A few people (mostly those who went on the
trip) wanted the MS Word version. You want it, or the pictures? E-mail me.
A note on the pictures: The zoom lens was out of focus, so the zoomed pictures are blurry. Plus, many of pictures featured water drops on the lens. There's still some good ones in there.
Paddling into the Heart of Darkness
"These are your orders," the Colonel said. "Something very strange is going on downstream. Every man we have sent has disappeared or been assimilated.. Now it's your turn. Find who's in charge. Deal with them. Use any means necessary."
This began my 9-day journey down the Salt River Canyon in Arizona. As I studied the trip file, I was amazed. I was to infiltrate a group of highly decorated boaters and come back with them to Phnom-Dallas. These individuals, once respected members of the DDRC Battalion, had set up their own private empire on the river. There were no laws, save their own.
It would not be easy.
Cast of Characters
I had a choice: Attend the last week of school before finals, study, work hard, and do homework, or go on a kayaking trip down a class 4 river in my most favorite state, Arizona. It was a tough choice...yeah, right. I had my job videotape the classes and off I went.
Overall, the trip was a blast. It was one monster rapid after another, the food was great and very abundant, and the people were all fun to be with.
The journey started on April 25. We'll call it.....
I met the group early. I wandered in with my bag in my hand and they all eyed me warily.
"New guys," One of them sneered. "I give him three days."
I knew I was in with a bunch of battle-hardened veterans. Still, I had two days journey by truck with them before we reached our destination. I would have to prove myself along the way.
There were some problems with the locals that night; I made a rookie mistake and things escalated. I thought I was going to see blood. Luckily, no one was hurt and it helped bring me into the group.
All week long, the USGS web site had been racking up the hits. The Upper Salt usually runs around 1000 cfs, but melting spring snow had run the volume up to 4500 cfs and climbing. Rain was predicted from Saturday to Tuesday, which would melt more snow, which would send the river surging even higher. It was looking like it was going to be a wild ride. Just to be safe, we discussed alternate rivers.
|When I showed up Saturday morning at the Stovall's house, I was amazed at the amount of gear everyone had brought. There was a huge pile of it on the lawn. Everyone looked at me with the one bag I had brought and thought I was grossly under prepared, crazy, or both. At least one of those was later proven to be true. Then I found out that the huge pile of gear on the lawn did not belong to the group, it belonged to one person. I began to feel very under prepared. No one would believe that I had all my non-river gear for a week, including tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad, stuffed into this tiny dry bag.|
|(Manny and Me loading up) Through the kindness of strangers, my pile of gear grew until I had to borrow another dry bag as well. I got long underwear, a jacket, sweatshirt, and some capaline stuff. Since I had extra room, I packed a pair of shoes (in addition to Teva's) and a couple of military MRE's (Meals Ready to Eat. Don't Leave Home Without Them!)|
As is usual on these trips, we left later than we planned, but not by more than an hour or so. We aimed west, second star to the right, and set the cruise control. We had the Stovall's conversion van with trailer (and VCR), Manny's Suburban with trailer, and Radar and Crazy Joe following up in White Flash, a.k.a. "The Van of Many Stickers."
|Many hours (and several pit stops) later, Libbi was in the lead in the van when she put on her signal and pulled over onto the access road, stopping next to a communications sub-station in the middle of the West Texas desert. We all got out and stretched, wandered around, and found out that why we stopped. The van was out of gas and had coasted in on fumes. Closest blip: Westbrook, population 237.|
We sacrificed a water container and White Flash (a.k.a. The Marley Mobile) took off to get gasoline. When they returned and the van was filled up, Libbi was fired and Anna was put in charge of the van. Anna drove down the road and took a wrong turn. Anna was fired.
A little way down the highway, we found a mom-and-pop gas station in the middle of nowhere. The people inside were very pleasant. They could afford to be--the gas was about $1.50 per gallon. Can you say, "Monopoly?"
We stopped that night at a Motel 6. After Radar and Crazy Joe checked in, Manny was next. The bill was $40.09 and luckily, I had a dime for Manny. As I was reaching to set it on the counter, it slipped out of my fingers and bounced twice before coming to rest in front of the check-in lady. I said "Oops" as it slipped and "I'm sorry" when it stopped. To no avail. She let us have it with both barrels. According to her, our whole group was rude, inconsiderate, and someone should teach us a lesson.
Manny was confused, Arnie was getting upset, and I just wanted to get a room and get away from this crazy woman. This lady read us the riot act. She wouldn't give us her name to report her. We couldn't figure out what we did to cause her to blow up, so we eventually just let it drop. Must suck to be her.
Sunday, April 26
I saw some strange acts of kindness. This was the ruthless group I heard that had been terrorizing the river? I began to doubt my orders. It was a crazy time, and crazy measures were called for Maybe there were reasons for this insanity..
