Saturday, August 21, 2010

Lessons from the Riv

Four states, three rivers, many nights under the stars and under the elements, go go go... and rest. In my own house. My own bed. Nesting in for the fall semester, which starts Monday. Dug my heels in this weekend - turned down some boating and climbing invitations in favor of simply just existing in one place, not hounding more highway miles in pursuit of another adventure. Though I do love adventure and the summer has been full of it to a blissful degree. All good things come to an end, and great things are ahead.

Headed up to Jackson Hole last weekend to run the Snake for the first time, just for fun with friends. Completely gorgeous place, amazing canyon, beautiful water. Loved the section. And playing on the water with friends is a riot, I can't even explain the liberation of taking it all in for recreation's sake vs. guiding. Totally different. 

Spent a night at home, did some laundy, threw everything back in the car and headed for Moab. I hadn't been there since last fall - in five summers, that's the longest I've been away. The Colorado Plateau melts me to my core - especially under rainstorm when ruddy waterfalls pour off of Wingate cliffs, when brilliant red stands in the foreground of menacing, ominous black clouds, when entire roads wash away under a crimson flash flood. I saw it all and then some. Reconnected with a batch of people I love. Put in my third trip with a private school from Denver, forty something high school juniors, twenty some canoes, a night of heavy rain and chaos aplenty, and my second unintentional swim of my career. Can I just say that watercraft should be, without exception:
  • Closed hulled and watertight, i.e. kayak
  • Self bailing, i.e. a decent raft
  • Incapable of holding water, i.e. constructed of pontoon flotation, like a cataraft  
Canoes are ridiculous. Whoever thought of putting their bathtub in a river and steering it with a silly stick was  a primitive being from whom we should have learned and evolved technology to include the above three bulleted conditions. I've guided half a dozen canoe trips in my guiding career,each was special in its own right; and I have at least six reasons that the next time this group calls, it's kayak or no deal. 

Going through what would be a benign and unremarkable wave train for a raft, squared up, paddling through the waves, and ten of them break right into the bathtub. Of course it fills up. I'm looking down into the chocolate milk of the Colorado, sitting in my seat still, gear bobbing from its ties, the only thing above water. Canoe is completely immersed up to the gunnels. It didn't even flip. I bobbed out and swam it to shore, got elbows deep with a bail bucket and a few hundred pounds of water, five minutes later back in the current. 

My dear friend and co-guide complimented the speed and efficiency of the self-rescue a number of times, and I was like hey thanks, I still swam. It got me thinking though. I'm no canoodler, I'm a friggin' whitewater guide. There are the things that translate - experience, ability to read the current, medical training, knowledge of the environment, authoritative personality. And then there's the actual art and craft of canoe paddling, which I'm novice to. Inexpert. Inefficient. Imperfect. But I sure can haul a drowned bathtub full of junk through a swift current and hammer out a complete recovery in minutes flat. 

And so it is with life sometimes. We get swamped, we swim without meaning to, we lose our seat and our footing and occasionally flotation itself. There are times when a good and honest recovery effort is the best you can bring to the table, when a flawless execution was simply outside of your skill set. There's a lot to be said for the fortitude to not give up and be swept away, the humility to make ammends/apology, courage to get back in the saddle and go for it again. I give people credit for that - and if you look, it can be seen everywhere. Humanity is amazing.

And canoodling still sucks. 


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