Take Me to the River

I’ve said this before, but I’m a huge fan of rivers.  How they look, how they sound, what they do… pretty much everything.  I didn’t grow up around them (San Gabriel River — sorry, nope.  Maybe long, long ago…), nor have I ever really lived near one, but I could sit beside one or walk along one for hours and I could float on one for days.

One of the things we tried to encourage in the kids prior to the trip was to set a few life skill goals for our Wanderyear.  I declared mine early on to be surfing and river kayaking, hoping that one or both of those might sound intriguing enough to make someone else’s list.  The kids are young enough not to know what they don’t know, however, so we didn’t really get anything too concrete out of them.  Skiing became a priority after our winter Bend visit, and Boogie Boarding seems to have emerged as an undercurrent during our West Coast beach adventures last Fall and our Gulf Coast stops this Spring.  But the river “thing” appears to be mine, into which I’m attempting to drag my family.  Not kicking and screaming, mind you… they appear to have enjoyed all of our river adventures up to now, and what’s more, seem to be fully invested in the idea of moving to a town in which the central recreational activities involve the river which bisects it.  And Keeper has mused on multiple occasions that his ideal house would be on a river or lake.

Unfortunately, the type of kayaking I had been envisioning, the type involving short, hard-hulled kayaks in which you shoot rapids, crest falls, play in standing waves, right yourself once you’re inverted, etc, hasn’t materialized.  That’s OK though, as I feel pretty confident that this type of activity will be easy to engage in once if we reside in Bend.  What we’ve been able to do in its place is a series of family floats (Deschutes, Meramec, Animas…), either in our inflatable kayaks or on guided river rafting tours.

They were all leading up to this one.  Quick background: Tacco has a slew of semi-distant cousins in Utah.  And by “distant” I don’t mean with respect to relationships – we’ve spent quite a bit of time with them, particularly when we lived in Utah, and we’re quite close with some of them.  What I mean is that they’re a large group, none closer in blood relation than second cousin, and at various levels of “removed.”  But we visit with them every time we’re nearby.  Several months ago we agreed to converge on Moab in June for a big rafting trip on the Colorado.  This is something they’ve done many times before, and we were thrilled to be included in it.  The plan was to do two half-day floats and to hang out in the evenings at the condos that they had rented.

I have to admit, I wasn’t initially sure what to expect.  I knew that there were rafting companies that guide trips out of Moab, but when I looked at the satellite pics on Google Maps I didn’t see much of anything that resembled rapids.  I was concerned that the river rafting trips would be lazy floats and that our cousins were overstating things.

Nope.

I should’ve known.  If there’s one thing Utah folk do extremely well, it’s outdoor recreation.  Much like their Colorado kin, they have our country’s natural playgrounds in their backyards, and they grow up learning how to play hard and play well.

They converged, about twenty of them, ages from 6-ish to 70-ish, on two Moab condos with which they were familiar, having stayed there before.   I missed the first night’s gathering due to sciatica and a bit of fatigue, but heard from the others that it was similar to the joyful, barely contained chaos that we had seen many times at their Sunday night family dinners, with the added bonus of people crashing out on whatever horizontal surfaces they could find.

We all met the following morning at their condos, and after the normal waves of group inertia had cleared, we set out to the put-in point a few miles up the Colorado.  We were joined by these folks (loitering at the put-in, not floating with us, just to be clear), who I was assured by my cousins weren’t polygamists, despite appearances.

IMG_0191 Not sure how they knew (assuming they did), but the sum total of my expertise on such things is having watched all of Big Love.  I’m clearly not the guy to ask.

Our flotilla was impressive, consisting of two full-sized rafts, a couple duckies, and two of our three inflatable kayaks, one of which (the single) I commandeered.

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Our cousins had theirs outfitted with waterproof Bluetooth speakers which blared upbeat classics from the last few decades.  It was actually a pretty solid playlist, which tended a bit toward hard rock and away from bubblegum pop, but with a few show tunes thrown in for good measure.  Lots of sing-a-longs and dancing on the bow (which inevitably led to falling off the bow).

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Our girls found that they preferred being hood ornaments to paddling, which was probably better for everyone.

IMG_0211 Woodsprite even swam over to my kayak and assumed the position there.  Though it’s technically a single, it can support 300 lbs or so and she’s no more than 50 soaking wet.  I was thrilled to have her there, and we even braved a few rapids that way.

At one point while sitting there she put me on the spot with: “Dad, tell me one of your stories.”  Which I loved, and obliged her with, but initially struggled.  I’m the guy who has heard thousands of jokes but if asked to tell on one demand, can’t remember any of them.  I need to up my game.

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The scenery was stunning as usual, and frequent dips in the water kept us all at the perfect temperature.  The supercharged water guns helped as well.  Lots of squirting.