I kept observing. It was a strange dichotomy, and I was resolved to get to the bottom of it.
It was an uneventful drive. Over the last two days I caught up on sleep and yes, I did study. I managed to finish Chapter 7. The road wasn't smooth and my highlighting and margin notes were a little scraggly, but I managed.
When we reached the Salt River Canyon, we stopped to take a look at the river. The highway is a mess of twisting 9% grade that truckers hate. The old bridge at the bottom was a narrow "Two Lane" S-hook about 100 feet long. Luckily, they had finished the new bridge by now.
|It was a dark and cloudy afternoon, and the smell of burning brake pads was in the wind. We could see the river, dark brown and angry, churning below. From a several thousand feet up we could see a large wave about a mile downstream as it was cresting and breaking. It stretched across most of the river. Randy estimated to even see it from this distance, it must be well over 20 feet tall.|
Radar took one look at it, turned slowly to face us and said, "Are you right with God?"
|We hit the launching point and it was just as I remembered it years ago. We unpacked our stuff and started setting up the rafts. We were hoping to get everything set up so we could launch early the next afternoon. We unpacked, we hauled, we carried, and inflated. I was living off the kindness of strangers as I collected the donated gear.|
Our first emergency occurred when a guy from another group came running over yelling, "Is anybody a Doctor!" Luckily, we had one. Manny set a new land speed record as he ran over faster than I ever thought he could move. An older man in the group next to us was going into insulin shock. Manny got him all taken care of and back on his feet. There is no amount of thanks you can give for something like that.
Monday, April 27
Some of the group was sniffing me out as we started our journey. Strange omens had proceeded me and I was starting to fear for my safety.
When we hit the river, we almost immediately ran into trouble. It was a sobering portent of things to come.
I caught myself several times showing signs that I was losing my grip...I was beginning to crack under the stress. This was not a group to show weakness around. Like a pack of wolves, they could smell fear, and they'd turn on me in an instant.
So far I was going down a river with a bunch of rafters, I met two guys from Arkansas, had borrowed underwear from one of them who kept telling me, "You can owe me a favor now" in a way that made me a little nervous, and on the hour and a half shuttle, I drove an old International Harvester "Forester" wagon. Radio stations were scarce and the only tape was blue grass music...dueling banjo's. It was a long shuttle ride with too much time to think.
We launched at 3 p.m., about two hours later than we wanted to. The first unnamed rapid was right at the launching point. The first named rapid was Bump and Grind. No one had any problems except me; I hit the wall, flipped, and popped back up. I had the first roll of the day.
Maytag Chute was our first "big" rapid, a class 3. As we raced through it, I lost it and couldn't roll back on top in the rough water. I had to swim. Randy caught my boat downstream. Arnie caught me and pulled me to shore. I saw an oar bobbing on river lift, caught in an eddy, but didn't think anything about it since it was impossible to get to and we had all of ours.
|The water was about 39 degrees F (~4 deg C) and all I had was a 2-mil shortie. Quite honestly, I didn't notice it. I was having too much fun. I just didn't want to hold everyone else up. See some of the action shots and incredible scenery.|
I didn't realize it, but Stephen had exploded an oar lock on the same rapid and that was his oar bobbing in the water. When we all grouped up again, we figured this out. Arnie started dragging his boat upstream, but before he could get there, the oar popped out after being stuck for about a half hour. Randy spotted the black tip bobbing downstream and grabbed it.
On top of that, both Bill's raft and Libbi and Esther's raft got stuck.
Raging rivers, starting late, busting oarlocks, losing oars, getting stuck, and swimming.. This was not the way to be starting the first day of a week long trip.
Reforma was next. No one seemed to have any problems. Then we hit Mother Rock. The water was so high, it was over Mother Rock, making literal the old phrase, "A hole large enough to swallow..." Really, it was large enough to easily swallow a raft, even two without a problem. After the first rock was a second, less visible, pour-over. I stayed by it and yelled "Hole!" for all the rafters. Libbi and Esther watched me, trying to figure out what I was yelling. They kept watching me yell and gesture and went right into it. They got stuck for a few seconds and almost flipped the raft.
Steve also got stuck. He ran Reforma right....right against the bank.
Overboard wasn't a problem. Then we hit Exhibition. Canyon walls 80 feet high. Water racing through them at 25 mph, 4500 cfs, and 39 degrees. There was a stack-up of standing waves, one after the other, as far as the eye could see....and all of them at least ten feet tall. I crested up on top of the first wave and saw the River Gods dancing. I remember thinking, "Helen thought I was ready for this?" I couldn't even count all the standing waves....mostly because my visibility was limited to about one foot in the murky water. It's harder to see when you're upside down.
I rolled, but the big waves slapped me back over again. I couldn't stay on top. I swam again. It was incredible fun.
