‘Row, Row, Row your boat,
gently down the stream.
Merrily, Merrily, Merrily.
Life is but a dream.’
“One more time.”
‘Row, Row, Row your boat,
gently down the stream.
Merrily, Merrily, Merrily.
Life is but a dream.’
The peaceful melody created a relaxed mood. We listened openly as Dean
“Over the past few days I‟ve had some time to reflect on this song. Now I‟d like
to share with you what it means to me.” He said, his offering of which would change my
“Consider the first line of the song: Row, row, row, your boat.” He started.
“Tomorrow we‟re going to be returning to our normal lives. I know my own life can be
quite hectic at times, as I suspect yours can be as well.” He said. “Many of us will jump
back into our routines at work and home. Hitting the ground running we‟re going to Row,
Row, Row our boats as we did before. But as you‟re going about these frenzied days I‟d
like you to pause from time to time to remember the next verse of the song...Gently down
the stream.” He said with a relaxing smile. “This time, take a deep breath. Consider the
many things we have to be thankful for: our children, places like Desolation Canyon, and
the many friends we‟ve met on this trip. Try and live each moment of your days Merrily,
Merrily, Merrily. Simply put, we‟re on this Earth to live happily. Keep in mind the
memories we‟ve shared on this trip. Remember how soothing just breathing this air made
us feel. Strive to live each second of our lives Merrily, Merrily, Merrily!” He said
passionately and then concluded: “Because as the song ends...life is but a dream. And
there‟s no time to waste.”
Silent, we reflected on Dean‟s wisdom. Glancing over at Brett I noticed him
staring into the fire as if it were a crystal ball.
Before taking his seat, Dean offered in close:
“Thank you all for a wonderful trip.” Through the delivery of his words we felt
his sincerity. “It was a pleasure spending the last 5 day with everyone, and I wish you all
With enough applause to fill the canyon, we clapped as Dean returned to his seat.
“Dean,” Andrew said simply, as he stood in the circle. “Thank you.”
Andrew glanced at his napkin to see who the next participant in our talent show
was. I knew it was me.
First inspired by Andrew‟s musical talent, I longed for an outlet I could express
my growing interests. Wishing for a sincerer means of communicating and a deeper level
of sharing, I picked up a pen and wrote my first poem.
“I‟d like to welcome now to the stage my good friend City.” He said as I stood.
“It says on my playbill that he‟s going to read us a poem tonight.” He replied, assuming I
was reading someone else‟s work. Not even my friends knew I had finally decided to
Nervous before the crowd, I unfolded the paper that held my poem, hoping I
could read it fluidly despite the scribbles and cross-outs that littered both sides.
“This has been quite an experience for me as well.” I started. “So I thought I‟d
write something down in hopes of capturing what it means to me.” With this short
introduction I started my poem:
“Well I‟ve started down the road less traveled by,
and I‟m as happy as can be and I‟ll tell you why.
Each day on the river is filled with wonder,
from the bluest of skies to powerful thunder.
Every morning I awake to witness the sunrise,
It‟s strength and beauty fill my eyes.
Sometimes I wish I could sit down and take it all in,
but Mike just ran by shouting: ‘Let the rowing begin!‟.
So I stretch out my muscles and reach for my oars,
curious to see what today holds in store.
It never occurred to me how beautiful the river can be.
I guess that‟s no surprise for I grew up on the sea.
I never appreciated these canyons in the least,
But again please forgive me...I‟m from the East.
Being a guide has opened my mind to a world I never knew exist,
And when this summer‟s over the river will be missed.
Exactly when I chose this road I kinda forget,
But one thing‟s for certain, it‟s an experience I‟ll never regret.
Well another day on the river is coming to a close,
And it‟s clear to me why this road I chose.
Today I ran the rapids and saw timeless sights,
And to top it all off there‟s these peaceful nights.
You know, everyday on the river I make a new friend,
And I smile when I think: “City, tomorrow you get to do this again.”
And I pray that this summer didn‟t have to end.”
“There have been some wonderful surprises during this trip.” Andrew exclaimed.
“Thank you City for sharing your poem with us.” He replied, and then added
finally: “Just so you know City, we have some talking to do later....” He said to
Maybe our program didn‟t have the lights and glitter of Broadway. (Although,
given the millions of stars blazing from above I would beg to differ.) Regardless, what
our show lacked in costumes and choreography it made up for in simple, good-natured
fun among friends—the kind you can share anytime, anywhere, even in places as remote
as Desolation Canyon.
