Reflections on Green River

I struggle to put into words objectively my impressions from nine days on the river, which is why I thought it best to let the photos “speak for themselves” in the form of photo album posts.  After nine days away from civilization, it may take me some time for my hindsight focus to adapt from what became a bit of “perceptual narrowing.”  But I think the photos are an excellent analogy of how powerful is nature as compared to our brief, insignificant lives. No matter the disparate joy or sadness, rugged discomfort and challenges, generations of life’s experiences layered in striations on top of one another, they are all a nanosecond on the face of an uncaring canyon carved over multiple millennia.IMG_5157 IMG_5174 IMG_4791

I want to express my gratitude to John and BJ for inviting me along for this experience. I learned so much, not only about respect for the river, ease and comfort while in camp, but also about what works and doesn’t work for me. I was able to learn under their tutelage, taking advantage of twelve years of knowledge and experience on the ever changing river.

My gut instinct in going in to this trip was “It’s too soon to be cut off for that long.” I am still one raw, ragged nerve after losing 40% of my “core family nucleus” in the last six months. But like so many experiences this past year, I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity for fear that it would never line up again. Sure, the river will still be there. But will I?



I have no regrets about going whatsoever. It was an incredible experience. But it didn’t come without it’s own set of challenges.

Here are a few things that didn’t work for me, the things that did, and those in between. These are my experiences alone, and do not represent those of my river mates:

What Didn’t Work:

  • My Food Selections — I attempted to make healthier choices by using the recipes found on the Yummy Life website, but that was like starting a diet on the day you were jilted by a lover. After the fourth night of eating partially cooked noodles with dehydrated chicken, partially cooked rice with dehydrated chicken, or partially cooked cous cous with dehydrated chicken, I hit the wall. I then began feeling sorry for myself, stuck eating bland, tasteless “casseroles” out of a ZipLoc bag while my river mates were enjoying pesto pizzas, roast beef with sage stuffing, fresh tomatoes out of their garden, and  crème brulee’ flamed with their REI torch. Fortunately for me, they were generous enough to share whenever I was humble enough to accept.

 I also misjudged the need to “pack a lunch.” I thought we would be on the river until later in the day, so my lunch choices were Kind bars, beef jerky, and nut mix. But as it turned out, we were in camp nearly every day by noon, so my “trail mix” left me lacking. Suffice it to say, once I returned to Moab, I ate like a refugee for three days.

  • My Fancy $80 REI Camp Chair — This “lightweight, easy to pack, foldable chair with deep, comfortable seat” had spindly little legs that were swallowed up in the loose sand and mud of the riverbank. I was ejected from the chair on more than one occasion, which resulted in “expletives” flying from my mouth, as I tried to right myself like a turtle on it’s back.
  • Dr. Bronner’s “Magic” Soap – It may have “18-in-1” uses, but shampooing one’s fine, thick, color-treated hair should not be one of them. For six straight days, it left a thatch so matted on my head that I couldn’t get a brush through. Take my advice on this one, spend the money for some better quality “biodegradable” shampoo that only has one use…to be kind to your hair.
  • The Elimination Situation – At the risk of TMI, this proved to be more challenging for me than I anticipated. I have long been the outdoor type that has no trouble with nature calls in “the great outdoors.” But when one is camping on a permit in a national park, certain restrictions and containment rules apply. I did not adapt well. Suffice it to say I was happy to return to the Winnie “one foot pivot” (as friend Linda calls it) from the bed to the bathroom.
  • My REI InCamp Sleeping Pad – Although this 2.75” sleeping pad is ultra-comfortable and great for multiple nights use, it does not lend itself to breaking camp every day. The built-in hand pump is inefficient, and takes much longer to inflate than manual inflation, while the large, high-flow openings make manual inflation near impossible. Also, the huge sponge that “powers” the hand pump is a space hog, particularly given its inefficient performance.
  • Long Days and Long Nights in Camp – My need for “perpetual motion” would have been soothed a bit had we been able to spend more hours on the water and less hours in camp. The long days and long nights were not my friend. It wasn’t the absence of the internet as much as it was the presence of time. Too much time. Laying in the dark sleeping bag with nothing to occupy my mind but thoughts of my dearly departed brought way too many sleepless, tearful nights. I brought a book, but I had difficulty getting comfortable enough to concentrate.
  • Early Morning Assembly – As much as I would like to be, I will never be a “morning person.” So waking up at first light to break camp and pack my gear every single day (save for one layover day) was challenging for me. I completely understand the need, (to obtain premium camps down river and avoid afternoon wind) but I have a hard time getting started in the mornings, and always seemed to be the last one ready no matter how early I started. It resulted in a “self-fulfilling prophecy.”