We went through a bunch of other no-name rapids going down river. They may have been nothing at 1500 cfs, but at 4500 there was fun everywhere. Sometime early on in the day I began to sing the tune from Gilligan's Island incessantly. Whenever it got on the nerves of my fellow boaters, they'd kindly ask me to stop by whacking me on the head with a 10 foot raft oar. After a while, I began to suspect about why I let them convince me that "Real Yakkers don't wear helmets."
We didn't make many miles that night, but it sure felt good when we stopped.
Tuesday, April 28
I now know despair.
Group cohesion, weak at best, began to crumble. It became apparent we were low on gas, the constant pounding of the waves and the cold water was beginning to sap my strength, and HQ had us run a pointless mission that resulted in several injuries. Earlier in the day, one of our party almost bought it when she stumbled on the enemy, dug in and waiting for her.
I had ran into trouble myself and when I turned to my squadmates for help, they set me up. Accident. Right.
I began to look at my companions with a new eye, searching for any weakness.
I began to understand the propane gas situation a little better. We left a full-sized propane tank behind, bringing only one full sized and one half sized bottle with us. The larger bottle wasn't full when we started. There was some worry that we'd run out of gas for cooking before the trip was over. Suddenly, bringing the self-heating MRE's along didn't seem like such a dumb idea. Of course, I was smart enough to know that eating a hot meal in front of a group of cold, hungry boaters is legal rounds for river lynching in all 50 states, so I figured I'd have to be discrete.
While we were getting ready Tuesday morning, Manny checked Esther's shoes before she put them on. It was a good thing, too, there was a scorpion inside one of them. Having backpacked all over Arizona, I had made it a habit to keep my shoes in my tent and didn't even think about it. Right after Manny found it, cries of "Check your shoes" went up all over camp.
I had asked the night before if anyone brought a saw for firewood. No one had, so this morning I pulled a full sized ax out of my kayak and wandered around gathering wood for the morning fire. Sure, it was a tight fit getting it in there, but it didn't bang around much. A couple of people were satisfied they knew why I wasn't hitting all my rolls now. At least, that was the story I was giving.
I actually found the ax in the brush. It wasn't much to look at and it was so dull, it really didn't matter which side I used (I was beating the wood into submission more than I was cutting it), but it worked if you didn't mind the extra effort. I figured everyone would know I was joking --a full sized ax in my little kayak. Then when all the loading was going on, there it was. They were waiting for me to put it back. My joke backfired.
I also found a horse shoe that I strapped to Steve's yellow banana boat for good luck.
Rat Trap was the first rapid and the decked boats were in the lead. There was a sharp bend in the river where it ran into a sheer face of rock that produced a three foot wall of water, angled 45 degrees to our approach. One at a time we went in, the current spun us parallel (sideways) to the wave, then the wave tossed us over. All three of us spilled on that one; in the rough water I was bouncing around and didn't get up until my fourth attempt. When I practice in the pool next, I'll be sure to have a guy in scuba gear pounding on my head with a hammer so I can better simulate river conditions.
I did lose it later that day on a no name rapid. We were a little crowded and there was lots of help around, so since I was feeling a little stale I decided a quick dip in the cool, snow-melt water would refresh me. I swam and bounced around for a little bit in the rough water when Libbi yelled "Rope" and tossed me the throw bag. A perfect shot on her part, it sailed about a foot past my head and landed on the downstream side, so I reached out to grab the rope. I hate to be a perfectionist, especially when someone is saving my life, but I must point out that the only thing that would have made it better is IF SHE HAD HELD ONTO HER END OF THE ROPE! I flipped the kayak right side up and rode it down the rapid like a scared rat clinging to a branch while Randy picked up the rope bag.
After all the cold swims, cramped legs, and non-stop bouncing around on the river, I looked at the rafts with a new eye. Especially since they were drinking beer while I was swimming in the ice chest. One thing to remember for every day we were on this river, it was one long rapid, with a couple of named ones in-between. With the water up at 4500, some of the no-name rapids were right up there on par with the named rapids. Even between the named and no-name rapids, the water was constantly churning, full of eddies, pour-overs, and debris. I started sneaking looks out of the corner of my eye at the rafters, seeing who was moving slow and watching for weakness. My pirates flag was coming along nicely. I was selecting my prey.
When we hit Reversal Chute (class 3), I did it in proper style, the first have facing downstream, the second half facing upstream. I'd like to claim it was on purpose and an expert display of my skill and technique, but the truth is I rode up a wave, spun around backwards and was too busy trying to stay out of trouble to get turned back around again.
We got knocked around, a lot of little cuts and cactus needles, and some ripped clothes. Not to mention hot and thirsty. "Once in a lifetime opportunity." Yeah, I heard that one over and over again for the rest of the day.
