Getting to Moab - Page 1 of 3

[Waves of clouds on the flight to California.]  
Waves of clouds on the flight to California.  

Flying to California

For me, the trip started with a cross-country flight from Maryland to the San Francisco Bay area in California. When I fly, I always try to get a window seat so I can watch the landscape scroll by, like a big full-color topographic map. There are so many fascinating details to observe and ponder, made easier by getting the "big picture" from high altitude. As a little game, I try to spot some of the more obvious man-made features like airports, racetrack ovals, and baseball diamonds.

I was able to identify some landmarks at the beginning of the trip, as we were climbing over central Maryland. Starting at the ridges west of Hagerstown, MD, I saw a little snow on the ground which got heavier as we went west. The ground was fully snow-covered from western Maryland up to western Nebraska, where the ground suddenly became bare again. Heading further west, clouds obscured the ground until just east of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. At that point, the clouds became broken and scattered and revealed that the "lowlands" of Colorado had no snow, although the mountains were pure white. The mountains looked spectacular in my binoculars.

During the flight, I saw one big river and two very big rivers. The big river appeared early on and probably was the Ohio River. The next river must have been the Mississippi, the third the Missouri. They all were on a grand scale and obviously drained a large portion of the continent.

Approaching the Rocky Mountain front, the boundary between the plains and mountains was very abrupt and dramatic, with a huge fault scarp at the transition. The mountains were spectacular, with many high ridge lines and lower tree-covered slopes, all snow-covered. Many mountain valleys had obviously been scoured by glaciers. Partway through the Rockies, a solid undercast reappeared, obscuring the ground.

[A view of California from the airplane.]  
A view of California from the airplane (see text for description).  

At one point, I saw another jet cross our path and scoot under us; it was easily visible due to its contrails. The jet was climbing and eventually rose to nearly the same altitude as our own jet. During our flight, the captain had the air traffic control frequency patched through to the armrest sound system. There was quite a bit of activity with pilots reporting light chop and trying to avoid it (by requesting a different flight level). We had a strong headwind (from the west at 80 knots!), and our crew tried other altitudes to hunt for reduced headwinds.

By the western portion of the Great Basin, the undercast had dissolved into broken and scattered clouds. There was occasional spotty snow cover on the highest ridges, otherwise the ground was bare. I was surprised by the amount of visible water in lakes and braided streambeds, despite being over the desert. The water was readily visible due to the sun reflecting from the surface like a mirror.

Once over California, the majestic Sierra Nevada mountains were high and snow-covered with occasional cloud cover. I got a good picture of the eastern Sierras while passing near Mammoth Lakes in east-central California (see photo). This view is looking towards the southeast, with Lake Crowley in the center of the picture. The Owens River proceeds from the bottom center of the picture to Lake Crowley, then diagonally upwards and to the left into the Owens River Valley. The river then proceeds diagonally to the upper right, heading towards Death Valley in the far distance. The Sierras are on the right (the John Muir Wilderness), and the White Mountains (just a bit) and Inyo Mountains are on the left. The visibility in the photo is about 100 miles.

Trip Preparations

My friend John picked me up at the airport and we drove to his house to prepare for the trip. Since the paddling trip will be for six days through a desert wilderness in the chilly early spring, we'll have to carry a substantial amount of gear with us in the boats. I brought some of my gear with me on the airplane, but there was too much to carry as baggage. Well before I left Maryland, I had packed up three big boxes of gear and shipped them UPS to John's house in California. I have a Klepper folding kayak and I brought some of it with me on the airplane (the long bag, which would have been difficult to ship), but I shipped the rest of the Klepper by UPS (the hull, frames, rudder, seat, etc.). Klepper makes a point in their literature that the kayak is easily transported (even as airplane baggage), which is true, but any practical trip will have so much additional gear that you're bound to have difficulties if you try to carry all of it as baggage. It turned out to be much easier (though costly, over $100 each way) to let UPS carry most of it rather than me lugging a huge pile of stuff on the flight.

John has two wooden kayaks that he and a friend built (the Cape Charles model by Chesapeake Lightcraft), but we had to do some work on one of the boats to finish the hatches and the seat. The next day, we transported the boats to a local reservoir to test them. I test-paddled one of the wooden kayaks, and found it to be somewhat faster and easier to paddle than my Klepper. On the other hand, the wooden kayak was somewhat tippier than the Klepper (which is not tippy at all, almost like a canoe). While at the reservoir, we met a man from Austria who had an accent just like Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The boats worked just fine, so we returned to his house to start packing the car. He has a small Subaru station wagon with four-wheel drive and a roof rack, a very nice vehicle for a trip like this. By the time we had all the gear loaded, the car was completely stuffed. We had the two wooden kayaks strapped to the roof rack and carried my Klepper unassembled inside the car. We also had a three-person raft which was actually the inflatable dinghy from John's sailboat. In case we needed emergency propulsion to go upriver, John also brought the small outboard motor that goes with the dinghy (although we didn't have to use it). One reason the car was so full is that we had boats and gear for four people, since we'll be meeting two other people in Moab. The two other people aren't experienced kayakers, so we had to bring four boats and full gear with us in the little overstuffed Subaru.

The trip continues on the next page, as we drive from California to Moab, Utah.

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