Team Hot Pockets after the race

I was only three months postpartum and running a 12 minute mile when my friend invited me to join the Ragnar Napa Relay Team.  Well, actually, he asked my husband and I told him, “If you’re going, I’m going!”  That meant baby A was going too.  We don’t have family nearby and I have yet to leave my baby overnight with anyone else.  I knew she would be 11 months by then, and I hoped she and I would both be ready for what this would entail.

The main thing I wanted was to not cause her too much distress.  Or any distress at all, really.  She didn’t sign up for this race— I did— and it wasn’t fair to put her in an uncomfortable place.  I wanted to do everything I could to make sure she was comfortable, having fun and not deviating too far from her schedule.  My baby is pretty good about new places, traveling and being around new people, but she does not like to break her routine!

During our down times at the major exchanges, we had plenty of time to play, eat meals and explore.  In the van, the baby definitely was restricted to her car seat more often, and it was perfectly fine during her naps as she sleeps great in the car seat.  At the exchanges, even if we stopped for just five minutes while she was awake, I took her out of the seat and let her play in the grass.  If the van was in motion, I kept her in her seat for safety reasons, and she would nap, play or eat.  Food pouches are fantastic for this!  She could eat in her seat and not make too much of a mess.  We also have sippy cups that use straws and so she can drink them while strapped into the car seat and can’t tip her head back.  We were lucky she was happy drink from a bottle that was cold since there wasn’t any way to heat it up.  She also nursed and had diaper changes at exchanges.  There were a few times when we had to leave the van idling at an exchange while she napped so we could run the air conditioner because the heat index hit 100 degrees outside (but we weren’t the only ones to be hiding from the heat inside the van).

When night fell and the baby went to sleep, I covered her carseat with a blanket so when the van interior lights came on it wouldn’t wake her.  We got to spend half the night at a major exchange sleeping (I just slept in the van with the baby in her carseat) and then during our night runs, she just continued to sleep.  My husband and I did not run adjacent legs, that way when one was running, the other could be totally focused on the baby and not trying to prepare to run or recover from the last one.  I was the first runner in my van, and once I was done I just napped in the back next to the car seat.  The baby had a few short wake ups but the motion of the van usually put her back to sleep.

The only time having her along was difficult was our arrival at the next major exchange.  She woke up at 7am and everyone else in the van went back to sleep and my husband and I had to get up with the baby.  We missed out on some valuable rest before our next legs.  It didn’t seem to hold us back too much and our team finished in the top 10% (32 out of 325).

All in all, though, it really wasn’t very difficult having her along for the ride.  For the baby, it was no different than a long car trip.  For us, we had a little more responsibility, but could focus on running when we needed to.  Also, as a new mom, I was more prepared to jump into action on very little sleep than our other team mates.  I think this would be more difficult with an older baby/toddler, and we were lucky that our little girl was such a trooper.  I hope to do more Ragnar relays in the future and I’m glad to know that I can have my favorite running partner along with me.  My only regret is that I didn’t pick up one of the Ragnar baby onesies at the gear store.  I thought I could buy them online but they were not available there.  Missed my chance!

Here is a summary of some tips for doing a Ragnar Relay with a baby:

1. Keep the baby on schedule to the best of your ability.

2. Don’t run adjacent legs to the other person in charge of baby care.  And you definitely want at least two people on this!

3. Pack everything in one bag that is easy to access in the van.

4. Take the baby out of the car seat as much as possible during exchanges.

5. Make sure the baby is a comfortable temp.  We can tolerate a lot more than their little bodies can handle.  Run the AC or heat if you need to, even when stopped at an exchange.

6. Pouches and sippy cups with straws were key for snacking and drinking while the van was in motion.

7. Cover the car seat at night so the lights don’t wake the baby.

River: Smith River – Middle Fork
Put in: Panther Flat
Take out: Middle Fork Gorge River Access
Class: III-
Distance: 8 Miles
Gauge: Oregon Hole Gorge (estimate)
Flow: 1800
Boat: Pyranha H2
Shuttle: 20
Info: Creekin’

Although this run starts in the middle fork, it soon joins the north fork and the water volume more than doubles. You can use the Gasquet gauge to find the flow at the start and the Oregon Hole gauge for the end. The beginning of this section is mostly class II+ boulder gardens which are pretty easy to ready and run. There are also a few drops and good wave trains. Scenery is great as the Smith river is always beautiful. I thought this was great practice for running boulder gardens since I didn’t have a lot of practice with it. I was able to tuck into eddies pretty easily and there are enough breaks to catch your breath. Lots of fun small surf waves I also noticed since I was given the mission to “Surf everything you can find!”  Unfortunately this lead to a swim in shallow water.

