Sometimes we are just in rough waters and it feels like it’s gonna be forever, and we aren’t sure we are going to make it. Sometimes we are just, stuck. Sometimes it feels like both and we aren’t sure what to do. Sometimes we get lucky.
I recently had the glorious opportunity to head out on an adventure. An adventure of the truest kind for me because I had no real idea where I was going, or exactly how I would get there. I just knew it would be rapid. I had relatively short notice, and a few moments to plan but a wise guide to go with and my brain had been acting stupid for quite a while. I knew I really needed…something. Go.
Adventures are amazing and fraught with disasters in any great story. It is after all in failure that we learn so much about ourselves and the world we live in. I don’t go on true adventures much. I’m rather like a hobbit, used to staying at home and having second breakfast. I certainly don’t go out on adventures without knowing what could happen. Call me a planner or more honestly someone with occasionally crushing anxiety, the idea of adventure without my regular crew, where I wouldn’t have control over the situation at all was a scary thought. I would most certainly have to borrow the bravery of others. I committed to going. But, on the first day I almost chickened out…almost.
The four or so hour drive up to the NW corner of the state was beautiful. Colorado really is hard to beat when it comes to the changing landscapes and vistas that stretch on for days. Sections of road where the road truly meets the horizon beckoning for a longer drive. Out on those plains that probably aren’t really plains you can see the rain that is coming at you. AT you. The black sheets stretching from the clouds to the ground that you know are full of raindrops the size of a child’s fingernail, beautiful from a distance they warn you of what’s coming. You can smell the rain miles and minutes before it finally reaches you. We saw the rain on the horizon, we were going to get wet. At least I had a rain jacket packed…somewhere in the perfectly named dry bag.
The rain came. Big rain as the clouds had promised. In somewhat typical fashion, the rain left as quickly as it came as we pulled into the camping spot for the night. The next morning we would be hopping on a raft to ride down the river for a few days. A river raft, a few days, not the rapid paced world of email blips and traffic lights. River, raft and a few rapids.
My buddy having taken these types of trips before not this one mind you, so an adventure for us both, had most of the gear for me to borrow. A break in the rain gave me a window to practice putting up the tent I would be using camping along the river. I grew up camping, this wasn’t a stretch and I was comforted by the overwhelming scent of sage after a rain. Desert petrichor. But, as a planner shh yes a planner, it is a good idea to know how to use the equipment before you really need it. Great. Put up the tent. Super easy, I could totally do it by myself. I have a moment of confidence and comfort in that I would be able to do this, at least I could do this part. I can do this.
I toss my dry bag into the unsteaked tent. The dry bag that contains all of my warm clothes, and my sleeping bag…the thunder booms and the big rain comes again. Hop in the truck to wait it out. At least the rain fly was on the tent. Sitting in the truck for a few moments, rain coming down hard enough to make it hard to see out the windows I turn my head.
Oh, Fuck. Where is the tent?
Hop out of the truck, in untied hiking boots and begin to run. The wind had picked up, and a gust had taken the tent. I look nearby, nope. I look to the river. The tent and my bag are floating down the fucking river. IN THE RIVER. Running next to a river after your tent and clothes the day before the adventure is even supposed to start, is not exactly a good omen. Well, shit. Thank the all the gods, a dead tree snags the tent and my buddy hops in waist deep to wrangle the dry bag out of the zipped tent and the tent out of the gratefully not to rapid, but deep river. Hero move for sure.
I should go home, what the fuck was I thinking. The Bitch voice was loud for a few…
Set up a makeshift clothesline, change out of wet clothes and hang out the tent to dry, my stuff actually pretty much dry in the dry bag. Woot. The sun comes out to shine, and the air is filled with that comfortable scent of almost Thanksgiving cooking. More people begin to arrive and each time, they ask questions about why the tent is on a clothesline. They all get the story and a laugh. Every one of the perfect strangers offer to let me borrow gear and have a beer. Ok, maybe I can do this after all. I packed the dry tent that night and slept in the backseat of the truck, because.