More talents were displayed, as unknown abilities became revealed. Kristin for
example knew how to juggle, while the parents on her boat performed a waltz to our
synchronized humming. We counted down a minute long handstand for Katie‟s sister
while Dean‟s son Josh borrowed Andrew‟s guitar for a song.
“All these talented people!” Andrew stated, “I think we really can bring this act to
Vegas!” as everyone applauded each other.
“Our final act of the evening will be performed by Lutke and I.” Andrew said,
with a little more seriousness. Lutke walked solemnly over to Andrew and continued:
“As many of you know, the Fremont Indians inhabited this land hundreds of years
before we even set foot in New England. In fact, there are petroglyphs etched in the
sandstone behind this very camp that marked their presence here.” He said with mystery.
“Certainly their culture was rich with tradition, customs, and beliefs as they
worked as a community to survive in this harsh land. Having recently studied the ancient
practices of the Fremont people, Lutke and I would like to share our discovery with you
by recreating one of their ancient ceremonies. Sitting here, on this hallowed ground, it
only seems appropriate.” Andrew reflected.
People sat captivated, unsure what to think. Was this for real? After all, who uses
the phrase „hallowed ground‟ anyway? If it were anyone else but Andrew, the jig would
have been up. As it were, people sat intrigued—especially the children.
“Time.” Lutke said, allowing this word to standalone. “Time was at the core of
much of their survival. It told these people when to plant and harvest the crops and when
to animals would migrate. Time also warned them of the approaching winters.” He
continued. “Time was very important to the Fremont, and while other civilizations used
sundials and stars to aid them, the Fremont had a rather unique method for uncovering
this element. Tonight, with your help, Andrew and I wish to recreate this time-honored
ritual.” Lutke concluded.
“As you can see, neither of us is wearing a watch.” Andrew said holding up his
bare arms. “But if all goes well, and we‟re able to capture the spirit of this rite, then I
estimate that we‟ll be able to realize the time of night to the precise minute.” Andrew
challenged while piquing everyone‟s wonder.
Preparing for the start of their display Lutke added finally: “Now for this to work
properly, we really do need the concentration of the group. So if we could all try and
focus for the next few minutes, that would really help us out. Thank you.” The cowboy
said in such a tone so not to be denied. Now they began.
Walking around the circle slowing, Andrew picked up a smooth wooden staff.
With Lutke peering over his shoulder Andrew drew a large circle in the sand inside of
which he drew smaller shapes. His methodology seemed calculated and systematic.
Squatting over Andrew‟s diagram Lutke pointed to areas of significance in the
sand. However, after a few moments of silent debate, they finally concurred this was not
the answer they were in search of.
Next they laid down beside one another and studied the stars. Pointing up to the
constellations they motioned enthusiastically on Orion. Appearing to have uncovered an
important clue, the excitement of the crowd was heightened. Upon further inspection
however, the position of the The Big Dipper to the North was apparently less convincing
to them. By the time they pointed in the direction of Draco Andrew and Lutke‟s
expression was that of silent dismay.
Frustrated, but not deterred, they stepped up their efforts.
Andrew picked up a hand full of sand. Sprinkling some into the fire, they gazed
intently at the blaze and concentrated on its effect. Still nothing. With determined eyes
they circled closely to the captive audience. Stopping abruptly, as if drawn by an outside
force, the two stood quietly. Picking up a hand full of sand each, they offer one final nod
of approval to one another and without hesitation poured it over the head of a passenger.
It was Brett.
Still, they were unable to determine the time of night.
With children giggling in the dark silence, Andrew and Lutke hastened their
efforts. With a rhythmic hum they began dancing around the fire. The anticipation of the
crowd grew restless as they sensed the climax nearing. Their dance escalated, as their
chants grew louder.
With the children in a giddy frenzy, Lutke and Andrew raised their arms to the
heavens. With an expression that looked more like a spastic fit than dance, they stomped
furiously about the fire. Finally, at the point of exhaustion, Andrew and Lutke halted their
wild display suddenly. Granting their request in a God-like voice that boomed in the
distance, their revelation was finally proclaimed:
“SHUT THE HECK UP OVER THERE! CAN‟T YOU SEE IT‟S 9:05 AT
Hiding behind a distant bush Mike‟s voice boomed. He was the third cohort
secretly in on the charade.