What Worked Well:

  • My Delorme InReach – I purchased this two-way satellite communicator just days before I left, with little time for the learning curve. Yet the device was user-friendly and reliable. The ability to check in and even exchange texts with friends and family once or twice per day offered more comfort than bringing along my “blankie.”
  •  Breakfasts – As much as I grew to despise the “freeze dried flavor” of my dinner entrees, I enjoyed the different varieties of oatmeal each morning. The freeze dried fruits worked well with Bob’s Red Mill Instant Oats. My favorite was Cherry Almond, with Raspberry Walnut being a close second, both topped with granulated maple sugar melted on top. Comfort food when I most needed comforting.
  • BJ’s Color Coded Packing System – BJ is one of the most prepared, organized people I have ever met. As a Search and Rescue Volunteer for the Superstition Mountains, I can’t imagine anyone I would rather have show up to rescue me than BJ. She not only helped me pack and get organized, but she color-coded all of my dry bags with orange or green ribbon according to which hatch they should be stowed. Genius!
  • The Park – It was a real treat, knowing we were floating through one of our most remote, rugged national parks, Canyonlands. The river and surroundings were perfectly pristine. I think I saw maybe one Gatorade bottle gone astray, and that was it. No litter, no graffiti, no tours, trinkets or tee shirts. Just pure, pristine wilderness.
  • The Hikes – Being able to stretch my legs after coming off of two straight months of “high alpine hiking” was a Godsend.
  • The Magnificent Moon and Clear Night Skies – How fortuitous to not only be on this trip during the full moon, but also have the perfect timing of a total eclipse before bedtime! All that was missing was the popcorn.
  • The River – “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” ~ Heraclitus.   Nuff said.

What Tied:

  • The Weather – Although it was unseasonably and uncomfortably warm on the banks of the river, what magnificent, perfect halcyon days we had!
  • The Boat – My TourYak was sleek, easy to maneuver, and a pleasure to paddle. However, getting into and out of an enclosed kayak from steep banks or muddy river bottom as a novice was nothing short of a calamity.  I think I managed it without help once…maybe twice.

IMG_4939 IMG_5012 IMG_5113So there you have it. The story behind the postcards. In hind sight, I probably should have trusted my gut. Too soon. Too raw. Too neurotically emotional. Too wounded to risk allowing myself to get into a position of feeling deprived, depraved, or depressed so far from “home” without an exit strategy.  But as that old Garth Brooks song goes, “My life is better left to chance.  I might have missed the pain. But I’d have had to miss….The Dance.”

(Photo courtesy of Alan)

(Photo courtesy of Alan)

Thanks for The Dance, guys…

25 thoughts on “Reflections on Green River

  1. That bathroom thing? Oh dear. I wouldn’t do well with that either. I think I’d also experience a certain amount of feeling trapped between the tiny kayak and the long days and nights of “waiting”–I could feel your pain. But the scenery is absolutely spectacular, and the eclipse was definitely a once in a lifetime experience. Thanks for sharing the good, the bad, and the in-between. Hope you are happily re=attached to your View and moving on to brighter horizons as you continue to heal from your losses.

  2. Wonderful post Suzanne! You truly captured the essence of the trip. Fantastic experience. Must admit I am pretty much in line with your likes and dislikes. You are right, it was an awful big step to take given the life events that preceded it, but hopefully it will serve as the beginning of your healing process.

    All the best


  3. A good title choice as it captures it all, and as always great pictures. Looking back and reflecting on an experience is often the best way to learn….”if you did it again what would you do differently” that type of thing. Shyness and modesty on expeditions like this often have to take a back seat. But I bet looking back on the whole trip you have thoroughly enjoyed it all, and there are lots of good talking points over a few beers.

  4. I love your decision to let the river do the story through pictures. I could imagine myself paddling down singing paddling songs, probably to the discomfort of my fellow travelers. Your putting the good, the bad and the ugly description in prose was delightful too. We were able to relate to that from two different perspectives. Deede loves day trips and I loved to put everything for two weeks into the canoe and paddle away day after day. I loved eastern rivers, but those Colorado rivers are much more striking and the walls more challenging and spectacular. Now it seems a difficult time to do so much different from what your are used to,with all the personal angst you are feeling. I would love to read your take on this trip in 6 months and then in a year. My belief is that the good will overwhelm the negatives.

    Technology has really changes in the 40 to 60 years since I was an active canoeist. Deede was along for the last ten years. It used to be simpler as we lived off the land or water a bit more and a trout fried in lard at the end of the day was heavenly food.

    Again thanks for sharing and peace,
    Allen and Deede

  5. Yep the restroom thing! Been there………wake up in the middle of the night in a tent in the wilderness with hubby asleep and who knows what outside, bears, mountain lions, scorpions etc and miles from the nearest other humans…………having to step out of that tent in the darkness to go find a place to (well you get the picture). Trailer camping has the advantage that the toilet is two steps away and inside and safe. But to be so far from civilization……………worth it!