We pulled over to the side at the Anasazi cliff dwellings. Esther had really wanted to see them, but now that she saw the steep hike, she wasn't so certain. To encourage her to go, I kept telling her, "C'mon! You don't have these in New York! It's a once in a lifetime opportunity!" There were a couple of different ways to go up...and of course, we went up the wrong way. We got close to them, but didn't make it due to a ravine in the way. With the cactus, the scrub brush, and all the loose rock we had to scramble up, I would call it a very defensible position. We actually had a few problems when a person higher up would knock a loose rock loose (about 50 lbs of rock) and it would go crashing down towards the people below.
|1. Salt Banks Waterfall
2. Randy hitting a big wave.
3. Anasazi dwellings.
|After that we saw the Salt Banks waterfall. Very pretty, and you could get a raft right underneath it. There were even some travertine pools on the side.|
There was another great rapid to pass through. We were trying to survive this rough-water monster when we saw on the shore, a group of kayakers had drove right to this point and just surfed there all day. It was their local play spot. At some point I went over a big overflow, plopped down about three feet into the hole and got stuck...facing downstream for a change. Randy kept yelling and me and I had to paddle like crazy to get out of there. The whole day was pretty great; I took my customary two swims and took a couple of good helmet knocks when I was underwater. If you time it just right, you can actually use them to help you get up. I was rapidly becoming Manny's favorite, or at least most frequent, patient.
|When we got to shore, I did my nightly firewood round-up. Whackity-Whack! That night: Grease Bombs. Ka-Boom! Enough said.|
Theme song for Tuesday: Round and Round. The old blues tune, not the recent version by Ratt.
Wednesday, April 29
Dawn broke darkly on the river. My body was bruised and beaten, but I did not rest. We passed the halfway point on our journey and moral was low. The commander wanted to go surfing, so he had us cut away from the main group and plan our attack. I protested, but had to follow. The only way for me to go was down
We planned our attack carefully, then charged in. One after another we swooped down, screaming and hollering. I was hit--but I rolled with it and came out alive. I got two cocky and while I was celebrating, the enemy snuck up from behind and took me down.
I barely survived.
|I checked myself out when I woke up, and since I hadn't bathed or shaved in days, I had been rolling around in the water, sand, and mud, I was covered with cuts, bruises, and scrapes, and with all the iodine on me, I looked like an escapee from a deranged leprosy camp. After the first night, I had been offering aspirin and Tylenol around camp, thinking I was smart for bringing it. No one wanted to talk to me; Manny had been passing out the "Good Stuff" before I got there.|
(Note: I also have a killer picture of Libbi....Killer as in she'd kill me if I posted it!
This was the most varied day on the river. We covered a lot of miles, leaving the Indian reservation and moving into Federal lands. We also hit a lot of named (and no name) rapids:, 3-way, Lower Salt Draw, Salt Banks, Ledges, Walnut Canyon, Rat Trap, White Rock, (Then Gleason Flats), Eye of the Needle, Black Rock, and Upper Corral.
I rolled on a few rapids during the morning. I was feeling cocky. The river would take care of that for me later. I actually rolled a lot that day because I was playing so much. I had gone through a forced upgrade in my skills was starting to have more fun. When we hit Gleason Flats, I was already feeling a little tired. We were watching the clouds roll over when we heard the roar and saw two F-16's from Luke AFB carving a nice chunk out of the sky.
Eye of the Needle was the rapid that freaked everyone out a little. It carried a big warning as all of the water in the river was channeled down to a narrow opening. Since the water was up so high, it actually overflowed across the whole river, but you didn't want to face the drop. Aiming for the eye was the best way to go. I was still too dumb to be scared. We scouted it and it looked pretty bad. I still wasn't worried--until I saw Arnie put in his nose plugs for the first time this trip. As bad as it was, we all went through with a lot of bouncing but no problems.
Not long after that, the threatening clouds finally let loose and it started raining. Lunch was postponed. Since it was such an active day, I was tired, hungry, and cold. But still having fun. Though I was low on energy, I found a hidden strength to help me though.
A no name rapid after Eye of the Needle kicked my butt. Arnie hit a tricky hole/eddy combination and stopped dead to avoid Randy. It was as if the River Gods reached up and grabbed his boat and said, "wait here." Since I was coming down rapidly behind him, this was a problem. I did the same thing--I shot in on Arnie's left, paddle raised to avoid hitting him. I hit the same spot, went about one boat length farther, then jerked to a stop like I had a tether tied to my stern, and slid sideways into the eddy. Arnie then zipped out past me, leaving me stuck in an eddy that was literally the size of my boat. I looked at the dead water I was stuck in, looked at the river racing by inches away and the rocks downstream, and I knew I was in trouble.
