A River, a Bridge, and Maybe a Toilet

Today Jim and I went up to scout Plateau Creek, the little stream that runs down off the Grand Mesa through the canyon you take on the way up to Powderhorn. It runs along the highway and you can see most of it as you drive up. Usually it’s bony (shallow), with a lot of visible boulders. In May, it is wider, deeper, and flowing fast. It is mostly Class I water with some Class II sections. Not that big of a deal, right? The hard thing about paddling it is that there is no stopping, no resting, no regrouping. You have to be tuned in and ready for anything the entire five miles.

We drop my vehicle at the take-out and drive up the canyon, keeping a close eye on the river. It looks pretty good. Challenging but doable, we think, even in my open cockpit kayak. I’m used to floating 60 pounds heavier with my dog, Trooper, on board as well as maneuvering my paddle around him as he sits in front of me, but he wasn’t invited on this adventure so I think I may have an easier time of it today. Jim and I both have wet suits and helmets and Jim brought a skirt for his boat. We decide to do it.

We take a few pics before casting off, saying, “I hope we live through this,” and I make some crack, like, “Hey, if I lose my boat, at least I can get a kayak with a better seat.”

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Jim’s gone down this creek several times in his canoe. This is my first time to paddle in a wetsuit and a helmet.

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About to take off. It’s going to be a quick five miles. If it’s super fun, we might even do it twice!

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Notice that bridge in the background.

It’s funsy at first, then a slightly slower spot where I take a few photos, then way too long of a stretch of Class II splashy water. I see Jim has swamped (his skirt came off?) and I am taking on way too much water myself but unable to bail because I’m too busy steering. Then Jim’s boat floats by me, with no sign of Jim. I realize I am completely swamped and slowly tipping over. I get rushed downstream, dragging my boat behind me, and think about what my mom told me: feet first if you’re floating downriver. I hang onto my boat as long as I can and recall an important tip from Jim: keep your boat if it’s an asset, let it go if it’s a liability. It gets ripped from my hand.

Without my boat to deal with, I am able to steer myself to shore. Once on land, there, not too far from me, are both of our boats, miraculously hung up together on the same rock. They’re about five to eight feet from shore and I could maybe get to them, but what’s the point? I doubt I can, single-handedly, pull them from the current. And I’m not about to get back into my kayak. Plus, we know where they are, for now, and maybe we can come back later (tomorrow? in a couple weeks when the flow goes down?) and try to retrieve them.

Looking up, I see Jim, on the opposite shore. He yells, “Grab the boats.” I know this, though I can’t hear him at all. I shake my head and shout, “You walk that way” (back toward his truck, maybe just a mile away, on that side of the river), “I’m going this way” (down river to my vehicle because I’m on the same side of the river as where I parked). We yell a few more exchanges, shrug our shoulders, and start using sign language. He keeps pointing to his feet, then me. Yes, I’m walking, I think to myself. What else would I do? Swim? Try to get in my boat? Later, he tells me he was asking me if I still had my footwear on. Finally, somehow, we settle on him going back to his truck and me going the opposite direction.

I start walking downstream. Within minutes, I know this is going to be a long and arduous hike. Not long as in the four miles I’m guessing it is to my vehicle, but long as in I predict I’m moving about one mile per hour. I could not have come up with a longer made-up list of crap to deal with as I went along than what I actually had to deal with: a stress fracture in my left foot from the previous weekend of 33 miles of strenuous hiking, which I had just committed to staying off of for a few weeks to let it heal; several blisters on my feet from doing one long hike in my worn-out Keen sandals; brand new (not broken in) Chaco sandals bought the day before, after ceremoniously dumping my Keens in the garbage can; no trail, just the occasional faint game path; sloped river bank of loose dirt and rocks; Russian olive trees, tamarisk, willows a few feet higher than my head, all so dense that I could not see my feet at all as they mockingly reached out to grab and trip me; poison ivy, unabashedly caressing my exposed toes and bare arms; 85 degrees and a hot afternoon sun, with me baking in my now completely dry wetsuit, my life jacket, and my helmet; no water to drink and already feeling parched; scratched and bloody arms; several shaded areas with clingy, biting mosquitos; having to climb part-way up the cliff walls, back down, then up and down again and again, just to make some forward progress; three times having to sit down on my bottom and slide downhill, hoping I wouldn’t get too out of control and go tumbling back into the water; some patches of open land, but always covered in foxtail, which stuck in my toes and between my sandals and the bottoms of my feet, the same way it barges, uninvited, into the paws and ears of dogs; at points, having to walk in the water—just inches from the bank to avoid being sucked out into the middle—because it was impossible to make progress on land. Two things I was truly grateful for—my wetsuit because it was keeping my legs from getting completely torn up and my paddle, still in hand. I was using it to part the vegetation in front of my face, as a walking stick, and as a way to measure the depth of the water so I didn’t accidentally step into a deep hole and get whisked away.