A soft breeze lifted some burning embers from the fire into the dark sky like a
fiery braid. Another wonderful day on the river was coming to a close. We embraced this
peaceful solitude that was our reward, as Mike took this opportunity to address the
“Sandwash to Swazies.” Mike started, naming the starting and ending points of
our trip. “It‟s the same distance each time through Desolation Canyon. But as you can
see, it‟s never the same trip.”
Sheepish eyes wandered about the fire.
“Certainly there‟s little doubt about the majesty of this canyon, the serenity of this
river, or the quietude of camp. Together, these qualities combine to open a window for
some pretty amazing things to happen: inspiration, friendship, and courage to name a
few. Only one factor remains though—perhaps the most important—that ultimately
decides the success of our journey together.” Mike paused. “Thank you all for making
this such a wonderful experience.”
Upon receiving Mike‟s praise I smiled proudly. I then joined with the group in
reciprocating my gratitude to Mike and the others. Dean then shared his thoughts:
“Those are wise words Mike.” Dean complimented. “If we can take something
else from this canyon besides the photographs we‟ve shot it should be your advise.” He
continued. “Although New York City may not hold quite the same serenity and quietude
you speak of with this canyon, you‟ve revealed one of the most important ingredients to
finding inspiration, friendship, and courage. People.” He said. “Although we don‟t
always have these canyons and rivers to open such windows in our lives, there are
countless opportunities for realizing this level of happiness where we live. Perhaps our
experiences on this trip will encourage us to seek them out.”
Dick then added:
“It‟s kinda funny when you think we came all this way to experience the
Southwest and the things I‟ll remember most about this trip are the people I met.” He
offered with a surprised smile. “Don‟t get me wrong—this place has left quite an
impression. It just didn‟t occur to me what else was in store.”
People smiled in agreement as a silence fell over the group. Indeed there are
different airs of silence. There‟s the silence that comes from watching a gymnast fly
through the air after launch from the apparatus of choice; in contrast there‟s the sober
silence of funerals or the euphoric seconds that follow a proposal for marriage.
The silence that hovered over the group was varied depending on the person.
Some reflected on the past 4 days with relaxed satisfaction while some others lamented
sadly for it‟s end. Before the silence grew awkward Lutke intervened.
Wiping a pretend tear from his eye he replied: “I promised myself I wouldn‟t
For as long as our bodies would permit we sat around that fire. Resisting the urge
to sleep that beckoned to each and all, we fought to stay awake—hoping to extend this
night, this trip, and this experience just a few minutes longer.
One-by-one people peeled from the circle, finally giving in to sleep—as one
dream ended another soon began.
All rivers begin as a single drop of water.
As droplets multiply a creek takes shape. In the beginning it is fragile. Without
nourishment a creek will dry out. With luck however, other creeks soon join in, adding to
each other‟s growth. Together they move toward a common destiny, gaining strength as
tributaries rally to it‟s aim. With no end in sight they charge across great continents,
believing their path is true.
Finally they reach their destination. With a last dash into the sea their goal is
fulfilled. Those who believed in the journey‟s course and followed with faith are awarded
a tranquil place to rest. Droplets that once rushed from the mountains now retire at sea.
Like most journey‟s however, theirs is a cycle that begins and ends in the same place.
Most will move on to repeat this journey again.
Slowly people stirred from their tents. The morning was unusually quiet with little
chatter heard amongst the passengers. Realizing this was our final morning people looked
more closely at the things around them, from the wispy clouds above to the cool sand
below, and everything in between. Nothing escaped their eyes, as some wondered if
they‟d ever visit this place again.
Though most would probably never touch this ground again, each remained
hopeful that they‟d experience “this place” once more—not necessarily in the context of
physical space but rather of mental being, as people longed for this feeling of
contentment. Absorbing the last sensations of this place of healing, passengers energized
their souls. While some placed rocks in their pockets or snapped pictures for
remembrance, others, wishing desperately to capture this feeling more than just a
memory, filled their lungs to capacity. Breathing deeply, they longed to capture the
peacefulness of Desolation Canyon, not in a still photograph or a fragmented memory,
but rather capture this place, this moment, and this feeling in their very blood stream
from the air they breathed.