    That is a trip I would love to do. My neighbor and his kids did the Greenriver a few years ago.

  6. You’re too hard on yourself! The skinny boat is _always_ the last one loaded, no matter who’s paddling it or what trip we’re on. It’s one of the reasons I switched to the canoe and the reason Kathy is dreaming canoes. ‘Sides that, you always kept the right side up, even when entering and exiting – no small feat! Finally, you’re absolutely right about too many hours – next time it will be a couple days shorter trip OR we’ll launch from Ruby for a 92 mile trip.

  7. Glad to see your summary. There always seems to be a flip side to every excursion. It is a far cry to the kind of traveling we did last summer where we could come and go as our personal need dictated, and then rejoin the activities at will. Not so on the river. I’d be curious as to what you would do differently if you were to go on such a trek in the future. Great pics, the views and solitude that you experienced are not something easily duplicated!

  8. Oh, Suzanne, your post brings back a lot of memories. Our “experience” was only 4 days in the Boundary Waters with canoes, but with many similar feelings. Truly enjoyed reading your thoughts and seeing your beautiful pictures! The quiet and peace on that calm river amidst those beautiful red canyons walls will always be with you.

  9. Your photos are stunning !! !What an amazing trip ! I went on the Colorado for 9 days with a tour group so it was easier as to the food department, etc…. I loved it. Altho it was also hot and I was afraid of that going in as I am not a heat liking kind of person, but getting wet in the cold Colorado river all day solved that problem most of the time. We went thru enough rapids to stay wet a lot of the time.

    Questions?? How hot was it on your trip???
    I don’t see any sign of rapids. Where there any ? or was it mainly floating along?


  10. What a beautiful reflection post, both the narrative and the photos:) I have really enjoyed your photos of this ride down the river. Thanks for the journey!

    I enjoyed reading your pros/cons. The bathroom thing alone keeps me to day activities! Live and Learn…right:)

    Can’t wait to hear about your Red Rock adventures!! Sounds like a lot of celebrating about to take place:) Sweet!

  11. Oh how I loved your post. I laughed, I related (my strong will bathroom story is riding on a bus from Bhutan to Calcutta. Even the bus driver said “you don’t want to use the bathroom” when we stopped. ) Not sure about that many days.. Really laughed at the dinner…they sounded so good at the moment, Right? Solitude is great, but not when you are healing…but you got to see that fabulous Moon. Loved your hair story. At least you didn’t cut it….like me with my swiss Army knife while staying at Machu Picchu…not pretty. Beautiful photos.

  12. Thank you for sharing – your photos are spectacular – I enjoyed everyone and some of your comment during this trip had me laughing out loud. As to the bathroom thing… to forget that part or at least now review it often but glad you shared it as one does wonder.

  13. Loved reading this, Suzanne. Although it was 20 years ago, my 6 days on the Colorado River through Canyonlands and Cataract Canyon stands out forever in my heart and soul. We passed the Confluence of the Green and the Colorado, and I thought that someday I would love to float the Green. You did it. Yeah. The bathroom thing. Pack it in pack it out. LOL I was lucky enough to be with a great group called WomanTrek, just me and six women I didn’t know in a paddle boat with our two women guides. Unlike you, they cooked for us, one of them handling the oarboat with supplies. We were on the river all day long and nights were short. Hikes were fabulous. If you might like to try it again, Sherri Griffith does a fabulous job through Cataract. Maybe when you are less raw, and maybe the rapids and the hiking and the long days on the river would be more to your soul. Oh oh…your photos made me miss the river…and remember.

  14. Wonderful posts about this trip. That is definitely something I’d like to do.

    One recommendation I’d make is take a paper-white kindle rather than a book. They’re amazing for reading in bed. They’re small, light and I can go for a month without a recharge. Laying on my side I can prop mine against a pillow or towel and read hands free. I don’t camp without it anymore.

  15. You took Dr. Bronner’s soap! You didn’t try to brush your teeth with it – as the label suggests – did you? I did, once, 45 years ago. Disgusting memories last a long time.

  16. Great adventure on the river of life! Enjoyed your pictures and descriptions of what works and what doesn’t. So much for the magic soap. Happy Birthday!

  17. Great trip report and fantastic pictures. I have looked at paddling the Green a couple of times the last few years. Hopefully one of these days I’ll take the plunge. I love the fact that you only floated or paddled a few miles each day, rather than the usual trips of paddling for 6-8 hours each day and the rush of getting going each morning and the late setup in the afternoon. I just came back from an 16 day raft trip down the Colorado river in the Grand Canyon (226 miles) (Oct 2-17) with AZRA ( While I loved the trip and highly recommend the trip we didn’t have enough time each day for hiking or just relaxing.

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