Confluence of the Middle and North Fork

After Mary Adams bridge, the rapids become shorter but also steeper and the scenery more gorge like. Make sure you can recognize the take out. I call this one “quit or commit!!!” since the Oregon Hole Gorge follows shortly.

Route Map

TAKE OUT: Take 101 to 199-E and just past Hiouchi look for the “Middle Fork River Access” on the right side. There is a pullout and a path down to the river.

PUT IN: Keep going on the 199 and you will come to Panther Flat campground on the left. You can go down to the picnic are and park right on the river. There are toilets here.

River: Smith River – Middle Fork
Put in: Patrick’s Creek
Take out: Panther Flat
Class: III (One IV)
Distance: 8 Miles
Gauge: Gasquet (estimate)
Flow: 1350
Boat: Pyranha H2
Shuttle: 20
Info: Creekin’


This section of the middle fork is intense!  It was non-stop class III action with one class IV right in the middle.  It has been knocked for having so-so scenery but I think that is just relative to other Smith River runs (which have epic scenery).  I never really noticed the scenery as I was too busy dodging holes.  The rapids start just after put in and don’t ever really stop.  I thought the run seemed creek-y at first since about half the river runs through brush and leaves a narrow section to be run around sharp bends.  After a few rapids the brush disappears and it is pretty constant boulder gardens.  Highway Rapid is very easy to spot as it starts just after the first bridge you come to.   You can get out and scout the rapid on the left side, or also portage there pretty easily.

The final rapid at Panther Flat (and one of the smallest)

There is really very little rest in this run, I got a very good cardio workout, not even including my two swims.  My roll was off on this run— I just couldn’t get my paddle angle right.  Swims generally should be avoided because the rapids were so long with very small pools below some of them.  I managed to get myself out of the water, but had to give up on the paddle and the boat.  I had some very good wranglers ready to pick up my pieces.  You can take out at Panther Flat or keep going on a slightly easier/mellowier stretch.

Route Map

TAKE OUT:  Panther Flat picnic area.  Take 101 to 199-W and follow it past Hiouchi until you see the Panther Flat campground turn out.  Follow the signs to the picnic area and you will be able to park right next to the river.  There are also toilets here.

PUT IN: Patrick’s Creek.  Keep going up 199-W and come to a bridge that says Patrick’s creek.  Turn before the bridge and there is parking there and a paved path down to the water and a flat concrete set up area.  Pretty nice.

River: Trinity River Main Stem
Put in: Past Hoopa
Take out: Klamath River confluence
Class: II (One III)
Distance: 11 Miles
Gauge: Trinity at Hoopa
Flow: 1000
Boat: Pyranha H2
Shuttle: 30
Info: Ca Creekin’

This is a beautiful run that is seldom done, possibly due to access issues.  I have heard stories of people having their cars vandalized or being harassed in Hoopa, so we put in a little bit past the town.

The beginning of the run is ordinary, but once you enter the Weitchpec gorge, its an absolutely beautiful run with fun class II between scenic floats.  I would highly recommend this for beginners since the final class III rapid is such an easy portage.

The final rapid is  solid class three and can be run as a long curving rapid on the left side, or as a short, somewhat technical drop on the right of a large boulder.  I’m not sure if the right side is possible at all flows.  I went with the right and it’s very pushy next to the boulder and so it tipped me and I went over the falls upside down.  Luckily I missed the sharp rock at the bottom of the falls.  The second time, I managed to get a decent boof off the falls and landed it.
Route Map

TAKE OUT:  Drive to the town of Weitchpec and pass over the  bridge for the Klamath river.  Then turn left immediate onto the CA-196 (?) and then the next left is a road down to the river.  There are some houses here and when we went there was a traditional ceremony going on but they were nice enough to let us leave a car there since the ceremony would be over by the time we finished the run.

PUT IN:  We put in past Hoopa where there was a dirt pullout and people fishing.  I’m not sure the name of the road but it was before Mill Creek.  I have heard that Mill Creek is a good put in also.

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River: South Fork Smith River
Put in: Steven’s Bridge
Take out: Just before Surprise
Class: II-III+
Distance: 9 Miles
Gauge: South Smith Near Hiouchi
Flow: 1500
Boat: Pyranha H2
Shuttle: 20 minutes
Info: Smith River Rafting
Ca Creekin’

Repeated this run two times in two days now that I am more comfortable running at about a Class III level.  Also this was done in the fall about two or three days after a heavy rain and so the level was perfect at about 1500 cfs and dropping to probably 1200 on the second run.  The days were sunny and the water was perfectly clear just like I remembered the Smith to be.  At this flow, most of the wave trains are decent size and fun, and its a nice Class II at the upper section of this run.

