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Day Six - May 21, 1999

Rafting on the San Juan River


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The blue highlight shows the San Juan River rafting area

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We started at Mexican Hat, ended in Lake Powell

DAY ONE ON THE RIVER

When I announced my intentions to join my fellow jerks on this trip, someone in Seattle, no doubt concerned for my well-being, asked "have you seen the movie 'Deliverance'?"  All day long it's been a cheap laugh to whistle the first few bars of 'Dueling Banjos', but then someone starting singing the theme from Gilligan's Island, ("a three-hour tour!") and things just degenerate from there.

After a rousing reunion when the six Jerks finally converged in Green Lake, we went out to dinner before heading to Holiday Expeditions for our briefing session. 

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Ellie (sitting) and Darryl explain the rules

Our guides Darryl and Ellie introduced us to what we needed to know.   Most of what you need to know is that all your stuff has to fit in two bags, and that the guides do pretty much everything else.  We left with our waterproof sacks and everyone began stuffing their assorted necessities into their bags.   

As we drove from Green River to the "put-in" point at Mexican Hat, we passed the "four Corners" area where you can stand in one place and be in four states at once - Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado.  We didn't stop, but we could grasp the general concept.

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Get those boats a floatin'!

We received instructions before loading into the river, mostly about safety and where you can pee (not on the banks, causes algae bloom).  There were also multiple disclaimers about how if anything happened to you it was your fault.  With that taken care of, we launched into the river.

The San Juan River is very muddy at this of the year, so you can't really tell how deep it is.  The water moves pretty quickly, so other than steering the boats, not a lot of effort is required.  We are cruising down between tall canyon walls hundreds of feet high and eons old.  The river meanders quite a bit, so you can rarely see more than a quarter to half a mile downriver.

The Bureau of Land Management manages access to the river for rafting trips like ours, so that there are not too many people vying for the limited camping sites.  We see a couple of other rafting expeditions during the day, but never for more than a few minutes at a time.  It really feels like we have the place to ourselves.

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The most obvious benefit to this management is the absolute lack of evidence of human presence.  There are no tires, 55 gallon oil drums, plastic bags, diapers, wheels, shopping carts, or any of the other garbage you typically find along a body of water.  In fact, we are sternly reminded that everything that goes on the trip must come back, everything.  We carefully sort organic garbage, aluminum cans, and pack every little wrapper into a secure place so that we leave no trace. 

We stop for lunch and Darryl and Ellie perform some magic, turning boat seats into tables, covering the top of the table with freshly sliced pineapples and oranges, followed by ingredients to make your own turkey or peanut butter sandwich.  After lunch everything magically vanishes again, and we reboard the boats.

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Mark does the ducky

We have two 'rubber ducky' inflatable kayaks, and folks trade off riding in them along side the larger rafts.  Everyone is feeling lazy from the lunch so there is a lot of floating.

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Tom and Lyle do the demo

At about 3:30 we get out of the river and set up camp.  Darryl and Ellie teach us how to set up the tents, and we busy ourselves finding just the right spot of sand to call our own, trying to be careful not to get sand into our carefully over-packed bags.  The most important, overlooked piece of advice they gave us last night was "the less you take, the happier you'll be."  Truer words were never spoken.  As I sit here on the sandy bank of the San Juan River, the load that seemed so reasonable last night in the hotel room seems positively burdensome today.

The sun is still out, it's 95 degrees, and everyone heads for the river to cool off after setting up camp.  People head off to their tents to sort out their stuff, and finally the sun sets beyond the canyon wall and it starts to cool down. 

The guides begin to prepare dinner, carefully trained to do the most with the least. 

A game of Euchre starts on the beach.  Dinner is being prepared by our Holiday Expeditions guides - lasagna, salad and breadsticks, followed by carrot cake.   Life is good.

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Euchre on the beach

Jerks throwing rocks

I have dutifully brought along the Jerk soundtrack, about 24 hours of recorded music from the 60's and 70's, and enough batteries to power Cleveland for at least 30 minutes.  We start listening to our music, universally recognized as the best era in modern music, and everyone is enjoying it.  They are also surprised and amazed that in addition the music, we also have all this other modern technology (computer, GPS, digital cameras) along for the ride.   We're a little unsure about sharing our music with these folks - in addition to the tunes there are lots of excerpts from Firesign Theater, Monty Python, and National Lampoon recalling inside jokes that would not resonate with other people - you had to be there.   Nevertheless, the tunes made the campsite into a hum-along.

As I am trying to organize my things for the evening, it is very clear that no matter how careful I am, sand is going to get all over everything.  This is particularly distressing for the computer, so I keep at least two layers of sealed watertight wrapping around it all times.  This seems to be working pretty well.   However, my sleeping bag, clothes and supplies are all getting covered with sand.   And more sand.

If I had to do the packing thing again, I would have taken a lot less.  They were right.

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