The wind is quiet, the stars twinkle in the heavens, and the night is calm. I sleep like a rock and do not wake up until 5:30 a.m. The sky is cloudy but the air feels invigorating. I am feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the tent packing task. This morning, I have twelve rocks to throw out of my sleeping abode before we even begin. The thought was that they would keep us from blowing away if necessary. It seems like a whole day’s work before breakfast.
Bananas with blueberries, French toast, and sausage is being served. Along with my hot chocolate, it hits the spot. By 9 a.m. and launching time, the sky has begun to clear. Everyone is in the big rafts today as there, apparently, are larger and more numerous rapids on this stretch of the river. It also seems warmer temperature wise with a cloudless sky allowing for sustained hot sunshine.
The guides start out rowing and every so many minutes, we navigate a new rapid. Dodging rocks is the main activity necessary in maneuvering through these low water rapids. Several times throughout the morning, we get hung up on a rock in the churning rolling water. This leaves Marla with the necessity of coming up with a strategy for getting off the hindrance. Marla is a 46-year-old high school English teacher during the school year. She is thin and of a slight build – not at all your body builder type. Soon instructions are issued to haul heavy objects to the opposite side of the boat and then more instructions for jumping up and down. Colin has been recruited for our raft as he is a big helper in getting us unstuck.
It is right before lunch when we beach our rafts along the shore just above the class III rapids known as Joe Hutch Canyon Rapids. The purpose of the stop is to allow Haden and Marla to scope out the rapids and develop a plan of approach. They confer for a few minutes and then we push off again. The dips and rolls are a thrill for me, and our raft makes it through the rapids with no issues. Marla is delighted when she looks back and realizes that Haden is stuck on a rock and not her. Haden is much more experienced and almost never gets hung up, so she feels accomplished.
Once we are through these rapids, it is time for lunch on another sandy beach. Some of the group jumps into the river to cool off. I opt to dump water on myself instead. The water is muddy, I can’t swim, and hearing aids don’t do well in water. I tell myself all these reasons but mostly, I just don’t want to be soaked all the way to my underwear. While everyone cools off in the water, Marla and Haden pull out a makeshift table and throw together a taco salad wrap. It is scrumptious. They are wonderful cooks.
Once our stomachs are full, our guides make a decision to lash our rafts together again and put the outboard motor back on. We stop at a very muddy beach for this task. Jumping off the boat lands one in a thick black mud that sucks off my sandals. Getting the motor back on seems to be a struggle and then it doesn’t want to start. Haden and then Alex pulls the start cord over and over before it finally sputters to life. Through calmer water, we motor along at a faster pace than rowing allows. A quick decoupling occurs at the head of a rapid before we tumble through it. From there on out, each guide rows his own raft until close to supper time. Marla is tired and slowing down from exhaustion. Two other groups are closing in leading to concern for getting a campsite. Therefore, a decision is made to have Haden motor on ahead and claim the next site. We will catch up later.
We roll into the campsite around 6:30 p.m. This evening the sun is shining, at least, but the wind has picked up. The site is located on a sandy hill and our choice for tent placements appears limited. I sigh as I consider the work ahead to erect our tents. Dawn and I drag our fifty-pound waterproof bags up a steep sandy hill. My breath comes in huge gasps and my feet slip back in the sand each time I take a step forward. There are little thistles growing sporadically and I manage to kick a couple during my trek. Ugh! Each time requires sitting down and pulling out the thorns. As we pull out my tent, the wind howls and it threatens to blow away into the great beyond. While Dawn hangs on for dear life, I collect ten rocks to weigh it down. Even that is not enough. Beads of sweat roll down my face and into my eyes. This is exhausting and frustrating. I am already dehydrated and becoming more so by the minute. Inside the tent, the temperature is like an oven. The sand which has collected the heat all day radiates it back to me like a floor with radiant heat. Finally, everything is situated, and I flop into a lawn chair to wait for supper. I am so glad this is the last night as I have had enough fun erecting tents.