I hit the water hard and fast, but when it whipped me around I didn't brace enough and it flipped me. One roll...fail. Wait to move with the current...second roll...up--I was feeling pretty good! I looked left--and saw nothing but water coming down at me. I looked right--and saw nothing but frothing water coming up. The only place I saw anything but water was when I looked straight up, but that didn't last long. I had just enough time to realize I was stuck in a deep hole and think "Uh-oh" before I went right back over again. I spun around a few times (I could see lots of water now--there's always more under the surface than on top) before I bailed. Randy called it a Grand Canyon style eddy.
What else do I remember from that day? Kissing the sky. I spent a lot of time with the bow of my kayak pointed up. I also noticed that Radar had a foot long pony tail of hair sticking out of his helmet. This was odd because he was bald on top when he took it off. That's when Libbi pointed out the helmet still had the ponytail.
I learned that day that the cold water numbs your legs. This is a good thing--you can't feel the pain of rocks and branches when your drug across them. Plus, it helps the bleeding clot faster.
We also saw a lot of neat, overhanging ledges with swallows nests plastered on the bottom of them. When Randy and I eddied out, he found some good river booty. It was a nice paddling jacket, right below Yankee Joe Canyon. Unfortunately for him, Nikki had left her Blue Sky White Water Rafting guide badge in it. Honesty prevailed.
The strangest thing I saw was Esther and Libbi. They both had so much silver duct tape on their pants (covering the holes) that they looked like aliens from the 50's. I came up to Libbi in an eddy and she started going crazy with the stuff, duct taping her pants round and round her waist. I told her, "Usually women don't do that until I ask them on a date."
When we camped that night, it was on a rocky beach. The sand was higher up, so our campsites were clustered a little closer together. We camped early to avoid getting caught in a string of harder rapids down the river. After initial unloading, I set to gathering and chopping up wood for the night. It was an official job by now, plus it helped to warm me up. I also found a coyote skull (that's what I'm claiming) that I mounted on the front of the kayak for good mojo.
There was a really neat canyon to hike back into, and several of us did. There were a lot of beautiful sights to see, including some overhang seepages into a little puddle. The water was absorbed back into the rocky sand before it could get too far away.
Theme song for Wednesday: EL PASO, by Marty Robbins I started singing it (and dodging paddles--I'm not a very good singer) about halfway through the day. That night, as a group, we sat around the campfire, ate excellent chicken stir fry, and worked out most of the words with Bill and Keith playing the tune. (Out in the West Texas town of El Paso / I fell in love with an Indian girl / Nighttime would find me in Rosa's cantina / Music would play, and Felina would whirl. Lyrics adjusted.)
This ends Part 1 of Ayakalypse Now, Paddling into the Heart of Darkness. Return next month (or two) for the continuing saga, including, "The Great Rocket Box Debate," "The Final Battle," "Secret Indian Names," "Wayne's Drug Addiction," "Godzilla," "Contact," "Lessons Learned," "Yiddish 101," "Lessons Learned," "Random Thoughts," and more full moons than a month on Jupiter
Disclaimer: These rambling, first person writings represent the Memories of Wayne Sanaghan. Any relationship to persons or incidents, living or undead, is relatively coincidental. Sure I took notes, but that doesn't mean they're accurate. If you disagree with any event, blame it on me and write your own account.
When we last left off, our party was traveling undaunted down the Upper Salt River Canyon in Arizona. The water was high (4500 cfs vs. the normal 1000 cfs), the water was cold (39°F, ~4°C) and our protagonist was feeling the strain.
Thursday, April 30
This was the dawn that broke darkest on my soul. The was a fey wind blowing and the clouds roiled angrily The tension had been building within the group, and today was to be our most challenging day. The enemy kept taunting us but we were unable to strike back. Tempers flared and challenges flew within our group as frustrations grew.
That night, we dug into camp and broke out all the hardware; there was no holding back for tomorrow. There wasn't going to be a tomorrow.
As usual before a major battle, a strange quiet had settled over the land. Then, with a single, small, explosive pop, the fighting began.
The wind had shifted during the night and was coming from downstream...where the rocket box was. It put a new spin on breakfast.
This was the best launch of any day on the trip. We were facing four class 3's, and three class 4's in the first three miles....plus all the unnamed stuff created by the high water. After we did some more canyon hiking (up the canyon cut into the back of the campsite) and finally broke camp, we hit the water. I still had my good mojo working (from the coyote skull) and I was looking forward to some fun.
Right after put-in we hit Lower Corral (Class 3). It was an almost 90 degree bend in the river. I raced into it and hit the wall of water. In an unprecedented...sorry, unintended...display of skill and the ability to "be one with the river," I would up surfing around and finally on top of the wave. I turned this way and that, spun around backwards, then the wave set my entire boat nice and gently on the ledge it had cut into the rock before receding and leaving me stuck there. It was pretty much carrying "lean into the wall" to it's logical extreme. I sat there for a little bit, yelled and waved at Randy, and wondered how I was going to get out of this. Never worry, a little later another wave crested up and pulled me carefully back into the water. I was so surprised that I flipped went upside down so I could personally thank the water up close for being so nice...at least that's my explanation. I rolled back up and continued downstream.
