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Health by Heidi

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Heidi's World

Heidi's World

A River Runs Through It...

Posted on August 31, 2015 at 6:45 PM

Yesterday some friends and I went over and floated the day stretch of the Salmon River.  It was a wonderful day, as any day on the river is.  Even though the wind was pretty intense and there was cloud cover for a lot of the day, we still had a great time.  I just can't help but have fun on the river.  As we were floating along, I started thinking about being on the river and how much I love it.

My first multi-day river trip was nine years ago, when my husband and I were not yet married.  We got invited to go on the Lower Salmon by some friends of his.  I had been on one-day guided trips before, but never a multi-day self-supported trip, so this was all new to me.  My husband even bought me an inflatable kayak (IK), knowing that I can't sit still for long and knowing I would struggle with simply sitting on the back of his boat for the whole ten days.  The morning of departure to drive to the river, we all met at the parking lot of Super One in Hamilton to buy supplies for the trip.  I was anxious to get going, and as the time ticked by and we waited for people to make their purchases I started to get fidgety.  "Man, what is taking so long?  I wish they would hurry up.  When are we leaving?"  Finally, my not-yet-husband turned to me and said, "Are you gonna be like this the whole trip?"  I realized at that moment that even though we were not yet on the river, we were already on "river time."  I immediately relaxed and just took it all in. 

Fast forward to the river.  I decided early into the trip that I could not sit on the back of my not-yet-husband's boat the whole time and did want to try this IK thing.  We pumped it up, got me all set up, and off we went.  I was paddling along with some other highly experienced kayakers that were walking me through how to read water, how to run a rapid, what line to take and which to avoid, etc.  I was very nervous but doing ok.  Out of the blue, on what was no more than a tiny riffle in the river, I had some sort of crazy, uncontrollable panic attack.  I started shaking violently, crying uncontrollably, and all I wanted was to get out of that kayak and onto my not-yet-husband's boat.  My panic attack, I realized shortly thereafter, was related to a bad experience I had on a river years before that entailed a rock to the face, several broken teeth, broken nose, and a black eye.  My not-yet-husband very calmly rowed up beside me, helped me climb into his boat, pulled the IK aboard, deflated it, strapped it down, and continue on down the river, seemingly unfazed and offering nothing but encouraging words to me the entire time.

I never got into the IK again on that trip, and it took me a full two years before I decided to venture into it again.  Despite that, the trip was amazing.  I loved every moment of it.  I loved being outside 24 hours a day.  I loved being in the elements, whether it was hot or cold or windy or rainy or sunny.  I loved the simplicity of our days.  Get up, eat breakfast, load the rafts, paddle down the river, stop when we get hungry and eat, paddle some more, stop and set up camp, eat dinner, hang out on the beach, go to sleep.  Life stripped down to the bare essentials.  It was magnificent.  No cell phones, no internet, no email, no facebook.  Nothing but nature and all the splendor that she has to offer.  When the trip came to a close, I didn't want to leave. 

My not-yet-husband quickly became my husband, and since then we have done several trips together, including many on the Main and Lower Salmon, the Selway, and twice down the mighty Colorado in the Grand Canyon.  Two years after my first experience in the IK, I saddled up again and gave it a whirl.  It was on the Main Salmon.  Again, I was with several experienced kayakers and rafters.  This time, I vowed to paddle the entire river.  There was no safety outlet.  I was not getting on my husband's boat.  And I did it.  The entire river.  Yes, I swam a few times.  Yes, there were times my adrenaline was coursing so strongly that I couldn't hear the river over my own heartbeat.  But I loved it even more.  There is something completely different about being a passenger on a boat and actually paddling myself down the river, controlling where I go and what I do or don't do.  I felt at one with the water, even when I felt like it was trying to swallow me whole. 

I understand what Norman Maclean talked about in his famous book.  The river really does get in you.  It becomes part of you, like an old friend.  You can go months or even years without seeing each other, but once you are back together it is like you never left.  The river becomes familiar, comfortable, simple.  It provides a sense of peace and adventure, adrenaline and calmness.  There is nothing like the sound of my paddle rhythmically caressing the water in slow spots, the roar of a rapid thundering and crashing a half mile down river, the adrenaline coursing through my body as I approach the roar, the deafening boom and frothing white water in the midst of it, and the instant feeling of complete exhilaration upon making it through the rapid upright   The stark simplicity of the days and nights on the river is truly incomparable.  Being fully immersed in nature, completely in it, exposed and victim to its whims, is an incredible experience.  I am so glad that my husband took me on that first trip.  I am glad that I got back in the IK (whose name, by the way, is Violet), and I am glad that I have had the opportunity to continue to be on the river.  The trips never seem long enough or frequent enough.  I find comfort in knowing that, like an old friend, the river is always there, waiting for me to come back.

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