With a little hydration, I recover enough to enjoy the tasty evening meal of mashed potatoes and steak. Then it is time for bed. The night starts out wild and noisy again as the wind picks up more shortly after flopping out on top of the sleeping bag. It whistles across the canyon and the tent rocks back and forth. Will I and my ten rocks hold it down. I hope so! Off in the distance, I hear the clattering sound of some of the kitchen equipment flying freely across the beach. I lay there awake for a couple of hours listening to the gale and the roaring water of the rapids close below. I finally decide I probably won’t blow away and drift off to sleep.
It is light when I awaken at 5 a.m. Dawn and I soon begin our last day task of taking down the tents and stashing our gear in the waterproof bags. We have become experts at creative stuffing. It goes much faster this morning, and I am soon ready to lug my bag down to the raft staging area. In my early morning wisdom, I decide to roll the heavy bag down the hill instead of carrying it. I aim for the open area between the tables and give it a push. But instead of rolling where I expect it to, it makes a left curve towards the liquids breakfast table. Oh no! I see horrified aghast looks on the faces of everyone on the beach as I make a running dive after the runaway bag. I catch it just as it touches the table leg.
“Good catch,” Alex comments, “That was the save of the day.”
Breakfast for me is the last of the hot chocolate, some grapes, and a bagel. Our guides are pushing to get moving this morning and soon have the boats loaded and ready to go. The sun has topped the canyon wall and it promises to be a sweltering day. The family of three starts out in the kayaks while Dawn and I each choose a raft. I decide to spend the day on Hayden’s raft for a change. Hayden is the lead guide on this trip and the one with the most experience. He is tall and thin and sports an unruly brown beard and matching hair. I learn Hayden is the son of a Mission Aviation Fellowship pilot having been born in Africa. He loves the outdoors and doing these trips. On Hayden’s raft, I actually have a backrest and spread out in the scorching sunshine. This is our last day and we have twelve miles to go.
Hayden and Marla methodically row through calm water intermingled with short rapids. The water today is extremely muddy indicating a stream entering from storm runoff in another canyon. We stop for lunch on a sandbar around 12:30. It consists of a tasty wrap of lettuce, tomatoes, and other goodies.
After lunch, Haden makes the decision to strap the two rafts together again and start the outboard motor. The kayaks are strapped to the sides, and everyone jumps aboard the extended boat. Soon we are tootling along at a nice clip. The sun beats mercilessly down on us. It is hot. I am guessing it is close to one hundred degrees and everyone is eager to make some time towards our takeout location. Pouring water over myself does help but it dries in as little as ten minutes. We cover five miles in record time. Then our guides break the rafts apart again for the last 2 ½ miles. Alex’s family resumes their trip in the kayaks.
“Look, some mountain sheep,” someone points out. Along the riverbank are a couple of ewes, a ram, and a couple of babies. We have been rewarded at the last minute with spotting one of the animals we have been looking for our entire trip. Then around a few more curves, through a long rapid, and there is the concrete ramp for our takeout. As we drift up to the shore, an elderly man with a PFD on is standing in the water.
“Sir,” Marla calls, “You need to move so we don’t hit you.”
The man takes a step and falls right over. He floats in the water. It is evident that he is unsteady and unable to get up by himself.
“Do you need help?” Marla inquires.
“No,” he responds, “I’ll just float over here to the dock.”
As I watch him, he struggles to get on his feet. He grabs a stick floating in the water and tries to stand up but can’t. I can just see him floating through the rapids just beyond the dock and drifting down the river.
“I think someone needs to help him before he floats away,” I implore Marla.
Is he not with anyone? Is the question. She finally goes looking for someone who might be family or friends. Eventually, two men do appear and haul him out of the river by his flotation device. Talk about leaving someone in a perilous situation.
A cool air-conditioned spot right now will feel really good. But nothing surpasses a few days in the vast wilderness God has created. It was a trip of solitude away from the chaos and craziness of the everyday world.