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Dense vegetation to hike through, at times well above my head.

I settle in to my hike, dismal as it is. Since we’re both okay and I know my life isn’t in danger, I try to laugh at the situation. Find Humor. It’s one of the 16 Habits of Mind I teach my five-year-old students and expect them to try to use. So, of course, I should expect it of myself. About 30 minutes in, I see Jim coming back down the highway in his truck. I wave my bright yellow paddle so he’ll know where I am. He waves back. I trudge on. Look ahead, choose my path for the next three feet, watch my feet and step carefully. Repeat.

Jim comes to the bank, on the opposite shore, a couple more times. He must be driving back and forth until he gets a glimpse of me, then try to find a spot to pull over, get down to the river, locate me again, and make sure I’m okay. Both times, we exchange the same impromptu sign language. He gestures that maybe I should swim across. I point to the various boulders just beneath the surface. Those are the ones I can see; I know there are more. And the river is still moving mighty swift. I shake my head no. I’m fine for now; why risk more danger? But I can feel that I’m going to be getting real tired, real thirsty, and most likely careless within the hour. As I continue on, my eyes are drawn to the river, over and over again. Should I try and swim across?

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It was reassuring to see Jim’s truck parked on the highway.

And then, what? Is that Jim walking toward me, on my side of the river? I look again and he’s gone. What the heck, a mirage? Am I that tired? That hot? That out of it so soon?

“Hey!” It’s Jim’s voice. Above me, on higher ground, but close, definitely on this side. And then, there he is. And he doesn’t disappear.

“What are you doing? How’d you get over here?”

“See that bridge ahead? It’s on private property, but I trespassed and then asked the owner if we could use his bridge. He’s a nice guy. Said yes.”

A bridge? Sure enough, there’s a bridge up ahead. Who would build a bridge to this side of the river? To this horrid, evil river bank? “Thank, God,” I mumble to myself. And I smile, thinking I may have just answered my own question.

We make our way toward the bridge, and it’s fun now because I get to list, for Jim, all the ridiculous things I had to negotiate. I show him my shredded wetsuit and have him take a picture of my butt. We add up the cost of this adventure: about $800 in kayaks, $250 for the wetsuit. But we’re alive and well and, as they say, that’s priceless. Finally, we get to the bridge and, for whatever reason, it’s this beautiful, meticulously-built, swinging suspension bridge. Again, I wonder as to why the property owner spent time and money to construct it. The bridge to nowhere. Again, I wonder if it’s because someday there’d be a lady walking along here, desperate to get to the other side.

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FIND HUMOR. So this happened as I slid over a few boulders going downstream and then as I sat on my bottom three times to slide down steep slopes along the river. There were also holes in the knees of the wetsuit.

 

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The bridge!

We thank the landowner, Dan, and make our way to the highway. The cliff walls rise high above us. I can see Jim’s truck, but it’s a ways ahead, and suddenly I’m so tired. And I’m super hot as I walk along the pavement, still in my wetsuit and my life jacket and my helmet, foxtail tucked between my dirty toes.

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After I’m back home and showered, adrenaline still coursing through my veins, the phone rings. It’s Jim. “I’m heading back up. I want to see exactly where the boats are. See if we can get to them.”

I roll my eyes to the ceiling, and think, are you crazy? Instead, I say, “Keep me posted. I’m on a high level of needing to know exactly where you are.”

A text comes in. It’s a photo of the boats. Still in the same spot. Then Jim calls and says he thinks we can cross the first bridge we went under and walk a half mile, try to retrieve the boats, then tow them back to the bridge while walking along the shore, and carry them over to the other side. “I already talked to the landowner. He’ll let us and he’s expecting us sometime tomorrow. He’s kind of a scary guy. I approached him with my hands up.”

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Interesting that the boats ended up together. I wonder how long they can stay in that same spot?

The first bridge? I hardly remember it. I guess that’s how fast the river was flowing and how much I was concentrating on my paddling.

“Oh, and one more thing before I hang up,” Jim says. “When I was explaining our predicament to him, he just looked at me, took a long drag off his cigarette, and said, ‘You know, iffen ya wanted to drown yourself, ya could’ve just stuck yer head in the toilet.’”

I’m thinking that tomorrow, I might be more in the mood for the toilet idea.

5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Anonymous
    Jun 04, 2017 @ 06:25:55

    I ABSOLUTELY LOVE reading about your adventures!! J. Grooms

    Reply

  2. Anonymous
    Jun 04, 2017 @ 11:10:21

    A great read about a scary situation involving my sister. Maybe a nice, safe road trip for a couple of weekends. If for nothing more than balance and piece of mind.

    Reply

  3. betunada
    Jun 04, 2017 @ 16:34:38

    whew! talk about XXXXhaustive! and the $$$ XXXpenditure, sew-2-speek …

    Reply

  4. Anonymous
    Nov 16, 2017 @ 14:51:14

    Excellent writing. Suspenseful! Keep writing…

    Reply

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