Right before Rock Creek Ranch is the Pillow Rapid which you can scout from the road on your way to the put in.  It’s the only obvious giant boulder and about half the river tries to ride up onto the side of it in a terrifyingly huge pillow.  But there is a definite clean line with some sharp turns around partially and sometimes fully submerged large boulders.  I managed this rapid with my heart pounding.

After the Ranch house there are a few more fun Class II,and you will then cross under one south fork road bridge.  The rapid there is a stout class II that broke a friend’s paddle.  The second bridge is more commonly called the “Bridge Rapid” and this is where things went bad for me.  It’s definitely Class III and pretty long while navigating a bend in the river over some submerged boulders.  This created a very awkward squirrely wave train that tipped me at the top.  The first time I ran it, I ended up executing a combat roll but by the time I was up, I was going over a pourover backwards and went back over in the hole.  So there was a swim there.  The second time on this run, I went over at the bend and tried to roll a couple of time before I felt something grab my paddle.  I swam for a ways and when I recovered my boat and paddle, I realize the paddle was in one piece, but cracked all the way through the shaft.  I had to hike out and hitchhike back to the put in cars.

The first time I ran this, I managed to continue along through a few more class II rapids, including a boulder that I attempted to boof.  I went over into what looked like a small hole, but I didn’t have enough velocity to punch through it.  Next thing I knew, I was upside down and any attempts at a roll felt futile.  When I finally pulled my skirt, I realized I was being recirculated and managed to gulp air on a few rounds in the whole before it finally spit me out.  It felt a lot like being caught in the washing machine on a wave in the ocean.  When I flushed out and looked back, I saw my boat just bobbing in there behind the pourover.  It only took a few more minutes before it was ejected also.

After I got in my boat, I was so flustered and running late for a field trip, and so I just decided to hike out and hitchhike back to Rock Creek Ranch where I was meeting my students.  I found out later, that Surprise was just around the next bend and I could have finished the run.  Oh well.  There’s always next time…

PUT IN: Drive up South Fork Road from the 199 until you cross Steven’s Bridge, which is marked with a sign. It is a one lane bridge over the south fork. Just past the bridge is a parking lot on the left side. You have to hike down a steep trail to the river.

TAKE OUT: Craig’s Beach, which is a daytime use area on South Fork Road with outhouses. There is a long trail down to the river.

I’m currently working on a .kml file that has all of the Northern California Coastal Rivers color coded by class.  This file will work with google earth.  I only have the rivers mapped roughly at this time and a little bit of info on the river runs.  Here’s a preview snapshot.

Google Earth is a pretty powerful program and you can actually almost scout rapids using it.  Here’s a shot of hell hole by satellite.

This section © 2002 by David Petterson of Calgary Paddlers.  This is from

Class I, Easy. Fast moving water with riffles and small waves. Swimming is pleasant, shore easily reached. A nice break from paddling. Almost all gear and equipment is recovered. Boat is just slightly scratched.

Class II, Novice. Straightforward rapids with wide, clear channels which are evident without scouting. Swimming to eddies requires moderate effort. Climbing out of river may involve slippery rocks and shrub-induced lacerations. Paddle travels great distance downstream requiring lengthy walk. Something unimportant is missing. Boat hits submerged rock leaving visible dent on frame or new gash in plastic.

Class III, Intermediate. Rapids with moderate, irregular waves which may be difficult to avoid. Water is swallowed. Legs are ground repeatedly against sharp, pointy rocks. Several eddies are missed while swimming. Difficult decision to stay with boat results in moment of terror when swimmer realizes they are downstream of boat. Paddle is recirculated in small hole way upstream. All personal possessions are removed from boat and floated in different directions. Paddling partners run along river bank shouting helpful instructions. Boat is munched against large boulder hard enough to leave series of deep gouges. Sunglasses fall off.

Class IV, Advanced. Water is generally lots colder than Class III. Intense, powerful but predictable rapids requiring precise swimming in turbulent water. Swimming may require `must’ moves above dangerous hazards. Must moves are downgraded to `strongly recommended’ after they are missed. Sensation of disbelief experienced while about to swim large drops. Frantic swimming towards shore is alternated with frantic swimming away from shore to avoid strainers. Rocks are clung to with death grip. Paddle is completely forgotten. One shoe is removed. Hydraulic pressure permanently removes waterproof box with all the really important stuff. Paddle partners running along stream look genuinely concerned while lofting throw ropes 20 feet behind swimmer. Paddle partners stare slack-jawed and point in amazement at boat which is finally pinned by major feature. Climbing up river bank involves inverted tree. One of those spring loaded pins that attaches watch to wristband is missing. Contact lenses are moved to rear of eyeballs.