We rolled into The Maze (Class 3) next. There was some confusion as to whether this was it or not but we all shot through it without a problem. I endered up, got sucked into a hole, braced (several times--thanks, Arnie) my way out of it then shot out like I was launched out.
|1. Steve on a rapid
2. Me in my yak.
3. Me going away.
|We scouted Pinball before we ran it. It was a Class 4 on the left. We all ran it on the right wall and came through with a minimum of problems--a little maneuvering around rocks, a bunch of bouncing through the rough water, but no one had any problems. Instead, we all did a lot of screaming and had a lot of fun!|
Quartzite Falls was next. It had been reduced from a Class 4 to a Class 3 by the dynamiting operation done by the river guides. It was interesting to see it after the explosion. We could also see the "Portage From Hell." It was on the other side of the river and it looked like a tough eddy for a raft to hit. We couldn't even see how they'd do the portage.
It wasn't a long rapid, it was only about 20 feet of heavy churning, then some rough water after that. But it was one heck of a drop as all the water in the river, which ran as wide as 100 feet, was channeled down to 10 feet with a steep, four or five foot drop. Plus, there was a 'little' chockstone submerged in the middle. There was a huge keeper on the left, so we ran the "gradual" drop on the right. After you ran it, you had to work hard to the left to get in the lagoon-like eddy so you didn't get pulled into Corkscrew (Class 4, about 100 feet down).
|(Bill and his Guitar in it's red waterproof safety case) Bill and Keith ran Quartize Falls first. Bill ran it with the "Full Moon" variation. Right before he got to the falls, stood up on his seat, pulled the oars up and his pants down. I got some great pictures of Manny and Esther going through; Manny's boat bucked in the water and almost threw Esther out.|
When I went, I had a good line but the churning water flipped me over almost immediately after the drop. I did a perfect combat roll and popped right back up, facing backwards. I was yelling and screaming, cheering myself and spinning the paddle over my head as I shot downriver. You know what happens when you get too cocky: the River Gods slap you down. Sure enough, the next wave caught my stern, I saw the sky, then I saw the bottom of the river. Since I had been goofing off, I couldn't get the paddle right and wound up trying to roll using the blade instead of the face. That didn't work and I had to bail out, surfacing to the sounds of laughter. I was punished, and it was all caught on video.
Immediately after that, we scouted then ran Corkscrew (Class 4). Radar didn't pull out and went right from Quartzite to Corkscrew without stopping. He then set up video for the rest of us and got a lot of great footage.
The gravel bar was submerged which made it tough for us all to find room to park so we could scout. After we had all gotten a good look, we started launching through. We were all going to run it on river right. I got a bad line; I wasn't able to get upstream enough to ferry past the gravel bar, instead I ran into it. The river decided I would run on the left.. I ran through all the bad stuff, skirted past a few rocks and went over a few others, but I made it almost all the way through. I wasn't feeling cocky , I swear, when I flipped over and rolled back up, facing backwards as usual. I yelled, but only a little...and I flipped over again and after a couple of tries, I had to bail. Once again, I had my two swims of the day.
|I raced through the rest of the canyon, hanging onto my boat and looking for help. Everyone just stood on the walls, looking down at me. Several people had rope bags, but no one threw them. I was beginning to wonder how well liked I really was. I kept swimming and pulled over to the side, hanging and working my way down the steep walls. Then Anna came down to a crack that opened up and helped me pull my boat out.|
Sleeper (Class 3) and Cliff Hanger were both a lot of fun. There was some surfing, spinning action going on. No one had any problems. After that, it was a bunch of ruffled water but no real rapids as we worked our way downstream. I played a lot on the way down, trying to get good enders. This meant I rolled a lot. Tune of the day: in honor of all the boulders in the river and all the dodging we had to do, it was AC/DC, For Those About To Rock!
It was our last night sleeping on the river and our campsite was right before the canyon opened up into flatlands again. I knew it was time for a shower because when I shook my head, dirt fell out. I left a nice pile when I laid my head on a tarp. When I got out of my boat, after all the swims and drags through the rough water, my legs were so chewed up that it looked like I had been river running with cats in my kayak. The bright side was the wasn't quite so cold any more. This wasn't entirely great; I had been using the cold to dull the pain.
Steve knew my weakness and pulled out an ice-cold Mountain Dew. He gave it to me out of the goodness of his heart--"First one's free!" He knew he'd hook me. I really went overboard and chopped a huge pile of wood. Since it was our last night, we were getting ready for a big "last night, let's kill all the beer" party. Radar was planning a party of his own as he kept reminding me that I still owed him for the clothes he let me borrow. I learned an important lesson: Never argue with a man from Arkansas when you're wearing his underwear. Corollary: Especially if he thinks Deliverance was a documentary.
