes are Lake of the Woods, Fish Lake, and Fourmile Lake. To the east is the Mountain Lakes Wilderness and to the north is the Sky Lakes Wilderness. The Sky Lakes are a lot of lovely little lakes accessible to backpackers and horse packers. The Pacific Crest Trail runs through it from north to south. Each of the Mountain Lakes has its own flavor. Lake of the Woods is developed, with some really nice campgrounds right on the lake, vacation homes, and the Lake of the Woods resort, where there is a boat ramp, lodge, cabins, and a small store. A nice family place. There’s a $5 day use fee which covers all the campgrounds.  

Peaceful and relatively smoke-free

Peaceful and relatively smoke-free

I put in at Sunset campground boat ramp because it’s small and comparatively unused. As soon as I was on the water I was treated to great views of Brown Mountain and Mt. McLoughlin, two of our local volcanos. Brown Mountain is a small cinder cone on top of a shield volcano. It is 7,311 feet (2,228 m) above sea level, but is overshadowed by nearby 9,495-foot (2,894 m) Mt. McLoughlin. There are trails up both mountains. Even though Mt. McLoughlin is the more impressive volcano, I’ve heard that Brown Mountain is the one we need to worry about as far as eruptions (it’s the newer one), but both are inactive as far as I know. 

Brown Mountain

Brown Mountain

It was really nice to be out of the smoke. It was still kind of hazy, as you can see in the photos, but nothing like down in the valley. And the water was delightful, cool and refreshing, the perfect temperature! Very clear as well. I paddled along the shore and took some pictures and then practiced falling out of my boat and getting back in again. Since I still haven’t learned to roll, that’s what I do, and I can do it pretty fast in all conditions.

Interesting scenery

Interesting scenery

After messing around a bit I put the boat back on the rack and drove to Fourmile Lake. I’d never been there before. It was up a 6 mile gravel washboard road and when I got there I wasn’t very impressed. It’s actually a reservoir, and it looks like it. I decided not to put in, but parked near a trail head to read the information sign. When I got back in the truck, it wouldn’t start. When I turned the key in the ignition, all I got was a bunch of flashing idiot lights and a clicking sound. 

Great Meadow, a 500 acre prairie on the edge of Lake of the Woods

Great Meadow, a 500 acre prairie on the edge of Lake of the Woods

I looked at the manual to see if there was anything I could do in the way of troubleshooting. It was obviously something electrical, but the symptoms didn’t correspond to any of the dead battery scenarios listed, so I called my insurance company for a tow. Then I called Toyota to see if they could tell me what might be the problem. The service guy confirmed that it was probably a dead battery, so I went looking for someone to give me a jump.  

Small natural lake on the way to Fourmile

Small natural lake on the way to Fourmile

Luckily I found some campers who helped me out. First we tried jumping the battery but it didn’t work. The battery was 9 years old and apparently had come to the end of its life. But one of the campers had a trick up his sleeve. He took the battery out of their car, put it into my truck, had me start the truck, and then swapped out the batteries after telling me not to turn the engine off or it probably wouldn’t start again. After thanking my helpers and cancelling the tow I hightailed it down to Medford to the Toyota dealership where I got a new battery installed just before closing time. Whew!

Rustic campsite

Rustic campsite

Several good things came out of this trip. One, even though I broke down out in the middle of nowhere and had to get a new battery, it was better than having it happen on the retreat which is coming up next week or at Burning Man, where I would have been had I not bagged out this year. Either of those scenarios would have been worse. Two, I got to experience once again the kindness and competence of the local gentry. This is not the first time little elves have come out of the woods so to speak to help me out of a jam. Remind me to tell you the saga of how I ran into my Volvo with my truck on an icy mountain road some time. It’s quite a story. And finally, I got to get out of the smoke, check out some of the Mountain Lakes, and learn more about the beauty and the splendor and the wonder of my Southern Oregon back yard. All’s well that ends well. Now if it would just rain and clear away all this smoke!

Have you ever depended on the kindness of strangers? Share your story below!