Morning. Get out the nifty new notebook I planned on journaling the adventure in. Grab a piece of sage to put in the pages to keep me comforted. I sit on a big rock a bit away from camp staring at the river and questioning myself. If the adventure started with the tent floating down the river what else was I in for. In classic gaming nerd style I can hear myself thinking what could possibly go wrong. Newly introduced human decides to ask if I’m journaling and if he went pee right here would his name make it in the story. I laughed and said sure. So he did…there ya go Eric, I told you so. Ok, so this group gets comfortable quick. I would understand this as the days went on just why, the quickness of the tribe.
It was cold. Like hand warmers in neoprene mittens cold. I shivered a few of the days with a smile on my face, often a beer in hand… looking up. Grateful to be there, wishing for the sun. Enamored with my surroundings.
Trying to describe what it was like is hard even for a person like me who loves words. Awesome, in the truest meaning of the word. Looking up at canyon walls laced in patterns of Paleolithic power in shades of pale whites and pinks visible now because of patient perseverance of passing periods of time, the perception I held of myself became problematic. I am so small. I am insignificant. I stared at the world around me and realized that we are really just specks of insignificance, and it brought me calm and gratitude. Thousand foot cliff walls striped like tigers. Rocks so cool I absolutely had to lick them. Which much to my joy, made the others on this trip laugh and make their day. They enjoyed watching me be my four year old self testing rocks by licking them and gleefully pointing out how cool everything around me was…and that that rock really looks like a Monkey.
I was doing it. I was on an adventure. I washed my hair with lavender soap in a stream feeding the river. I listened to and hugged people that I never would have met in real life. I learned a lot about how the vocabulary of rafting is very different than that of a river fisher, but we both love, appreciate and read the river. I laughed, a lot. I thought a lot about the power of the earth and how that power is in us all. I remembered that I am braver than I think, and that what I so often take for granted is absolutely what others wish they had. I saw parts of this planet that few have ever seen, the only way to see it is on a river through rapids.
Then, I understood exactly why a trip full of strangers quickly becomes your friends, your tribe. A class 4 rapid. Know the flow. Read the river. Read the rapid. Know when to do the rafting things that need to be done, which side to try, watch out for the big rock, learn from those that go before you…skills. The group of us had quite a few rafts and a few kayakers. The new rule I learned is that rafts carry their stuff and they pull you out of the water if shit goes awry. It does, because adventure. It did.
One of the rafts flipped at the end of the run. Nobody hurt, nothing lost. Kayakers to the rescue to grab the dude and tug boat his raft to shore. Lucky. That night cemented for me the feeling of community, that I so crave. A group of people who look out for each other. That oh so cheesy metaphor that life is full of rapids and sometimes you wreck. Scout ahead if you can, commit when you get there and in case of disaster, there really are people who will help you. You just gotta go through it.
I learned so much from that adventure alone I learned, I’m really not alone ever. I stepped out of my comfort zone and onto a raft and into a circle around a fire and made new friends. Sitting on a raft surrounded by literally millions of years of history, I remembered just how insignificant my few years here are, and to enjoy them as much as I can. Truly the best gift from an unlikely adventure. I wrote in my little book, go on more adventures. Lick more rocks.
There…and back again.
I had promised myself to go on more adventures. I remembered how short our time here really is and then I got the chance to go…to the Gates of Lodore. Full on Monkey brain, this is of course a trip to Mordor. I was literally not allowed to not go. I had to go, and destroy the ring.
Ok so really, it was the kick ass opportunity to go on another different adventure down the river with two of my buddies. This time, different nerves but I kind of knew what to expect. A new group of people that I had never met, but I had done this before. I could do it again. Just go with the flow.