We ate like pigs, sat around the fire, drank beer, Jack and Coke, B-52's, and everything else we had. I even had a few sips. Bill and Keith played, sang, and told long cowboy ballads for hours and Radar pulled out the video and we watched a recap of the trip. A cool breeze blew down the dark canyon walls, lit only by the stars and the dancing reflections of the campfire.
|I felt I had grown close to everyone and decided to share a favorite story with them, along with a deep secret very few people know: My Indian name. I did a lot of hiking up around the Hopi Indian Reservation on the east end of the Grand Canyon and the Indians in Cameroon got to know me pretty well, especially the lady who sold me permits at very reduced rates and the families whose land I had to cross through. They'd see me hiking in and out of the canyons to my car as they drove by in beat up pickup trucks, and they'd wave at me. Sometimes they'd invite me home for dinner (houses. Not teepees). They got to know me very well and one day, even gave me an Indian name: Dances With Head Up His Butt. They kept telling me to drive it all the way in.|
I didn't bother with a tent that night, I just slept under the stars.
Friday, May 1
I don't remember falling asleep. I only remember the noise, the crazy turmoil, then waking up at some point in the night when quiet had descended again. The fighting had ended and I was still alive.
I didn't move; I didn't know if hostile forces were still around me. I felt whole, but I didn't have the strength to get up and see if any one else in my platoon were injured and needed help.
"My platoon." I realized I had crossed over. I was sent to infiltrate, to eliminate. I was supposed to be the best, unshakable. But I had seen a different war. Not a war of desks and planning boards and troop markers. I had seen a war of people, fighting on two fronts. One against nature, and another against the illogical orders from above that contradicted common sense and even survival.
They had made their empire on this river not because of mad dreams of glory but out a feral desire to survive in a world gone mad.
When I stumbled around camp that morning, the devastation set me back. Bodies were lying everywhere, shrapnel and spent shells scattered on the ground. I started checking to see who was still alive.
I woke up sometime in the middle of the night and just watched the sky, picking out the stars, a couple planets, shooting starts, and the occasional satellite streaking across the sky. I miss the stark beauty of the desert. After an hour or so, we started approaching the terminator and the sky started to lighten in the east. I rolled over and went back to sleep.
I woke shortly after dawn to a rustling and a deep growl. Bear! A BIG bear! No, just one of the guys snoring in a drunken stupor.
When I did get up, it looked like a war zone. Bodies were sprawled where they fell in the sand, tables and chairs were upturned, and empties were scatterd everywhere like shrapnal. It had been a terrible, close-in fight of hand-to-beer combat and it was hard to tell which side had won. It looked like a drunk version of D-Day: The morning after. I was quiet because I knew accidentally waking up anyone in this state (although that would take a lot of noise) would probably get me killed.
A couple of other people were up and I made an effort to spearhead breakfast. I liked cooking breakfast in the morning because I had learned that the first person up gets the hot water. "Cold Chocolate" just isn't the same. Once the food and the big pot of grits were done, a couple of people were still sleeping. I called them to breakfast by crushing all the beer cans with a couple of rocks. I didn't earn any friends, but we did need to get moving. After breakfast, when we were loading up the boats, I finished off the last of the cans and made the announcement, "The "empties" barrel is all full. We won't be able to drink any more beer today." That didn't go over very well, but another attempted river lynching was averted.
I broke my "Two swim" rule this day, but on the good side. Since it was a quiet day on the river, I was working it every chance I could get. I took an unexpected swim when I was playing without protection. A nose full of water later and I gave up. By now I was an expert at self-rescue so I got out and in again before all the rafts could pass me.
Arnie had loaded his kayaking on one of Steve's Banana Boat at the beginning of the day. After lunch, Randy loaded his on Libbi's raft. I was the only one left in the decked boats. After lunch, it was pretty much a lazy day. We saw eagles nesting and some interesting rock formations, but the water was mostly tame. At one point I snuck up behind Steve's boat, docked between the catamarans (getting way underneath it), and started whispering quietly, "Steve. Steve. This is the river calling." He couldn't see me.
A when the river spread out wide and took alternate paths only taken in high water, the rafters didn't always know which way to go for deeper water. As a result, they got stuck a couple of times. Arnie was rowing at one point down a little no-name straight run rapid. He hit a little rock, nothing big at all that hardly bumped the raft. But the River Gods are mysterious and for some reason, it shook and shimmied up the raft then pitched Radar feet over head up into the air where he ended his back flip by landing on his butt for a graceful water landing.
As high as the river was, we saw a sobering sign that it could be much higher. A side canyon cut in 90 degrees to the main river and it had a huge, 150 foot wall going back into the distance. The big storms that must roll through once every ten or twenty years had stacked trees up about 35 feet up the side of the canyon. The water hitting that solid wall with the flood that must roar out of it would create an awesome whirlpool complete with swirling trees. I'd love to see it--from a safe point.
