Not ironically I suppose, the Russian River area seems to hold a lot of nostalgia for Russian people. History holds that in the early 1800's Russians migrating from Sitka, Alaska (which WAS Russia at the time) began to settle in the area, hoping to be successful in the sea otter pelt and agriculture business. They didn't last long there, however, somehow the river was named in their memory. Anyway, most children and grandchildren of immigrant families have fond memories of summer weekends at Russian River. Located just half and hour from Santa Rosa, it seemed to be the getaway for all those Russian families who had settled in San Francisco. My grandparents, who were not wealthy people, along with many of their friends, had a vacation home here. In those days working families could afford such things. My parents have all sorts of stories of beaching and overturning canoes and burning barbecue dinners and berry picking while they visited Russian River in the 50's and 60's. On Sundays, those immigrant families packed up their families and headed off to worship at the Our Lady of Kazan Church, otherwise known as "Vacation Beach Church" for those not quite so lofty, where we set up our group of 48, for a camping adventure.
I had no expectations of this venture turning out well. Our church used to do camping weekends in the past (it had been a good 20 years, because my children had never gone) and there were really solid reasons that we stopped. But our parish had been through a lot and were eager again to spend this kind of time together. Before we knew it, the date was on the calendar, the adventure was announced and within one week the camp registry was full-40 campers, 2 infants, 6 campers staying offsite. Though I had no great inclination toward doing so, in my usual fashion I starting to become involved in the planning process.
Camping in the parking lot on the concrete, one toilet/sink/shower to be shared by all the campers, (though the men were supposed to take their "business" to the portapotties we rented), a small ill equipped kitchen with no pots where groups of 5-8 were to prepare meals for 46, a small fridge to keep all the food. I foresaw lines for the toilet while people took lengthy showers, no ability to dry my hair, a fridge stuffed with leftovers, cold meals not served on time. What was worse--it RAINED the day before we were to leave. It was pouring in Los Gatos when we left. More imaginings of finding shelter to eat and leaking tent seams.
None of this happened. I couldn't believe it!
Everyone ate and ate plenty. The food was creative and even hot! Everyone brought their own adult beverages, making for a happy bunch. The weather cooperated, though a few complained about cold nights. With a little monitoring, the kitchen stayed clean rather than becoming a dumping ground. There were no lines for the bathroom ever, and even the portapotties were bearable (though I made no attempt to try them). We ate and hiked and sang and talked and of course drank. Some of the kids even swam. Our services in the little church were peaceful and joyful. The setting was so green and shady and quiet, you couldn't help but have a good time.
In general, our camping adventure was deemed a success. Russian River was going to be our new yearly camping destination.
There is something about living in these types of conditions that makes you more a family. Brushing your teeth at the same kitchen sink, hearing the snoring in the tent next to you, seeing your usually polished choir director in yawn and stretch mode staggering for the coffee, sharing popcorn with your friends' kids as they sit on your lap. I can't say there is anyone who went who couldn't say our little bunch of 48 was now more bonded.
Well enough about all that. If you are not stopping by Our Lady of Kazan, what can you do?
WHAT CAN YOU REALLY DO ON OR NEAR THE RIVER??
Our camping area had direct access to the river. Despite how much rain we had earlier this year, the river was low and moved slowly. Though the river did not smell bad, there was a lot of green algae like muck making swimming unappealing. We did hear that the following week "they" were going to "open up" the river which would make the river higher. I think a lot of the kids swam in it anyway--we just told them to keep their mouths closed.
The big thing to do on the river seems to be to canoe. Burke's Canoe and Kayak and other such outfitters offer a ten mile self guided canoe tour DOWN the river with a return shuttle for 68$. Not sure how long this takes. We were on paddleboards going UP the river (more on that later) and let me tell you, canoeing looked a whole lot easier. Most of the canoers, however, looked like they had never paddled before. Plenty of out of control drunk people with minimal ability to master steering aiming toward my little board...with me on it. We witnessed couples hurling the f word at each other as they dove in to the hull to avoid being gored by branches, or as they beached themselves on shallow rocks. Ouch. Sounds like a recipe for divorce!
