Adventures often wait for my off hours. After work Tuesday, a couple women were headed out to paddle down a stretch of Colorado on a fellow-ranger’s inflatable raft, class 1-2+ rapids. They know I am adventurous and invited me along. My answer took less than one second.
By the time we all three went home, got swimsuits on and water bottles loaded, picked up the deflated raft, rented three paddles downtown, left one car at take-out point and then drove to the put-in point, it was already nearing 6 pm. Assemble raft (noticing many patches), pump raft with giant bicycle pump (taking turns because it is exhausting), strap everything lose-able to the craft (because, well, just because). We were three excited people. The only niggling doubt in my mind was the clock, as sunset would put a large damper on the trip if we didn’t reach take-out by then. I gave a little shiver and a big “Woot!” and off we went. It was in the 90s and the temp in the river corridor would be considerably less, with all that cool water.
Captain Jess was very experienced in rafting, and could read the river well. She gave Kim and me a crash course in paddling, and we perched ourselves on the inflated raft sides, one leg each dangling in the river, paddling happily. The Fisher Towers, a beautiful sandstone landmark, presided over the left bank as we urged each other to look at this and look at that and can you believe we’re doing this and why don’t more people go on adventures (nobody else was on the river) and what a way to conclude our day.
The first mile was pretty smooth. We took turns jumping in to cool off, using all our might to climb back onto the raft. The Colorado is flowing at about 17,000 cubic feet per second, a moderate flow, and it carried us along pleasantly even if we did not paddle. The descending sun, however, prompted us to paddle. In the course of the next few miles, we experienced a variety of rapids that delighted and splashed us. We had to all drink the water from Jess’s wide-mouthed Nalgene in order to use the bottle to bail, and we twice had to add more air to our vessel, but she was river-worthy and we knew we were golden.
Sight-seeing is easy from the river. We could see a couple of million-dollar luxury homes blending in with the environment; passed a vineyard (!!) and luxury resort; saw locals splashing in the river to cool off; passed one other float-boat that was pulled up on a beach while the couple ate; and quizzed ourselves about the rock layers we were seeing. We paddled when we felt like it. I felt like it more than the others, as I watched the sun setting.
Six named rapids adorn this stretch called the “Colorado River Daily.” Each of them were very fun, various degrees of wet, and brought much joy to our vessel’s passengers. Only AFTER we successfully navigated them would Jess tell us what could have happened had we not had enough momentum, etc., or had we bumped the rock wall and punctured our raft. I truly preferred to know afterward what didn’t happen.
The 2/3 moon was already high, the light becoming more filtered. None of us had a waterproof watch, and I was not stopping my paddling. The sun dipped below the high cliffs on the right bank as we floated southward. Tra-la-la. Kathryn does not stop paddling. She also does not ask, “How much farther?” as she would rather just keep paddling. The scenery looks like something out of a movie, in all honesty, but the shadows are getting long.
Just in the nick of time, Jess reports that Take-Out Beach is around the next butte. Whew! We all put our paddles down and decide that floating is a nice way to end our trip. Some car driving by on the highway is taking photographs. We know we make the view more scenic.
Around the bend, Jess stands up and surveys the river. We hear a concerned “Hmmmm…” — no Take-Out Beach. “Well, it must be just downriver. I think there is one more easy rapids and then we’ll find it.” She sounded confident, but… was she? Or was this the game face?
In the quickly-fading light I was beginning to shiver. Soon my teeth were chattering uncontrollably. And here is where I give you the good news that, only another twenty minutes down the river, Take-Out Beach magically appeared. The bad news: Jess’s car keys were up-river in Kim’s car.
We hauled out, and Jess and Kim (early 20s, won’t tell their moms about this) went up to the highway to try to hitch a ride 13 miles north. The short version of the long story is that ultimately a nice couple picked them up and took them all the way to Kim’s car at Hittle Bottom, while I unloaded the raft, deflated it, and sat on a bench to wait patiently for their return. The Western Pipistrelle bats came out to feed in the deepening darkness. It was very, very quiet on the river, on the highway, and in my joyful heart.