Last June my wife and I went to the Otter Bar Whitewater Kayak School in Forks of Salmon, California (AKA The Middle of Nowhere).

otter Bar Map

Here is a link to their web page:

The Otter Bar school is very highly rated and the kayaking program seemed appealing to us. My wife Donna suggested driving so we could take our own equipment, but I saw it as minimally 3 days of driving (at ten hours a day) or four days of driving. We decided to fly. We did decide, however, to bring our own paddles because we love our paddles.

To make that happen, Donna bought a padded bag specifically made for transporting kayaking paddles. That particular bag is no longer available (so it seems), but a link to essentially the same bag is shown below.

We thought we were in good shape because Southwest says that you can check sporting equipment as one of your two free bags. We loaded both our paddles into that bag along with Donna’s helmet, our PFDs and our sprayskirts. We were ready to go.

So, here is how our trip unfolded.
Day One
On the way to the airport (Austin) we started looking at the fine print of Southwest’s policy. I said that you could check ONE ski or ONE waterski in a bag that was less than 80 inches long. Nothing about paddles. So, we decided that, when we got to the airport, we would shuffle stuff around and tell the check-in agent that we had water skis.

When we got to the airport, we discovered that long term parking was full. We had a couple of choices – use off airport parking or garage parking. Because we had the long kayak bag and because we didn’t want to drive to an off-airport site and find it full, we decided to use garage parking. Unfortunately, it cost more than twice as much as long term parking.

Anyway, after we pulled into our parking spot we began the process of shuffling stuff out of the kayak bag and into my bag. That helped us work up a good sweat. After that we had to walk to the Southwest check-in facility. I can tell you that the kayak bag, being eighty inches long, was a bit unwieldy. Donna kept worrying that I would swing it around and clobber someone. When we got to the check-in agent we figured she would measure the bag, ask us what was in it, and so on. Nope. She put a tag on it and told us to take it to the oversized luggage area. That was that.

The flight to Sacramento was not a great deal of fun. There was some little kid behind us crying – I should say SCREAMING – practically the whole way. I wanted to assume that it was a baby who was crying because of the changes in ear pressure, but on accession I could hear the kid yell, “NO!” Just some kid who would not shut up.

Mercifully the trip ended and it was on to get our rental car, a Nissan Armada – big enough to fit our paddles. It looked great but reeked of cigarette smoke. It was really gruesome. Oh, well.

We loaded up the car and made our way to our hotel (we still had five hours of driving to do to get to Otter Bar). After checking in we went to a really nice grocery store that had premade meals. I also bought 6 bottles of wine and a six-pack of beer, thinking that would be enough for six nights. It was not.

On our way to Otter Bar we decided to stop at the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area to do some hiking (to wear off the weight we probably gained from the delicious supermarket prepared meals). Our first, short hike was to Crystal Creek Falls, where we stopped and ate lunch. It was a pleasant spot with a nice view and really cold water we could dangle our feet in.
crystal creek
Then we hiked along the Crystal Creek Water Ditch Trail. The Crystal Creek Water Ditch Trail follows a pioneer ditch that’s been transporting water some 150 years through a woodsy hillside.

A pioneer by the name of Charles Camden, with the help of hired labor, built miles of ditches in the 1850s to bring water to his gold-mining operations, sawmill, orchards and home. The trail follows a portion of the still-flowing ditch and begins at a clean-out house Camden’s daughter Grace had constructed in 1913. The clean-out mechanism is a water-powered revolving rake that snags pinecones, leaves and other debris before the water tumbles on for the remainder of its journey.

The trail goes along the water ditch through oaks, pines, dogwood and big-leaf maples. Manzanita, buckeye and California wild grape are part of the mix too. Along the way are several rusty drainage crossovers that divert seasonal runoff from the ditch.

On one stretch — an area too steep for a ditch to be dug — there’s a 250-foot long trestle supporting a flume. A narrow boardwalk with railing runs alongside the flume. The trestle is a highlight of the hike.

The trail leads to the ditch headworks, skirting around a small rock tunnel. There’s a short stretch of boardwalk and flume before the trail ends at a serene spot next to the creek.

