The best day on the river

I’ve been very busy in the past few weeks and have neglected continuing the story of becoming a saddle maker.  The last post I made describing commercial white water rafting, my first job after high school, might have left readers with the impression that it was not the best job.  Au contraire!

One of my favorite rafting trips originates in Green River, Utah (anything leaving Green River has got to be good) and ending in Lake Powell, the underwater environmental crime scene covering one of the most beautiful canyons on earth–Glenn Canyon.  Speaking of Lake Powell, one of the best books I’ve read is The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey (the link is not an explicit endorsement of Amazon.com; just a realization that there is now almost no where else to find books in most American cities…).  Everyone interested in environmental concerns should read The Monkey Wrench Gang.  One of the main fictional characters in MWG, Seldom Seen Smith, was based in large part on Ken Sleight, my boss and owner of the rafting company.

But getting back to the main story, I was on a lovely trip down the Green River, through the confluence of the Green and Colorado rivers, into Cataract Canyon, and ending in Lake Foul (as many Abbey-philes call it).  The Green River is smooth, calm, relaxing, quite, wonderful, contemplative, …  And then comes Cataract Canyon, one of the most exciting stretches of white water rapids anywhere.  People say it was much better and lasted far longer before Glenn Canyon was flooded by Lake Foul, but I never saw that.

There is a convenient site for camping on the river very near the confluence of the Green and Colorado rivers (look at the wonderful satellite photo and guess which river is which!).  I don’t remember now if it was right above or right below the confluence, but it was very close; my bet was right below, because there is a certain “excitement” in the air at that camp site.  After I completed my main work responsibilities, there were a few hours before dinner for us to relax or explore.

I was training for a marathon at the time and tried to take long runs on a regular basis.  It is sometimes hard to get a good run on the river, but I decided to put on my shoes and see where they led me.  I found a very small trail that looked like it was currently used mostly by animals.  It went along the bank of the river for a short while and then it turned and went right up the side of the (very steep and tall!) canyon wall, following a series of switch-backs.  It was quite a climb, with several pretty narrow places that were a long way up, but I was 18 years old and had no fear.

When I crested the top, I had one of the most spiritual moments of my life (I don’t use this phrase often or lightly…).  I was tired, sweaty, breathing hard.  When I got onto the top, I was alone in the middle of Canyonlands National Park in an area that I believe they call the Doll House (I may be wrong on the name).  It was all red rock, and it looked like Manhattan sky-scrapers made out of huge rocks.  I have never heard such silence, and the only thing I could hear was my breathing and loudly drumming heart beat.  I have never heard my heart beat like that day, and it was almost annoying the way it ripped through the silence.  A large hawk flew overhead, and everything was beautiful and surreal.  I almost started crying.

After perhaps 20 minutes of just sitting and slowly walking around in complete silence, an airplane flew by very high in the sky, but it broke the moment.  I also realized that I should be getting back to help before the sun went down, because people would have worried about me and it would have been treacherous going back down the steep trail in the dark.

It was the best day on the river and one of the most memorable days of my life.

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