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August 26, 2012
Kayaks and caverns

Gail watches as our sons and their friends enjoy the Mokelumne River

So far, we have not taken any summer vacation this year. It wasn’t so bad for Gail and Russell;, we had gone on a 30-day cruise earlier this spring. But our sons, Cameron and Joss, were disappointed that they didn’t get to go. So we tried planning various summer trips, including Disneyland in Southern California, but they fell through due to scheduling conflicts. (Joss had summer school, while Cam had a post-graduation internship.)

With summer rapidly coming to an end, we finally settled on a weekend trip up to the mountain house. We had talked for a long time about taking the boys to Moaning Cavern, which Gail and Russell had first visited more than 20 years ago the day they got engaged. In addition, Gail found some information on an actual beach along the Mokelumne River. The boys each brought one friend: Cameron brought his girlfriend Sarah, while Joss brought his school friend Rafa.

The adults had come up earlier in the week to do some construction, so we were counting on the boys to drive themselves up for the first time ever. Cameron would have to drive to Santa Cruz to pick up Sarah, then to San Jose State University to pick up Joss, then wait until Friday afternoon for Rafa to get out of school. They would then drive up to the mountain at the height of rush hour.

Because Cameron is absolutely terrible with directions and navigation (a quality he inherited from his mom), Russell went over the directions several times, providing several maps.

On Friday afternoon, August 24, Cameron called at 3:30 pm to announce that everyone had been picked up and they were leaving. An hour and a half later, Russell called to check in and discovered that they were in Menlo Park, on the wrong side of the bay and in the complete opposite direction of where they were supposed to be.

A 6:30 pm arrival turned into an 8:30 pm arrival. Fortunately, everyone arrived safely and they were all in a good mood.

Saturday was a relaxed morning; everyone took their time getting up and having breakfast. Today’s plan was to go to the beach. Gail and Russell had scoped it out earlier in the week; we knew it would be a 45-minute drive but was worth it. We packed an inflatable raft, an inflatable kayak, several boogie boards and a picnic lunch.

Unfortunately, both Joss and Russell had forgotten their swim suits, so we also had to drive into town to buy some. In the 90-degree heat, this also gave us an excuse to buy some Jamba Juices.

We finally arrived at the beach in time for lunch. Joss swore he was not going into the water (it is freezing-cold snow melt), but he and Rafa went out in the raft. Unfortunately, they launched too far downstream right before the rapids, so within minutes they were both in the water desperately trying to pull the raft out before it was sucked several miles further downstream.

Joss and his friend Rafa try to keep their inflatable raft out of the rapids

The rest of the day went much better, with both the kayak and raft being kept well upstream. At one point, Joss and Rafa tried walking into the rapids to see what would happen. They ended up stuck on some rocks, so Cameron and Sarah went out in the kayak to “rescue” them. All four ended up in the water, desperately trying to pull the kayak out before it was sucked several miles further downstream. Gail ended up having to go in after then and help carry the kayak back along the shore. All in all, everyone had a terrific time.

Cameron’s friend Sarah was the first one brave enough to take a rope swing out over the water

By contrast, Sunday morning required a very early start. Our reservation at Moaning Caverns was 9:00, and it was a good hour’s drive away. Everyone had to get up at 7:00 am in order to get out of the house by 8:00 am.

Moaning Cavern, outside the town of Murphy, dates back to the time of the Native Americans. It is so-named because the wind over the opening would create a moaning sound.

Today, the Moaning Cavern tourist experience features a 165-foot rappel down a bottleneck into a vast underground cavern, followed by a three-hour “adventure tour” of crawling through very narrow spaces. While everyone would do the rappel, Gail could not crawl around due to her shoulders. Cameron also declined due to his claustrophobia. That left Russell, Joss, Sarah and Rafa to take the full adventure tour.

Fortunately, at the last minute Cameron changed his mind and decided to do the full two-hour adventure. Russell gladly gave up his spot. As a result, all six of us made the half-hour rappel, then the four young folk continued on into the caves while Gail and Russell wandered around the grounds.

(It is just as well that Russell passed on the adventure tour. It turned out that his rappel harness cut right into his surgery incision and pinched a major nerve. By the end of the day he could barely walk without intense pain.)

Cameron, Joss, Rafa and Sarah at various points of the 165-foot rappel: a tight bottleneck followed by a free-fall into a cavern

Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the caving adventure, and we celebrated by driving into Murphy’s for a lunch of Mexican cuisine. We then returned to Moaning Cavern, so we could try the 1,500-foot tandem zip line. Russell had to decline due to his injury; Gail also declined because she didn’t want to do it without Russell.

Joss and Rafa on the 1,500-foot tandem zip line, which gets up to 40 mile per hour

Our “summer vacation” came to an end that evening, as we had to drive all the way back to the Bay Area. While the day had been long, the weekend had been far too short. In hindsight, we probably scheduled too much. The kids would have had just as much fun showing off the property to their friends. We hope to plan another family trip up here again, perhaps with more time and more downtime.

Cameron and Joss, muddy, tired and happy after a full day


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