Finally, we made our way to Otter Bar. That first night we had an informal spaghetti dinner and got to meet all the other kayakers. Then – on to bed!

But first – a couple of comment about California. For some reason, the mere mention of California elicits laughter from people because, as everyone knows, California is full of weirdos. But there are some things they do right.

For example, there are deposits on cans and bottles. Also, if you want a bag in a supermarket, you have to pay for it. It may only be a dime, but you still have to pay for it. The result of these “oddities” is that the highways we traveled were virtually free of debris. We could use these policies in Texas, that’s for sure.
Day 2
Day 2 of our trip was Day 1 of kayak instruction. In the AM we spent time in a small pond showing our rolls and then having our rolls critiqued. In the afternoon we spent time on the Salmon River ferrying, eddying out, catching eddies, S turns behind rocks, and so on. Ad infinitum.

Day 3
Day 3 of our trip was Day 2 of kayak instruction. Because the Salmon River was so low, we all drive to a put in on the Klamath Rover where the flow was about 2000 CFS. That made for more difficult eddying out, catching Eddies and so on. We were pretty tired by the end of that day. However, we also got to run some pretty good Class 2 rapids.

Our instructors on the first two days were Rata and Phil from New Zealand.

Below are pictures of Rata and me Rata and a picture of Phil goofing around with one of the students by making him use an SUP with a kayak sitting on it.

We though Phil and Rata were pretty good paddlers, but then we found this video that proves it (duh!).

Day 4
Day 4 of our trip was Day 3 of kayak instruction, but only a half day. Once again, we worked on rolling, this time in the river.
In the afternoon, Donna, I and another student, Helana, decided to hike the Wooley Creek Trail in the Klamath National Forest. It is a pretty long travel that is easy to hike.

One review we read said that the trail didn’t provide many good views. Um…I beg to differ.

At one point you can scramble down an embankment to a clear pool of water with small rapids. Our hike-mate, Helana, decided to ride down a narrow rapid on her butt. I have to say – she was up for anything. Very adventurous. You can see her ride here:

Days 5 and 6
These were the last two days of kayak instruction. We did bigger water, more ferrying, S-turns, eddying out, and so on, only in faster water. The rapids we did were 2+ and 3- and made for a great ride.

Last Day at Otter Bar
It was kind of bittersweet leaving Otter Bar but we were looking forward to getting home and seeing our dogs.
We decided to take a “long cut” along the Pacific Coast Highway, thinking that we would get great views of the ocean and driving through Eureka. Well, we didn’t get much of a view of the ocean and Eureka was not very impressive. It was cold, though, about thirty degrees cooler than Otter Bar.

After Eureka we drove on the “Avenue of the Giants,” a very scenic drive through giant redwoods. A scenic, but short, drive.
After that, it was a long stretch of nothingness – until, that is, we hit an area with wildfires.

We actually saw helicopters swooping down less than about one hundred feet from us to fill their buckets with water as well as a constant stream of fire trucks and emergency vehicles. It turns out that we were seeing just the beginning of the wild fires. We saw smoke all the way to Sacramento.

Finally, we made it to our hotel at around four in the afternoon. It was our plan to shop for dinner, check in and then return our rental car and take the shuttle back. Well, we discovered that we had missed the last shuttle to the airport. That’s right – the hotel did not provide shuttle service after four in the afternoon. I asked the front desk what would happen if someone arrived after four at the airport. The person behind the desk shrugged and said, “Uber? Taxi?” This, I am afraid, is the start of a new concept of “customer service.”

Last Day of the Trip
I was prepared for the flight this time – I put in my earplugs and fell asleep. The parking bill was outrageous, the toll road we take was under constant construction, I missed my exit so wound up driving a half-hour more than necessary, but at last we were home.

We certainly recommend Otter Bar if you want some great whitewater and cushy accommodations. In fact, we had such a great time, just made our reservations for this year!

PS: This time we ARE driving and bringing our own boats. As we found out on the last trip, you never know what you might experience in California.