A DAY ON THE RIVER
The river day starts at a time that would be unthinkable for most people (especially grad students). Around 5:15 am or so, everyone starts to stir as the light begins to pick up. Bear said that coffee would be ready at 5:30 every morning. On our trip, he has relaxes a little as the week has gone on. A couple of mornings I have slept later, but for the most part I just woke up around then and have been fully rested and ready to go.
A trip to the kitchen finds Bear and George working on breakfast in the dim light. I usually made myself a café mocha from the hot chocolate they have there with a touch of the coffee. The coffee has gotten great reviews from all the big coffee drinkers. The water is plenty hot, but it is the river water that is much cloudier with dirt than anything I would consider drinking somewhere else. We use ladles to get the hot water or coffee out of their pitchers, and it is much better to be the first to use them in a while so that most of the sediment has settled. It's much clearer then.
After I downed a couple cups of mocha from my mug I usually go back and check on Dad at our tent. We start packing our things into their three possible locations - the sleeping gear bag, our personal bag, or our ammo can that will ride in an accessible spot in the front.
My clothes are all dirty in one way or another and washing them in this river water would not help. Since I am only brought two t-shirts I would want to wear, I just change into the one that wasn't worn the previous day. I change my shorts to try to make it easier to figure out which day it is on our pictures.
Usually at this point it is time to make a trip to the toilet. The first stop is the riverbank, where I pee right into the river. The reason is that "The solution to pollution is dilution." If we all did it on shore, the odorific chemicals in urine would collect on the sand and rocks and would stay there since rains are infrequent. That would not smell good. That process is much easier for me than for the women, who have to usually stand in the river. Too bad they haven't learned how to pee standing up. :) Here's a view "sitting down" from one of the toilet locations.
The toilet has always been in a secluded spot a few feet from the riverbank. I am now totally used to the openness of it and I am sure I will miss the amazing views I got as I sat. The toilet is just a small aluminum box with a seat that screws on once we've arrived. It does kinda fill up and we got a new one on the fifth day that made us all a little less fearful of sitting on a full box. The toilet paper is kept in a ziploc bag next to the box. One of the two handwashing systems is located a little ways away, where the 'signal cushion' also lives when not in use. One of the boat cushions acts as the 'occupied' signal in reverse - if you are going to the toilet, take the cushion with you. If you don't see the cushion, wait at the washing unit until the current user comes out. The cushion exchange was a new thing at first but now we're all used to it.
Dad and I pack all of our stuff up, take our drying things from the various trees and rocks around us where they were put last night, and take our gear to the beach near the raft. I get my fork and mug out of my ammo box - "Don't lose your fork or your mug!" for breakfast. There is usually a hot main dish, fruit, and toast.
We all stand around or find seats to eat and talk, and then afterwards clean our plate and fork in the four-step dishwashing system. Always going downstream, it's cold initial clean, hot soapy, hot rinse, cold rinse. The plates go into a drying net under one table and the forks go into our ammo cans.
Everyone starts bringing all their stuff to the beach near the raft after they've done eating and Bear and George break down the kitchen.
Usually the Germans had brought all their things to the raft at this point as the rest of us did final cleaning or packing. Horst would get on board the raft to help with the packing. We hypothesized that he did that to put as many bags as possible in the crack between the center and right tubes, where he usually sat. They would protect him from the splashes that often shot up and back from between the tubes.
Soon, we were all on shore near the raft and everyone was very good about pitching in to get the raft loaded, tied down, and down the river. We loaded the kitchen things, too, and finally Bear would check to see if any more toilet runs were necessary before he brought it back to the boat.
After most things were tied down everyone would climb onto the raft. Soon after (if it hadn't started already), the washing of the decks would begin. Mike was the ring leader of the deck cleaners, but all of us participated except the Germans, who didn't seem to mind the dirt or thought we'd handle it just fine. I don't know if we went overboard on the raft-washing or not, but I can't imagine anybody being more particular about it than we were. It was a very useful thing to do at first, but as the river has gotten muddier the return on the time spent diminished. The water is so muddy that we really spread the dirt around more than get it off. I think a lot of people might find our dirt/sand diligence funny.
George pushes us off and we start down the river with Bear at the helm. We have shaken down into the 'usual' spots now, but there is still some movement and so far anyone who has wanted to sit somewhere (in the front or in the 'Cadillac' section) has been able to. Usually it's been Mike and me in the front, and sometimes Kathy, with Dad, Gary, Douglas, and Horst in the second row. Ray has sat in the front, too, for some of the larger stuff. George sits on the very back with Bear, and everyone else is usually in the 'Cadillac' middle.
Bear asks us to "skooch down and scrunch in" when a tough rapid for him to navigate is coming. We grab a handheld or two and brace for the cold water to come. Rapids usually last about thirty seconds and then they're over. I rarely notice the motor.
Those of us in front often stand up on the bow just after a rapid to let the water run off us and try to dry and warm up a little.
Most of the rest of the time we look at the scenery (and sometimes take pictures) and talk with one another.
We have usually stopped at a riverside stop around 10 AM for a hike (or sometimes this has been and/or with an afternoon stop.) George hops off first with a rope to tie up the raft and we take off our life jackets and clip them to the raft to keep them from getting blown into the water. Bear leads the hikes and George is the sweeper in the rear. Everyone usually goes, although Rita and Genie didn't make a couple of the harder ones. Horst has gone on all of them, which is truly amazing. He's not even noticeably slower than the rest of us.
