Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Load Out

Waiting Dory Boats

I arrived at the motel just after noon in a searing heat with a lot of time to kill before the pre-trip meeting later that evening. So I did what any mountain man would do and took a siesta in the dark cool confines of my motel room. A few hours later, hunger drove me from my cool lair out into the heat where I started walking around town looking for a place to eat. I chose a McDonald's restaurant not only because I was once again poor and couldn't afford much else, but because I wanted to clog my arteries with one more greasy delight before disappearing off the civilized map for a month. Despite my financial situation, I ended up buying an extra meal and giving it to a homeless man sitting out front waiting for his luck to change. He had come in while I had been eating and asked other patrons for money but the workers had shown him the door. Now as I spoke a few words with the man while he was hungrily eating, they were giving me a nasty look through the window. I just smiled, saluted them and walked back to my motel.

For a decade, I had imagined a group of other adventuring type adults in their physical prime sharing this trip with me but when I walked in the room the scene looked straight out of a geriatric convention. Old people where everywhere and I was sure that the walkers and oxygen tanks were tucked behind the chairs in which they were now seated talking about cashing IRA's and who had the most great great great grandchildren. I was the youngest person by over forty years and in some cases over sixty years! My stomach sank as I sat in a chair apart from the rest waiting for the trip briefing to begin thinking that all this saving and planning over all these years was going to be spent with a bunch of old people who had to be cajoled down the river.

After an eternity in which some of the older people starting dozing off and a few even went ahead and died, another older but physically fit man named Bronco, strode into the room and started briefing the clients on the trip; everything from how to relieve your bowels to righting a capsized boat. When he had given his presentation, he asked us if there were any questions. The geriatrics not dead or asleep as I had though started asking such questions as; "Are there port-a-potties at every camp?”, "Is it true that there are hot springs at every camp?", "Should I take sunscreen?” or my personal favorite incredulous statement, "I'm supposed to go to the bathroom in that!" I was stunned! How could people sign up for a trip like this when they had to ask such questions or were squeamish about crapping in an ammo box with a TOILET SEAT?

It was forbidden for legal reasons for the trip outfitters to provide alcoholic beverages for the guests and they didn't want guests to bring lots of heavy cases of beer on the trip that they would have to pack, so they passed around a sign-up sheet where you could sign and add some money to an envelope for however many cases of beer you wanted and it would be waiting for you down at the boats tomorrow. I really didn't want to be boozing it up with 'grandma' and 'grandpa' every evening if by chance they were lucky enough to be awake much past six so when it came to me, I just passed it on with out buying any. For the final order of business, we were issued two waterproof bags and an ammo box (not the one for crapping in) for all our gear and were dismissed. All the geriatrics stood around probably discussing their AARP membership and arthritic hips but I didn't wait around, instead opting to head back to my room to begin my final packing.

Long before the sun even thought about rising, I was up walking around the motel grounds trying to sooth my jumbled up nerves with brisk clean air as I anxiously waited our departure time. I watched the sun rise up over the desert scrub behind the motel and then went in to eat my continental breakfast consisting of cold cereal and a bagel which really didn't taste very continental at all. Finally, two vans pulling what seemed like incredibly tiny and fragile wooden dory boats behind them pulled in, old people tottered out with mouths still oozing denture adhesive, gear was loaded and we set off for Lee's Ferry on the Colorado River.

When we arrived, the river seemed very unassuming and appeared to be like every other desert river you have seen, wide and stretched out between two rocky banks of scrub brush and sand. I can imagine Powell had thought the worst was over when he reached this point after surviving the narrow and turbulent canyons under the dirty waters of the current Lake Powell 'Sewage Lagoon.' I was pleasantly surprised when I met the rest of the crew that was in charge of giving the other 14 clients and I the time of our lives over the next month. Most of them were around my age and all of them were pictures of health with tans I hadn't thought possible for early April. They were stashing away case after case of beer in the boats making me instantly regret my decision to abstain last night.

The rest of the clients stood in a gaggle trying to stay out of the way or accidentally break a hip, so I strolled on down to the river that I had been dreaming about for most of my life. It was a beautiful emerald green and felt like a melted Popsicle on a hot summer day. I kneeled down at the edge of the river and watched the strong current go rushing by in swirling vortices of water. I prayed a little prayer of sorts to the Colorado River asking that if I respected it, would it respect me or more importantly my life? I took the silence as affirmative and walked back up the beach to the awaiting boats. I took the remaining available spot in the bow of one of the dories and we shoved off into the river. There was no going back now.


Kelly said...

Hmmm. Those boats look awfully small and fragile for a river. I'm a good swimmer, but I have no desire to get dumped fully clothed into water like that, especially if it's full of rocks or boulders (and rapids!).

I have a sneaking suspicion I'm pretty close to the same age as some of those geriatrics you refer to. I'm also thinking about my ammo case sitting in the closet...

Ed said...

Kelly - Keep in mind that this happened 16 years ago. I know at my current age, I wouldn't refer to them as geriatrics since most were only a decade or two older than me now!

The boats were small, fragile and rigid. The latter really adds to the adrenaline factor when you have waves taller than the boat was long. The boats also had substantial repair kits should one take damage on a rock.

sage said...

I don't remember the humor of this part and, with Kelly, am probably about the age of many of those (and a little sensitive over it, not really). Good post and glad to see that you are reworking this story.

Pumpkin Delight (Kimberly) said...

Ha ha! I was waiting for the end when you mentioned their age being the same age as your are now! :)
Fun story, and I'm glad it ended with the start to a great trip!

Ed said...

Sage and Pumpkin Delight - Although there were many that I never really socialized with, I did become pretty good friends with some of them by the end of the trip, especially those who were more interested in hiking than sitting in camp drinking and waiting for their supper to be served!

Bob said...

The story continues. Great stuff.