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Doug Lloyd September 4, 2017 at 9:36 am

Good report Nancy. Glad it didn’t turn into a “wrong turn” slasher story! Just a dead battery. And thanks for breathing some life into summer trip reads; I well imagine this fire season smoke-out conditions hasn’t made for the best vistas or air quality.

I’ve been helped numerous times over the years while paddling our coast. Sometimes help came in times of extremis, other times it was the simple friendliness of local offering pertinent information or allowing beachfront access for convenience (in the days when paddlers were a rarity).

I’ve also offered assistance to non-paddlers in distress or needing a bit of help. I find those adventures where I have a mission to help others with getting help for severe illness for example, to be grand adventures. Most stories have faded into distant memory now, retold only with selective details perhaps obscured by hyperbole.

Mostly I try and be fiercely independent, self-supporting, and hopefully prepared for most potential problems. Most. Oh, I used to have two batteries on separate switches. But then I was always leaving my dome lights on. Some things I just can’t fix.

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Nancy Soares September 5, 2017 at 8:16 am

Thanks, Doug! Yes, luckily I’ve never had a “wrong turn”. Spending as much time as I do roaming the hinterlands solo I occasionally think about the slasher factor. But everyone I’ve ever met on my wanderings has been kind and helpful, and the fact that I am always kind and helpful to others I hope brings me good karma. I’ve been helped out more times than I can count, and nobody has ever made me feel like a dumb ass which is really sweet.

I’m not real good with cars or tools and stuff. I often wish I were more like people like yourself, who are good with those things. But between a very logical mind which allows me to reason out most problems and the kindness of strangers I’ve managed to do pretty well. Thanks for your comment!

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Carl White September 4, 2017 at 7:49 pm

Several times I have relied upon the kindness of strangers to get me back to my car after having to abort a daytrip due to wind conditions deteriorating beyond my capacity to deal with them. All three episodes, two solo, once with a companion, sent me ashore rather than risk being overwhelmed by continuing the struggle against the wind. Luckily for me, people were readily available and insisted on driving me back to my car, return, and retrieve my kayak. Luckily also, all three were on New Jersey’s Barnegat Bay waters, rather than the desolate shores and waters of Delaware Bay, so the likelihood of helpful people nearby was high.

Doug, good to see your post! I hope you and yours are well, and you are paddling on.

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Nancy Soares September 5, 2017 at 8:32 am

That’s great to hear, Carl. Wind is such a dicey factor; it can come up in a moment and ruin your day, and as we know weather predictions aren’t always 100 percent accurate either. We do the best we can. I’m glad you were able to get assistance when you needed it.

Lately I’ve been having kind of a hard time remembering that as individuals people overall are really very kind and compassionate. I struggle with a few friends whose politics frankly appall me and strike me as cruel and and destructive to both humans and the environment, and yet when I set that aside I can honestly say these same people have always treated me with honor, kindness, and respect. They love me; and I don’t want to be without them in my life; I benefit from their friendship, and hopefully they benefit from mine. It’s a crazy world but I do believe there’s a basic goodness at the heart of every person, that every human has at least one noble quality within them no matter how deeply buried it might be, and it just takes one incident to bring that nobility out.

Thank you for commenting. It’s healing to hear positive stories about generosity and kindness.

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Doug Lloyd September 5, 2017 at 11:40 am

Well, I do have vivid memories of paddling Victoria’s waterfront back in the eighties. There was a fierce storm. High wind. A stay close to shore day but an interesting day nonetheless to try extreme techniques and assess gear and think about possible boat improvement modification. I didn’t like the aluminium Valley foot bar mounted horizontally between fibreglass “ears” that had holes drilled for adjustment. With short stocky legs, there was also a lot of lost dry storage potential. I was surfing breaking swell that maximized about six feet if that due to limited fetch. Clover Point has a nice shelf that extends seaward. I’d caught an unexpected sneaker out of phase and was driven down into a small surge channel with a rock dead centre. The nose dug in and I submarined into the cockpit deeply as the Nordkapp with its long length flipped hull skyward in a pirouette. I was stuck in with hips lodged firmly. The bar bolt on one side had ripped out of the glass. There was no room to roll and I couldn’t excert leverage. Two gentlemen ran down and helped me out of the predicament as I quickly lost ability to breath any air in the admixture of foam, kelp, green water, and surging frantic panic. So, disregarding their own safety while locals remained in their vehicles content watching the storm, the two good Samaritans came to my rescue. They were from Port Angeles, visiting. I think one muttered “crazy Canadians”. I was embarrassed but tacitly greatful. And the men were soaked.

