This summer found me in two situations repeated from last year: (1) I was in Utah again, and (2) I was canoeing again. We hitched up with the same canoe outfitter as last year and also booked our trip with some of the same folks as last year. It was fun to see them again, and we had confidence in the quality of the outfitter, whom I would fully endorse to anyone: Centennial Canoe.
As we just got our feet wet, so to speak, last year on a weekend trip, this year we went a little longer on a 5-day excursion down a 60-mile stretch of the Green River. I had been expecting that on this trip we would find ourselves in the company of a lot of other canoeing groups, but we saw very few other people, and no rafts or other boats, just the occasional canoe. So it was very peaceful, and the landscape was simply splendid -- surrounded by high rock walls of red and gold streaked with black desert varnish, in shapes that stimulate your imagination the way clouds in the sky do. And every morning the river was lined with reflections of the towering rocks and bushy banks.
We were there in kind of “middle water.” It was no longer high water … our head guide pointed out where the water line had been just a couple weeks earlier. But it also had not receded to low water levels. This made finding campsites a little more difficult as the low water sights were still under water and the high water ones were no longer accessible unless you wanted to beach your canoe a long ways out, as you could no longer paddle to the site.
Our second day on the river was one to remember. Not necessarily in a good way except that in retrospect one always feels some satisfaction in accomplishing a difficult task. First we found ourselves in a doldrums, practically no current to ride. That wasn't bad, but we just wished for a little help. But then the sky started filling with clouds. Then the clouds turned to gray, and then the wind picked up. Then it picked up more and came directly against us as a head wind. Then wavelets started to form in the water. We steadily paddled harder and harder to stay headed downstream but our efforts became less and less effective.
The guide told us to stay paddling close to the shoreline. Anytime the wind seemed to wrap its fiendish fingers around our bow to pull us away, I started to panic and beg Erik to direct our bow more toward shore. He warned me that we might hit the shore, and once or twice we did, but I was far less concerned about dealing with that than I was about getting sucked back into the open water in the middle of the river. Well, until we hit shore once and it turned the canoe backward … in order to get headed back downstream, we had to put our nose back toward the open water and I was so damn scared of getting sucked back out there into the middle of the river and stuck sideways to the waves.
When I’m truly frightened over something or anxious or nervous, I don’t have qualms about admitting it. In fact, I mostly can’t help myself from doing so. Largely what I crave as the consequence is for somebody to tell me what to do to deal properly with the situation. I’m quite good at following instructions under duress … I don’t freak out and cease to listen; I freak out and am grateful for the direction and focus on it. We stopped again along the shore as the wind became fierce, all the canoes near one another, and this is where I confessed my fears and anxiety to the boat that had pulled up next to us. As luck would have it, the peeps inside it were very athletic types of folks and Bill had formerly been a rafting guide. I think probably they would have preferred not to barge up with somebody, but I imagine my fear and worry was palpable to anyone near me, and they sweetly offered to tie themselves to us to give us stability in the wind. Nearly everyone else coupled their canoes as well and we paddled on. Our kind paddle pals pictured here:
Being paired up like this did greatly relieve me. So this was good … only problem was, though we all gained some stability in the wind, it still took a lot of strength/effort to paddle against it and we were having some trouble locating a suitable campsite. We passed several which, to the detriment of our morale, had some shortcoming or other … like it was already occupied, or it was too muddy or some other problem. And so we had to keep going and going. I’m sorry to admit I was secretly relieved to see that others in the crew seemed as beat as I was. To look at them, they seemed to be paddling along no problem; I was feeling very wimpy … but maybe I looked the same to them. However, the confessions of exhaustion poured out once we got to camp. The next photo here illustrates what two utterly exhausted people look like when they are happy to be finally at camp.
Our first steps on shore, though, were fraught with horror, as we were greeted by swarms of mosquitoes. At that point, so exhausted, I thought it was going to be a crappy end to a difficult day and didn’t feel very happy. I half expected wolves to start howling and ghostly voices to fill the air maniacally laughing -- the place might as well go ahead and be haunted, too. But once we got more inland to where we could set up our tents out of the forested area, the skeeters thinned to a tolerable, if not ideal, level and we all relaxed.
