Every river trip for me begins with a feeling that could be compared to that one you get just before jumping off a cliff into a lake. That moment your feet leave the rock there ain’t much going back. For river trips, it’s on account of the awesome current carrying you, quickly turning river miles into potential grueling hiking miles. Pulling away from the put in and looking upstream, your vehicle and all the comforts it symbolizes disappears behind the bend. Naturally, this is when one would begin yet another mental survey of everything on board. The stuff in dry bags and boxes contain the only assurance of a warm dry place to sleep and grub to fill a stomach.
Having escaped the gravity of life on land, one can take a breath and slow to the speed of water. The riparian vegetation: too tall of grass and leafy trees; mosey by indicating the river’s speed. The current has a big say in where you are going so it's up to the rower to navigate the river’s intentions. They pay mind to avoid pitfalls that could turn a day on the river into an ordeal; that means clear of rocks, snags, holes, and anything that could stuck or sink a boat (not that that’s the worst that could happen). The main channel, the place where the water is deeper and faster, is generally a good place to be.
With miles behind one’s self and the beginnings of evening approaching, the time to look for lodging has come. The same attributes that make any campsite desirable: good drainage, shelter from the elements and natural beauty, are the same factors here plus a crucial difference- it’s relationship with the river. Is the bank inviting or too steep? How muddy is it? Is there an eddy to park in? Anything big enough and close enough to shore to secure the bowline to? What if the river rises or drops? Rest assured, the above questions get answered throughout one’s stay.
In the spectrum of “ruffin' it” and “glamping” there is more choice for the boat goer to land on. Since the burden is buoyed, you can carry those heavy kinds of comforts that backpacking just wont allow- that’s if not hiking with a pack mule or three. I’m talking about the comforts of a kitchen fully outfitted with a multiple range burner, cast iron cookware, a liquor-store the size of two milk crates, an arsenal of cutlery, dishes, cooking oil, seasoning, spices and whatever is on the menu. All this (usually the priority) is unloaded, set up with a folding table and becomes the camp’s hearth.
Although the kitchen may be the heart, lets pay tribute to the spirit of camp. Likely everyone on the trip has placed a seat in a semi circle facing the direction of the decidedly best view. This crescent of campers witnesses the sun go down; it is aware of each of it's individuals and the glue that holds it’s self together. As the crew's chatter quiets and the moon rises, shadows begin to appear, one by one members of the star lit amphitheater disappear into tents. The night goes on and it is empty chairs that watch the pale light dancing on the reflective surface of tomorrow’s highway.
Waking up at river’s edge, each day goes something like this: Shake any droplets off the tent fly and let dry in the sun if an option. Get coffee- the prospect of which in the wilderness is usually inspiration enough to brave anything outside the tent. Gather around breakfast and plan the day ahead as much as possible. Answer the questions: how many miles to go, what is the destination, what rapids or challenges are ahead and whats going on with the weather. Next it's loading up and tying everything down with the idea of capsize in mind. What isn't secure could become an artifact buried in a sand bar. The boats checked over, it's now push off for another day in care of the river.
Over miles as you descend with the river, you will navigate the channels, fight the wind or whatever the sky is spitting and observe the history the river has exposed. Still writing an ever changing story, it brings you to your next destination: tonight's camp.