We saw the bridge in the distance and knew it was time to end our journey. We all pulled into the ramp and started the process of unloading. Things were going all right until we got to Libbi's raft. Strangely, after a week of eating and drinking, we were heading back heavier. Why? It became apparent after Libbi needed help with all the rocks she had stashed around her boat. The coolers were full and she needed help. She was polite, however, and after we unloaded them she told us, "Thanks, guys, for helping me get my rocks off!"
While we were transferring stuff around, Libbi pulled out a beer that had been punctured by the shifting rocks. She held it up and announced it was leaking. I started screaming "Oh my God! A beer with a hole in it! What are we going to do! Quick--Somebody give it mouth to mouth!"
I would like to correct something that was brought up at the meeting. I was not running around in a jockstrap chopping wood all week. At the take out, there was nowhere to go to change in privacy. We had all grown very close during the week, everyone was running around, and no one was paying any attention. I stepped off to the side, stripped out of my wet suit, then put on a pair of shorts. That was it. Boy, did that story grow. I'm just glad there weren't any cameras around.
After all the heavy stuff had been taken out and the frames removed, we pulled the rafts onto shore and flipped them to dump out all the spilt beer. From there it was the usual: Deflate and repack. We didn't need to shuttle because we had paid someone to drop off Randy's van. We still had to go back that way, however, because Keith's car was back at the put-in. He had come too late for the original shuttle run.
We dropped him off by Godzilla, the 1962 Green Chevy Chevy Impala Bel Aire, so he could head home to Flagstaff. We just made for distance that night; we wanted to get as far as we could before it got too late, plus we were all in desperate need of a shower. Not me, of course, because I was taking two baths a day. I was fresh as a spring mountain runoff. We stayed in a little more expensive hotel that night (and extra $7 each) but it was worth it. The rooms were much nicer and I was able to was large pieces of the Salt River Canyon out of my hair.
We did see one sad sight. We were driving out of the canyon, it was dark and we were in the middle of nowhere, when we saw a big collection of police, fire, and ambulances. A trucker had apparently fallen asleep and had driven off the side of the canyon and had gone crashing below. They were cleaning the mess up when we went by.
Saturday, May 2
In my eyes, the mission was complete and it was time to head back to HQ. I was not to return until the group had been brought into line; as far as I was concerned, the group was doing what was right. It was the rest of the world that was crazy for judging them so.
I took some stick time myself on the way back I was trusted as a regular now, and in my heart I knew it was true. I took some time to introduce them to what I remembered from my world but it didn't take.
There was nothing left now but the drive home. I settled into the Suburban with Manny, Esther, and Steve. And, of course, my college books. We argued a little while over Van Halen or Joan Baez (You can probably guess which side of the fence I was on), before settling on Jimmy Buffet. A very happy medium.
We took a much different rout back for a change of scenery. It was longer, but a lot nicer view (until Texas). We stopped at the National Radio Observatory Very Large Array where they filmed Contact. Having seen the movie, they used a very liberal artistic license. The real dishes are spaced far apart and stretch out as far as the eye can see. Libbi got a rock.
We also saw they Valley Of Fire (stopping for rocks), the last jail Billy The Kid broke out of (we didn't let Libbi stop for rocks) and Roswell. In Roswell, the smell told us why the aliens never came back.
After bouncing through several hotels, including one we could drive in but not around and back out the circle because the gear was piled too high (You try backing a trailer full of gear through an narrow arch onto a busy road at night. It wasn't easy), we settled in for another night.
Sunday, May 3
Home. After what I'd been through, I looked at it with different eyes now. It was time to bled back into the "normal" world. I didn't look the same, but I could change that. I didn't think the same--but I couldn't change back.
I had reports to file, work to do. It was time to share with the world what I had learned.
Then it was time to move on.
There was nothing much but driving and studying this day. We stopped in a western bar in the middle of nowhere for lunch then just kept going. I actually finished all my studying. I couldn't do any homework because we were bouncing a little too much.
I did learn some Yiddish from Esther. "Schivtchin: To sweat." To use properly, you need to sit in a car in the hot sun, no breeze, then say, "Let's get moving, I'm schivtchin up here!"
We just kept going. The only other event of note was a full moon over Snyder. Some childish individual started a moon war in Snyder, Texas, that left an impression on the window. Randy was driving the van and was the only one who saw it, but about five seconds later, the shade opened up and three faces were looking out. Retaliation came later when the van passed the Suburban.
Radar's van had left us on and we didn't see them on the trip back. Still, you know you're home when you pull up and there's a guy named Crazy Joe sleeping on your porch. From there, it was just unpack, unload, shed a few teary good-bye's and untangle our cars from the driveway.
It was a great trip, I had a lot of fun, and I can't wait to see everyone again.