I moved the bulkhead forward after that, gained storage, garnered a modicum of safety, and moved activities somewhere more remote. Sorry Carl but I continued to pursue windy conditions. Howener, to this day, rotator cuff pain keeps me awake at night. I’ll be rolling into my grave with a groan. But I’ve done a lot of rolling in my life. Not a good kayaker I guess! And yes Nancy, people are good all over. Americans just show a little more initiative sometimes actually helping unconditionally.

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Nancy Soares September 17, 2017 at 11:33 am

It’s nice of you to say that, Doug. I’ve heard that Americans are among the most generous people as a nation when it comes to giving money to good causes. I try to remember that when I start thinking of us as a nation of jerks. As individuals, I really do believe Americans are usually willing to go above and beyond to help those in need whether it’s pitching in with things like Hurricane Harvey or helping out a kayaker in distress. I’m glad there were some people on the beach to help you out in your situation. Great story! Thanks for sharing.

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Carl White September 7, 2017 at 11:30 am

One of the trips I mentioned went south because of my not getting the very latest marine forecast for that day, relying only on the previous afternoon’s. A noreaster blew in quite suddenly, but exactly as forecast, it turned out, while two of us were out on Barnegat Bay in early December. The wind went from a dead calm to 25 knots in about 15 minutes, and continued to build. Dave and I sought refuge on low-lying Sandy Island, a small privately-owned site with an old-time fishing and hunting shack. The island’s owner and his groundskeeper happened to be checking out the island from their powerboat and invited us to join them in the shack as the conditions deteriorated; the wind strengthened to 40-knot gusts, as registered on the cabin’s anemometer and shaking the whole cabin, and the flooding tide rose very quickly as the noreaster piled water into the bay through Barnegat Inlet. Finally the island itself disappeared beneath the rising waters, with only the cabin on its pilings and the tops of the salt marsh vegetation showing above the waves. I asked the groundskeeper how high past waters had risen; he pointed to a stain along the wall about 18 inches above the floor.

Anyway, after the wind subsided a bit, we lashed our kayaks firmly to the shack’s sturdy dock and the four of us escaped to safety on Long Beach Island in the powerboat. My companion Dave was good enough to retrieve our kayaks the next day with the help of the groundskeeper. But it had been somewhat disturbing to see an island upon which one had sought refuge then itself disappear beneath the waves!

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Nancy Soares September 17, 2017 at 11:41 am

Wow, that’s an intense story Carl. I can imagine how unnerving it would have been to see your refuge slowly disappear under water. At least you had boats, but then that wind! So good there was an island available for you and Dave to land on and that the owner and groundskeeper were available to get you back to the mainland. Glad you and your boats were okay.

Also, I apologize for not responding to your comment more quickly. I went on the Tsunami retreat this year and I’ve been offline for nearly a week.

Thank you so much for sharing your story. It’s a great read!

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Carl White September 18, 2017 at 7:19 am

Nancy, no apologies necessary! It’s a pleasure in itself to post occasionally here. I trust that the Tsunami retreat was enjoyed by all. Even though the adventures of the TR are far beyond my own limited abilities, we long-term kayakers share the same innate pleasures of being out on open water in our wonderful, peculiar little craft, enjoying sometimes good company or sometimes the solitude. Three of us were out yesterday: an atmospheric, grey, “marine” sort of day–soft, quiet, a gentle 6-knot NE breeze. An eagle, a peregrine, a large ray exploding out of the water, our kayaks gliding easily along–what’s not to love?

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