The next morning, thankfully, was calm and gorgeous. We paddled serenely to our next destination, making a pit stop at lunch to climb up a steep hill to get to a saddle that overlooked the river at the narrow end of a giant oxbow; by giant I mean like 7 miles long from one end of the bow to the other. It was interesting to be standing in this saddle and we could see the river on either side of us, but it would be two days before we were padding through the water on the other side, as we stopped to make camp for 2 nights in the middle of the bow.
One way to relieve the heat (over 100 degrees in the daytime) while on the river is to engage in water fights. There are few things as heartwarming as a bunch of adults on the upper side of adulthood blasting each other with super-soakers at point-blank range and frenetically ladling paddle-fulls of water onto each other. Erik got the best revenge, I think, when we were close enough to our enemy canoe for him to scoop a bailer-full of water and stand up and pour it all directly onto the head of our foe. The only time our bailers are really necessary for the chore they were designed for is after a water fight … One time Erik thought he was being silly wearing the bailer on his head, but a breeze knocked it off and we spent the next 10 minutes wasting paddle strength frantically paddling 360s around the stupid thing trying to get close enough to grab it back before it sank. What’s funny is that Erik already lost is real hat in the breeze on the first day. Spent the rest of the time wearing the sweet little Holly Hobby-esque yellow hat fellow canoer Eli gave him. It covered his head/neck sufficiently but was pretty funny to behold. Normally I personally detest hearing hats; they make me too hot. But canoeing in the baking sun is about the only instance in which I will wear one and, further, be grateful for it.
There were two other fun abandoned vehicles. It was a good imaginative exercise to picture them driving up this mountainside. Such an unlikely place to find vehicles! I was pretty pleased with the self-timer shot I set up and managed to get in it before the timer ran out. You probably already know I have a fondness for self-timer shots.
That night as the sun went down and turned the heights of the canyon walls into golden spires, we began festivities for the venerated “Hawaiian Night.” A tradition among the group of folks we were traveling with. About half of the canoe group belonged to a Denver hiking club and the other half were independent folks like ourselves. But we had canoed with the hiking club last year so knew about Hawaiian Night. One fun thing about canoeing over backpacking is the amount of luxury and frivolous stuff you can bring, as there is a lot of room in the canoes. So we had not only costumes provided for us, but strings of festive paper lanterns and little speakers hooked up to an iPod to play Hawaiian music. This is a completely random thing to be doing on a river in Utah, which is what makes it so fun. In order of appearance: (1) our 3 guides, here about to serve up another delicious meal, (2) Eli and Heidi, the Hawaiian night party coordinators, (3) me and Erik in costume ... the bunny ears photo bomb professionally executed by fellow canoer Gia, you can just barely make out a few strands of her skirt behind Erik.
We pushed away from shore early the next morning as we had a fair amount of ground (river) to cover to make it to our pull-out spot by the time the shuttle vehicles were supposed to meet us there. We finally passed by the saddle which we had climbed a couple days ago at the waist of the oxbow. Along the way we passed rock formations that made Erik and I both think of Persepolis, which we had just seen a few months ago in Iran. I had been musing how they looked like ancient ruins, especially of one of the palace complexes in Persepolis, then Erik voiced my thoughts out loud and claimed they were his. The similarities in structure were striking enough I guess I'll have to give him credit for having his own thoughts like mine.
And so, dear reader, we come to the end of a short but sweet adventure in a beautiful landscape. One odd phenomenon that pervaded the trip was how Erik always ended up sitting next to the wine bags provided by Centennial every night for happy hour. I'm not sure if it's a biological thing like hummingbirds to nectar, or a physics thing like a magnetic field or some sort of gravity well. Anyway ... as I lay down in my tent each night, I had that awesome feeling that I only get every so often -- that everything is right with the world.