Class V, Expert. The water in this rapid is usually under 42 degrees F. Most gear is destroyed on rocks within minutes if not seconds. If the boat survives, it is need of about three days of repair. There is no swimming, only frantic movements to keep from becoming one with the rocks and to get a breath from time to time. Terror and panic set in as you realize your paddle partners don’t have a chance in heck of reaching you. You come to a true understanding of the terms maytagging and pinballing. That hole that looked like nothing when scouted, has a hydraulic that holds you under the water until your lungs are close to bursting. You come out only to realize you still have 75% of the rapid left to swim. Swim to the eddy? What #%^*#* eddy!? This rapid usually lasts a mile or more. Hydraulic pressure within the first few seconds removes everything that can come off your body. This includes gloves, shoes, neoprene socks, sunglasses, hats, and clothing. The rocks take care of your fingers, toes, and ears. That $900.00 dry suit, well it might hold up to the rocks. Your paddle is trash. If there is a strainer, well, just hope it is old and rotten so it breaks. Paddle partners on shore are frantically trying to run and keep up with you. Their horror is reflected in their faces as they stare at how you are being tossed around! They are hoping to remember how to do CPR. They also really hope the cooler with the beer is still intact. They are going to need a cold one by the time you get out! Climbing out of this happens after the rapid is over. You will probably need the help of a backboard, cervical collar and Z-rig. Even though you have broken bones, lacerations, puncture wounds, missing digits & ears, and a concussion, you won’t feel much pain because you will have severe hypothermia. Enjoy your stay in the hospital: with the time you take recovering, you won’t get another vacation for 3 years.

Class VI, World Class. Not recommended for swimming.

River: Mattole River
Put in: Mattole Canyon Creek
Take out: Honeydew Bridge
Class: II with III
Distance: 17.5 Miles
Gauge: Mattole near Ettersburg
Flow: 375
Boat: Pyranha H2
Shuttle: 30+ minutes
Info: Ca Creekin’

Canoe running one of the class II rapids.

I feel like this run definitely requires some beta before trying it. There is very little word on the internet about the middle part of the Mattole and the description from Schwind no longer does it justice. It is very much in the wilderness and a part of Humboldt county where I would not recommend trying to tromp through someone’s property to find a road. The only information I could dig up was from Ca Creeks and they had very little to say beyond mentioning that there is a class III rapid.  When I asked a canoeing friend for some beta she told me it was class I with a class III that could be portaged.  Then another friend had a story about some boaters who approached the landslide at night and got stuck when trying to portage around it, eventually having a search team sent after them.

This Mattole run was an adventure but it should definitely not be passed up.  If you are planning on running it, go with someone who knows the area.  If I didn’t have a local friend I would never have been able to find my way through the maze of winding dirt roads with no street signs.  The Ettersburg bridge was a no go for put in and so he was able to lead us to a much better spot.  We put in with no trouble and we were on our way with two dogs with life jackets in a canoe with my husband, David, who is an experience whitewater canoer.  Along with us we had brought our inexperienced friends who had never paddled before.  Remember we were expecting class I.  I’m glad they’re still speaking to us.

When we realized we had left all our food at home (over two hours away) we decided to run the entire stretch in one day.  The shuttle was a long process and we didn’t end up on the water until nearly 3pm.  So my first warning is that this run needs to be broken into a two day paddle or started early.  I was tired by the end, but not sore or grumpy so it’s definitely doable as a one day run.

The first few rapids are class I and you pass a few houses on the way out before entering into the true wilderness.  We saw a bald eagle, a bear, many deer and ducks.  There were some class II- rapids sprinked in and they were lots of fun.  There were rapids constistently enough to keep me entertained.  Especially when I was expecting a boring float.  Around the midpoint, houses appear and and a road does come down to the river.  I have no knowledge of this road and how you would find it, and it has no name so honestly I would not recommend trying to drive down it.  Nor would I recommend getting out of your boat in this area.  After you pass the houses, there are a few sand bars that would make ideal camp spots.


The wrap rock on river left has been the undoing of a canoe.