Anyway, you can take your cooler and you can drink while you canoe, something that's hard to do on a stand up paddleboard, though most of those in canoes did not seem to need to be drinking anymore.
I hear these reservations fill fast.
STAND UP PADDLEBOARDING
I love to stand up paddleboard. It is super peaceful while being good exercise and a way to see nature others do not get to experience.
|This is Jeff and his little dog|
I hope he wont mind being part of my blog
riverbank right across the street from
The website today says that 2 hr guided trips are now being offered going in the same direction as the canoes, with a return shuttle included for 70$. This would have been easier than what we did, but was not offered at the time we went. This seems to be the case because of the current high flow of the river--once again, refer back to the river being "opened up" the following weekend.
I must admit that paddling up the river was hard. In some narrower spots the current really fought you and you had to paddle hard. We tended to bunch up in these spots which was no bueno. If you fell off or stopped paddling the current took your board, sometimes right into the person behind you. My son fell off and lost his sunglasses which led to a massive freak out. His board knocked over the young lady behind him and I got pushed into the branches luckily without losing an eye or getting my swimsuit hooked. Also there is not much distance to paddle before it gets quite narrow and clogged by canoers. The canoers are going downstream, are moving fast, have minimal control and are much bigger than you are.
It's just dangerous. Next time I'll canoe.
We did plenty of wine drinking at the campground, but there are plenty of opportunities to visit actual wineries in the immediate area. Porter-Bass seemed to be the closest, located at 11750 Mays Canyon Road in Guerneville. If you are a champagne drinker, Korbel Cellars was actually on the path between Schoolhouse Canyon Road and our camp area. I am not a champagne person, but my godson picked up some brandy and I poured it in my Costco Sangria.
There were a lot of wineries along River Road as we drove from 101 toward Guerneville. Nice to make a day of it sometime!
A great place to go to do some hiking is Armstrong Redwoods State Park, located about 10 minutes away from where we were camped. After paying an 8$ day use fee, you can take a short drive to a redwood shaded parking lot which serves as a trailhead area for hikes of a variety of levels. Many in our bunch, those of advanced years and those with small children chose to take a short stroll of about one mile at quite a slow pace. Another group of about 14 of us took the hard hike, about 5 miles including about 1600 (estimated) feet of elevation gain. In our group, which quickly became only nine, we had a 57 year old and several tweens (9,12, and 13). There was no way I was going to let any of them show me up! What a workout!
We made it to the top
and I lived to tell about it!!
On the way back
A littler hike for the older and the younger
A WORD ABOUT TRAFFIC...
Traffic, no doubt, was ugly. If I can, I will find a better way to do this. We left at 1pm from Fremont, which is already at quite a distance from San Jose, and it took us two and a half more hours to get there. We were in traffic almost the entire way, despite the use of Waze, which always sends you the fastest way.
The way back we left Guerneville at about 1130 and it took us nearly 4 hours to get home, with a quick swing through Fremont again and a quick stop for gas. We almost didn't make it back in time to get to my son's baseball party which started at 4! My poor parents, who left later and had to go through San Francisco, also took forever. There's got to be a better way.
Well that's about it for this post. In a week I am going to Twain Harte/Pinecrest Lake so hopefully I can get creative and get to my computer again! Hope you enjoyed this posting! Now for some pictures!!
Here's our whole bunch in the obligatory silly picture!!
The Our Lady of Kazan Church is rarely used..
too bad, because it is beautiful..
Our services in the little church were sweet and peaceful
All the kids, down to the littlest ones, had a great time
All good things come to an end, and it's time to take our tent down!
We were a little packed in, but no one cared...except, who's snoring??
These are not my kids, but they might as well be...
Everyone was mighty wiped out after an eventful weekend!!