Friday, April 17, 2009

Launching the 2009 river season: Take me to the river ...

... Drop me in the water.

It wasn't how I planned to launch the river season -- or the Next Big Life Project I'm on. But somehow it was the PERFECT way to launch both:

With a hefty heapin' helpin' of humility.

See, I was cocky. No doubt about it. My buddy Jono was visiting from San Francisco, and for his last day I planned a grand -- and very nearby -- adventure: a canoe float down a stretch of our home-town Animas River. It would be, I assured him, just a two-hour cruise ...

... a two-hour cruise ...

Jono and I have been on several multi-day canoe ventures together, so this one seemed like a leisurely trip -- from Baker's Bridge, at the north end of the grand Animas Valley, down to Trimble Lane, where we usually put in for our canoeing day trips down the valley to town. This stretch is, I had been assured by a kayaking friend of mine (renown for his class- V paddling expeditions, which should've suggested to me that I get a second opinion), a flat-water float through wide, slow, low-water meanders.

It was, he assured me, just a ... two-hour cruise ...

With Spring starting to spring, the river season a'comin', and my paddling pal in town, I decreed that this quick two-hour trip also, then, would be the first run of my life's next Big Project: Over the next few years I will paddle my canoe down the lengths of the San Juan and Animas rivers, as both my 50th Birthday pilgrimage, and also to serve the narrative thread that will run through my next book.

So with all those auspicious beginnings afoot, I knew: It was going to be a great day!

But I was cocky. It was, after all, flat water. (Even if I'd never actually seen this stretch myself ...) And we are experienced paddlers. And it is right close to home. (Even if one of the themes of this book-to-come is the adventures to be had that lie close to home ...) We wouldn't need much, then. Floatbags? Naw. Hell, I'll bring a little token bail bucket. Spare paddle? Ha! Ballast? I'll throw in a couple of bags of gear and a few beers. Dry bags? Well, I'll bring one, but I certainly won't seal it well. And I'll put the rest of our gear -- extra jackets and shells and hats and gloves -- in a day pack and call it good.

After all, it was just a ... two-hour cruise.

For us, it was about a hundred-yard cruise. Paddling anyway. Then we swam. Then we spent an hour running up and down the bank, recovering out boat and gear, and communicating with with comical versions of American Sign Language to our friends who had beached their boats on the far shore so they could gather our various jetsam and flotsam washing up on the other side of the river.

Meanwhile, my beloved canoe sat abandoned and flooded and lodged on a rock (there were a lot of rocks ...) in the middle of the river.

After an hour or so of recover and rescue, I and Jono (whom I, in my cocky "guiding" mode, urged to wear hiking boots and jeans for our mellow, flat-water float) were damn cold. Our "dry bag" was half-full of water and weighed about 50 pounds, full of now-sopping foul-weather gear. Much of the rest of my gear was either redistributed among the still-floating boats or (including our beer) had been sacrificed to the river gods.

We prudently chose to abort.

We humbly chose to abort.

We respectfully chose to abort.

Failure, then? No way. Yes, I still consider that short venture the start of both this year's river season, and of my grand multi-year paddling project. I also, though, now consider it the perfect start to both.

For now I will go into both the right way: With humbleness. And respect. And prepared.

The way one should always go to the river -- whether for a two-hour cruise or a multi-year project.

Our two companions continued on to finish the trip. Meanwhile, Jono and I are determined to tackle this unsuccessful venture again. Hell, maybe we'll make it an annual mission. We could call it the "Annual Baker's Bridge Classic": a triathlon that consists of a hundred-yard paddle, a 20-yard swim, and a three-mile trot along a cobblestone shoreline mostly carrying a 16-foot canoe.

The river will always be the winner.

Check out the pics below. Note that there are no pics of the actual flip, or of my canoe lodged like driftwood in the middle of the river, since my camera was still in the swamped canoe.



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