The river is a muscle. We float along it in our rafts for nine days, the flow almost faster than I can walk. Faster than I can swim, too: One night I put on my fins and wade out, trying to swim against it. I wind up swimming in place, unable to advance. Once I jump in with my PFD and simply ride the current, swept down through towering cliffs.
|The river changed as we floated from Bluff to Clay Hills. Here at the beginning it was wide open. To river left is the Navajo Nation, and you need a permit to go over there.|
The sun is unrelenting. Temperatures along the river rise to above one hundred degrees. Some nights, it is too hot to sleep, too hot even for a sheet. We slide into the blissfully cool water as much as we can, spending most of our days soaked. The river canyon bakes, the only relief the water and the occasional hackberry tree.
|The ruins at River House, our second nights' camp. True to river time, we only make it six miles in two days.|
The silence is a sound itself. We see few other river parties and create river names for them: the Party Barge, the Kids, the Old Guys. We see bighorn sheep, deer, a ringtail cat, and a bird of prey swooping down to capture a smaller bird right in our camp. We slow down to river time.
When I was first invited on this San Juan river trip, I didn't want to go. River trips weren't really what I wanted to do. The rigging of the boats, the unloading and loading of gear–so much gear–seemed interminable. There was a lot of sitting around in camp. I fretted about exercise, not just exercise but an elevated heart rate, which my body seems to need on the daily. I had only done overnight river trips, and most of my paddling has been on the ocean. What did I know about rivers?
As it turned out, river time is magic. Slowly you begin to unwind. I was able to sleep, the sound of the current running through my dreams, in a way that escapes me in real life. I was able to let go of the thread of anxiety related to work that pursues me in real life. Every day we packed our gear and floated around the next corner, every day we picked a different camp based on its attributes. A riffle for playing in with the stand up paddle board, a sandy beach for sitting, a trail to hike.
|The view from the Honaker Trail, that climbs 1200 feet to the canyon rim.|
Will I become a river runner? I don't think so. At my heart I am more terrestrial. But I succumbed to river time. "You all look so relaxed," Robert says when we return from the Clay Hills takeout. And we are, eighty-three miles later.
|A pool up in Slickhorn Canyon|