At this point it was starting to get late and the rapids also got noticeable harder.  The flow was about 400 when we started and dropped throughout the day.  The later rapids included a solid class II boulder garden, a drop around a wrap rock that required a scout but ended up being pretty clean (though a friend’s canoe died here), and some other fun little II/II- rapids that were mostly wave trains.  Just as we were starting to feel tired and cold, we came up the “landslide.”  I expected something that had happened more recently, but it looks fairly old as the slopes above are mostly grown over now, but the river is now littered with boulders from the size of a keg to the size of a house.  The first rapid splits with a bouldery island in the middle.  I missed the right side although my buddy was signalling me to take it.  I didn’t even see the option.  The left side ended up required some snaking around boulder and some narrow chute like drops.  We got out here to scout the right side and saw that it was two wide clean class III drops.  My buddy Rito decided to go back and run those.  We scouted the rest of the run and we saw a sea of boulders.  There were some clear lines that looks like it wouldn’t be too hard, but then the river bent sharply to the left and we couldn’t see what the next moves were.

Start of the Class III... not so bad... yet...

Unloading the dogs and inexperienced boaters, we ran the class III.  One I passed my scouted line, I missed the swing over to the clear right and got pinned on a boulder.  I swam this rapid and ended up having to have my boat rescued.  Then I got back in to run the rest of it, which looked like a cleaner but still technical run.  I still missed it and swam again.  The final part of the rapid is more like a class II boulder garden with much lower gradient.  My boat ran it, but I didn’t.  I ended up with a broken tailbone from the ride through the class III section on my rear.  This section is an easy portage… if you are a dog.  But not so easy for people stumbling around the rocky and brushy steep bank.  I don’t even know how you would get a canoe through there.

There are two more class II rapids before the run eases back into class I for the next mile until you come right into Honeydew.  The take out is an obvious bridge.  I think our friends couldn’t wait to get out of the water and have a beer.

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Directions to put in: (I hope I am remembering this right): From Eureka, take 101-S and exit Redway.  When you get to redway center, you will see a road to the right (before the store) that says it goes to Ettersburg.  Follow that through Briceland until you get to another split and follow the signs to Honeydew/Ettersburg.  Pass the school and then you will get to the bridge.  I’ve heard you can put in here, but it looks tricky.  For an easier sport, don’t cross the bridge, go right on a road before it, and follow it over another bridge to a fork.  Go left at the fork, cross a super scary looking bridge and then take a sharp left that goes down hill to the creek.  The creek runs right into the Mattole.

Directions to take out: From Ettersburg bridge, continue along the same road that came from Briceland and follow the windy narrow road all the way to the Honeydew store.  Looks short on a map, but it takes about 30 minutes.  Park near the bridge.  The take out is on the river right side of the bridge and is steep.  I also saw a baby rattlesnake there.  And poison oak.   I recommend leaving a vehicle there that is capable of taking all the boats and people (and dogs) back to put in.  Not a fun road to have to drive more that twice.

River: South Fork Smith River
Put in: Steven’s Bridge
Take out: Rock Creek Ranch
Class: II
Distance: 5 Miles
Gauge: South Smith Near Hiouchi
Flow: 6000— way too high  
Boat: Stearns Pivot Inflatable Kayak
Shuttle: 15 minutes
Info: Smith River Rafting
Ca Creekin’

This was a great run, but it was going to fast for me to enjoy it without being completely engulfed by fear. I wasn’t really feeling like a swim at 6000 cfs. But after I started to calm down, I could really enjoy the big wave trains. On your drive in, it’s wise to scout the one class III/IV drop which is something called “Pillow.” Know how to recognize it, because it’s an easy portage.. or run it if you’re daring. The rest of the run is solid class II. If you continue past Rock Creek Ranch there are other class III rapids before the traditional take out.

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Name Tour of the Unknown Coast
Distance 50 Mile RT
Difficulty Medium
Ascent 1460 Feet
Start Ferndale


The Tour of the Unknown Coast is a full century ride, and called “California’s Toughest).  Fortunately for us mortals there are 10, 20, 50 mile and 100 kM options.  I took the 50 mile and actually did alright considering I was recovering from a knee injury and so had just started cycling again (on a new hybrid bike, basically, a mountain bike with road tires on it).  I had done a 10 mile on the Hammond trail and a 20 mile ride to headwaters for training.

The ride is really quite enjoyable and it’s easy to enjoy the scenery on the ride out with a soundtrack of Michael Franti.  The climbs aren’t too bad and although some participants were walking, I was proud to say I stayed on my bike and cranked up the hills past the road bikes.  When we got to the flat highway portion, I switch to NPR’s Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me for a couple of laughs.  There is a nice section along Avenue of the Giants before turning around in pepperwood.  We had beautiful perfect weather considering this is Humboldt county and little headwind on the return.  So I rocked out to Pat Benatar through the farmland to the finish.  In the end I was the 53rd person out of 90 to finish the 50 Mile at 5h16m.  Not bad for a first timer.

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