We arrive early to the camp, well before any other folks from the trip were there. Take the camp chairs down to the river to sit and cool off. It wasn’t going to be a cold trip. It wasn’t going to rain. It was at least 100 freaking degrees. This time we would be grateful for shade more than sun. No major disasters to start, but I had an odd sense of knowing it would be fine, if there was one anyway. Spend a few hours playing in the shallow in the sha ha low… to cool off, look for rocks and find a crawdad. I immediately think of Where The Crawdads Sing and the power of nature and the feminine, Mother Earth after all. Looking down the river at the Gates, the awe and insignificance begin to return to me as well as remembering I hadn’t brought a ring. Nerd fail. One simply does not forget the ring.
The last trip was an epic accomplishment for myself, and although I went without a focused intent I was reminded that life is short and that we should really try to enjoy it and be kind. This time, this trip I had the seed of intent. I knew about rafters reading the river and literally going with the flow, it seemed a good thing for this anxious human to practice. But there was one small problem. I needed a ring for the Gates of Mordor, I was going to sacrifice it in an effort to let shit go and go with the flow. Major nerd philosophical metaphorical therapy, or whatever.
At the first campsite, I learn the river is running low. Really low. like bumping rocks down the river low. Not at all like what I had experienced before. That’s ok. Thinking fondly of my old camping days near Markleeville when I would sit in a meadow and braid grass, the idea finally came to me. I knew what to do. I began braiding strands of leaf to make the ring. Nine strands in all to rule them all, ok not really. How about just being able to rule yourself. Quit worrying about the things that are out of your control, and lets be honest with myself…most shit is not what I can control. I had made the ring. I looked at the map and made a decision as to where I would ceremoniously sacrifice the ring, I would let it go.
I spent more of this trip looking down at the river and the flow than up at the sky, the river not so rapid and at times smooth as glass with the reflections of the epic cliffs clear enough to wonder if you were upside down. We got truly stuck a few times on the river, but there were people there to help. Dragged the raft through a sandbar more than once, again when you are stuck it is ok to ask for help. Really, surrounded with the right people, they notice you’re stuck and are ready to help anyway. Fellowship. We bumped into a cliff in very slow motion, distracted by a beaver. I hiked and hugged an epic sky scraper tall cliff rock that to me looks like a shark fin but has a different official name. We were invaded by skunks, a snake made itself very comfortable on my bags, it was hot. It was also really good motivation for me to get back to lifting weights, and hiking outside. A dragonfly that truly resembled one of my tattoos decided to sit on my knee and say hello for a few minutes, and I thanked the Universe for the reminder to be still and rest, to be in the moment. I licked a lot of rocks much to the joy and understanding of those around me. Brought a few home, and now I need to make a fountain because they always look better wet. Again, I saw things so remote and inaccessible that few will ever get to see, and it is never the same even if you go back. I am incredibly aware of my privilege and beyond grateful.
On our last day on the river, I blew bubbles seated in a raft equivalent of the princess chair, listening to music and laughing. We stopped on the shore a bit to check out a small cave behind one of the coolest gigantic boulders I had ever seen, pitted by rocks leaving round pockets that looked like they were made by cannonballs. I climbed through very tight spots of that little limestone cave like a spelunker, I was terrified because I was afraid I would get stuck. Like minor phobia scared. Guess what, there were people there to guide me and encourage me. Just on the other side I took a deep breath, got a high five for doin something I was scared to do and proud that I had made it through. I jumped in the river so it would carry me back to where I needed to be, just on the other side of the super cool boulder. Literally, letting go and going with the flow.
I had let the ring go in Hell’s Half Mile. Trying to control things you can’t control is after all, a little bit of Hell. It seemed more than merely fitting more than just symbolic. It felt amazing. Let it go, let it gooooo…yes actually ok Monkey even though it is totally the wrong movie.
Cheese alert: Get the wine and crackers ready…..
I had not imagined that sitting on a raft, floating down a river with strangers would remind me of my place in the world and teach me so much. It did. I have an even greater appreciation for the world around me, it really is mind blowing. I have really learned now, to not forget that I have a tribe, and better yet…it keeps growing if I let it.
Look ahead. Go through it. Everyone gets stuck sometimes, and unstuck. Everyone needs help sometimes. Go with the flow…and lick rocks.