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.
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.
- 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.
So 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.”
Thanks for The Dance, guys…