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There may be better ways to spend a day, but at the moment, none are coming to mind.

Though the rapids weren’t especially tricky, they were enough to require a little bit of skill and to generate some hoots and hollers out of the crowd.  Once or twice when I decided to eddy out of a rapid in order to get back upstream and play a bit, I came about as close to capsizing as you can without doing so… unexpected at the time, but in hindsight exactly what I was going for.

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At about the 2/3 point we pulled off to a sheer rock face where they traditionally stop to do some cliff jumping.  There’s a low ledge (about 10 feet) and a much higher one (about 30).  I was wondering whether my kids would take part.  They’re clearly beginning to flex their adventure muscles and banish some of the skittishness with which they all started this trip, but it’s difficult to know where their lines are and to what extent they’re becoming willing to push them.  Though peer pressure helps…

Imagine my surprise, then, when little Woodsprite scrambled without hesitation up onto the rocks and launched herself off and into the water.  Yes!

IMG_0198Then Keeper uppped the ante with a forward flip off the 10’ spot that made everyone gasp.  Gasp?  Why?  As I was among the gaspers, I can explain.  He didn’t jump outwards at all.  He basically tucked his head and rolled into the water, in the process clearing the rocks by inches.  He had no idea how hard-core his maneuver was.

And then!  I really need to give a shout out to my son here because he truly slayed a dragon.  Keeper has been an avowed acrophobic for quite a while now.  If you happened to read about Zion and/or Sequoia you’ll remember how difficult some of our hikes had been for him.  Well, check this out.

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He climbed up to the 30’-ish top of the cliff, and having just done that jump myself, I can attest that it was sporty.  It took him quite some time and a good bit of both encouragement from below (though frankly he was probably so far into his head that he ignored us), as well as internal mojo-summoning, but he finally took the leap.  And I think it’s safe to say that we can put his acrophobia to bed.  He’s been working on this for a while, and boom!  He grabbed his fear by the nape of the neck, smacked it around a few times, and tossed it into the abyss.  I’m really proud of him.  Can you tell?

We had pre-positioned food at our take-out, and enjoyed a great late lunch / early dinner – not great because of what we ate, but great owing to our state of mind after being on the river all day and loving the camaraderie.  Costco cold cuts taste so much better after you’ve worked for them, and everything’s better next to a river.

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And then… we did it again. (!!)

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It seemed like such a production the first day, but this was a rafting Trip, not a rafting Day, so we did the entire float again the next day, and day two was just as spectacular as day one.

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There was one difference, and I think/fear I may have had something to do with the changing of plans.  I had mentioned that there seemed to be several rapids further downstream that we had missed, and something to the effect of “man it would be fun…” to extend the day a bit and do those as well.  My cousin to whom I mentioned this let me know that they had indeed done that stretch of river before, and that yes, there were some significant rapids, but there were also some long, slow stretches in the interim.

After a bit of discussion, the group consensus, though that’s a tricky way to describe it, as by necessity you need a few people to just take control and handle things in a group of that size, was to take out at the previous day’s spot, but then anyone who wanted to continue would keep going while the rest returned to the condos.

I was of course among the group that opted to keep going, as was Tacco.  The kiddos headed back.  It was an interesting stretch – much more extreme on both ends.  By that I mean that the rapids were far more challenging, and a thrill in the kayak.  The scenery was better as well, as the canyon deepened in that stretch of river and the moon rose above the canyon walls while the sun headed steadily in the other direction.

But those “long, slow stretches…”  They were indeed long and slow, and an upstream wind complicated things.  The wind blew hard enough, in fact, that we could hardly get downstream – problematic when you’re doing slow-motion battle against waning daylight.  In fact, without steady paddling we floated the wrong way.  Upstream, in other words.  Alone in my kayak I had less difficulty, but still needed to paddle vigorously and steadily for a solid half-hour at a time in order to make progress.  The raft, however, had more exposure to the wind.  I had noted that they were falling farther and farther behind me as I gutted my way down toward the take-out.  What I hadn’t noticed was that they had taken Tacco and her cousin/kayak-mate into the bigger raft and tied the kayak to the raft in order to increase the number of paddles in the water, and that the mood on the raft had transitioned from sing-along show tunes and dance on the rails to Song of the Volga Boatmen, row row row.

We made it of course, but thoroughly exhausted, and just as the last light left the canyon.  As we drove back into town and re-entered cell coverage we were greeted by several concerned texts from the kids.  Fair enough, it was pushing 9PM by this time.

Me, though?  I loved it.  All of it.  We re-joined the group back at the condos for a late dinner and some sharing of war stories and bonding.  Though we joyfully hung out late into the night, Firebolt summed up how we felt like this.

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This is the type of family get-together I want to do… well, pretty much for the rest of my life.

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