The hike stops average about an hour and a half, and then we all climb back aboard. We have never eaten lunch or camped at a hike stop. Bear said that it is a Park Service regulation that prohibits camping at a riverside sight. Once we're on, the deck washing goes into effect again.
Bear usually pulls off into a shaded area with an accessible flat beach for lunch. He gives us the bathroom directions - usually women go upstream and men go down. We are all good about helping Bear and George unload the lunch kitchen needs and then find places to sit and talk while they cut tomatoes and onions and everything else to get lunch ready. That is usually my chance to write about the morning's sights and activities.
We eat sandwiches and drink juice or soda for lunch every day - no plates, just hold it and eat. We also have plenty of chips and cookies. Pretty soon, Bear and George are cleaning up and we are all making sure we haven't made messes where we've eaten. The expectation is that no one will know we've ever been there, so we are careful about both trash and food dropping. We climb back aboard - and there's more washing of the deck! (Sometimes we try to keep our feet and shoes clean as we get on, but that has never eliminated the buckets of water from coming out.)
We may stop for another hike in the afternoon or just enjoy the scenery and rapids until Bear pulls us in to our nights camp site. A few times we've been thwarted by other rafters who've already gone ashore at Bear's intended spot. He knows the campsites and their positions on the river well. As we pull in, he points out where the kitchen and toilet will be. Then it's up to us to pick a spot to sleep.
That's when one of the most interesting parts of the group dynamic come out. Everyone wants to secure a good site for the night, of course. However, there are a few things pulling on each person's actions, and their behavior gives insight onto what their real priorities are. On the one hand, our group has tried to maintain good manners and camaraderie, so no one runs off the boat in a frantic search and certainly no one hampers any other searches. Also, we have all tried to pitch in and help with raft logistics so there is the pull to stay at the raft and start the unloading process - the most altruistic of actions. Finally, everyone wants to get their money's worth on the trip, which in this case means a relatively secluded sleeping site with a great view. Easy river access to pee and an easy walk to the kitchen and toilet are pluses. The first night, Gary and Kathy found a super spot that set the tone for the rest of the week. They repeated the second night to establish themselves as the premier site-finders. Once it became apparent that all sites were not created equal, more and more people decided to search for their site immediately after the boat landed (the least altruistic action) and not help unload the boat. I put myself, to my embarrassment, in this category. I usually hopped off and tried to quickly find a good site, mark it by leaving my life jacket and cushion there, and hurry back to the raft to do my part for the group. Dad would usually wander off altogether and generally explore the campsite and any nearby canyons. All the other couples worked together quickly to find a spot, with all of us usually in a line walking along the river on a path and either taking or passing on the little sites that we found. The only couple that doesn't follow this pattern seem to be Gary and Kathy. I think they are the most experienced camping couple, and so Gary stays at the raft to help unload and lets Kathy do the selection and marking alone. Usually they stay with what she finds. This is the best solution to the situation, but I don't think the other couples (ours included) are as well suited for this strategy. Dad is happy exploring and just taking whatever spot I find and doesn't seem to care about whether we helps unload or not. I guess he thinks us younger folks handle it just fine or something. I would say that the sleeping-spot-finding process is the least comfortable aspect of the trip for me, because I don't enjoy being competitive (which is what it is, I'm afraid( with my friends, which is what I consider everyone else now. Some couples spend more time together at their site initially than others, while some come right back to help unload. Their conduct there fits my overall impression. No telling what they think about Dad and me.
We work together well to get the raft unloaded once we get enough people back from site selection. We get all the personal gear off (and some couples start moving theirs to the sites while others stay until all is unloaded) and get most of the kitchen gear off. A quick look at whose gear is the last to be taken away is an indicator of altruism, perhaps - and I think that Gary and Kathy's are usually the last. Mine and Dad's are often last, too, since he's usually still walking around. Hmmm.
Bear and George start working on dinner while everyone else settles in for the night. Since that rain on the first night, everyone has asked for a tent. It helps keep blowing sand away as well as rain off. Dad and I have left our front flap completely open the whole time to help the air flow through, but aim it downwind to minimize the sand. This is another good time for me to write about the afternoon - after setting up camp, but before dinner.
Every night a wonderful meal has been served, and we bring our forks and cushions and sit around and talk and eat. The light starts to wane and we clean our dishes and say goodnight. Another day surrounded by unbelievable scenery and good company.
I have been using Dad's air mattress to make mine double width. I put my sleeping bag on top of them and then my sheet on top of that. The end result is a very comfortable camping bed. I have slept well. I usually wake up a couple or three times, usually to adjust my camp pillow or wrap up in the sheet a little more. The moon started the trip full and was a really bright light on us during the night - tough for sleeping but it basically eliminated most flashlight use. I would recommend going on this trip when the moon was in exactly the phases it was for us - start with a full moon as a light around camp, then be last quarter by the end so that you can enjoy the stars as you go to bed but have good moonlight if you wake up later in the night and need to make a trip to the river. Dad and I kept one of the empty sleeping gear bags just outside our tent to keep shoes in at night - no rain and no sand. The moon helped me find my pair and lace up without a flashlight that might have awakened Dad.
My sleep almost always was full of dreams, and I was always well rested when the light first broke and the next day began.
What a super way to spend life.