“Day 5.” I said with a sigh of disbelief.
“Day 5.” My friends repeated as we prepared breakfast.
“We‟ve come a long way in 5 days haven‟t we?” Andrew said.
“58 miles to be exact.” Lutke replied.
“Seems longer.” Kristin added.
“Yes, it does.”
After a brief pause I continued:
“So what have you guys learned over the past 5 days?” I said. Andrew answered
“I learned to shut up and listen.” He said to our greater humor.
“Funny you should say that,” Kristin spoke next, “because I learned to speak up
and contribute.” She said. “So thank for shutting up.”
“No problem.” Andrew replied. “Thanks for speaking up.”
“No problem.” She replied with a smile.
Seconds later Lutke raised his hand. Without looking up from his task of slicing
grapefruit he announced loudly and simply: “Patience.”
We chuckled at our cowboy friend, his antics never stopped.
“How about you City?” Andrew inquired.
“I don‟t know.” I replied, half-overwhelmed and half-uncertain. “I‟ve learned a
lot, that for sure. Exactly what though is a little murky right now.” I replied.
I walked a few steps to the river to rinse off some knives. The water was so filled
with silt I could not even see my hands just under its surface. Yet, when I pulled my
hands from the turbulent water I was rewarded with sparkling clean knives.
For the last time this trip we floated down the Green River. The river was flowing
so quickly that, aside from the occasional stroke to keep our boats in the main current, we
rarely needed to row.
“So what was your favorite part of the trip Katie?” I asked while I lazily worked
The level of relaxation from Katie‟s family between our first day and today was
night and day. More than relaxed, unlike Day 1, they were now comfortable with each
other, even in the confines of this 18 ft raft.
Without much internal debate Katie replied:
“The night my mom read to us.”
Surprised, Katie‟s mother interjected.
“Really? But you fell asleep so quickly!” she said.
“But not before I saw how happy everyone was—especially dad.” she said
observantly. Tears instantly welled up in her mother‟s eyes.
Oblivious to the impact of her comment, Katie continued: “Besides, I slept really
good that night.”
Still holding her husband‟s hand Lori wrapped her free arm around Katie and
buried her face in the child‟s hair.
After a short morning float we arrived at a large sandy beach just above the
takeout point called Swazies. Once there, we fire-lined the passenger‟s gear off the boats
a final time. While the guides prepared lunch the passengers were busy removing their
personables from the dry bags we issued them at the start of the trip. Like a sheriff
reluctantly handing over his badge, the passengers surrendered adventure for civility,
trading their sandals for sneakers, their ammo cans for purses, and our rafts for jumbo
Following lunch it was picture time. A tall, narrow spire called Gunnison Butte
marked the end of our trip while also providing a stunning backdrop for our trip-ending
photos. One family at a time posed in front of the river to capture these final moments,
pulling their respective boatman into the pictures as if we were members of their family.
The thought of my picture being tacked on refrigerator doors across the US makes me
The last group to take pictures was Lutke‟s boat. Led reluctantly by Maria and
Lisa was Brett and Lutke. Less-than-photogenic, they posed with the girls in front of the
boats one last time.
It was sight enough to see these four unlikely people (who at the start of the trip
looked to be scheming murderous plots against one another) now smiling with their arms
thrown casually around each other‟s shoulders. After a few standard pictures however,
the girls, as always, pushed the envelope a little further. Jumping into the arms of their
respective men they kissed the cheeks of Brett and Lutke, as the paparazzi of the crowd
exhausted their film.
Still dazed by this development, Andrew commented rather plainly: “Does
anything else really need to be said?” None of us replied to his comment.
Finally a Western bus pulled into the dirt parking lot to drive them to the airport.
Robin, the driver, stepped from the bus to greet the passengers. With an innocent smile
peaking through his long white beard he asked:
“So did everyone have a good trip?”
Exhausted by the thought of relaying their feelings for the trip, the grown-ups
uttered politely: “It was great.” Only the children had the courage and energy enough to
share the reality of this journey. Soon the once-shy-and-quiet kids from Kristin‟s boat
sputtered in unison:
“We got to row Kristin’s boat...play games on the beach...pick berries from the
trees...ride through big rapids that splashed us...and then Brett jumped off the
rocks...don’t forget talent night...and Kristin juggled and the boys danced around the
The three children said this in all about 5 seconds.
“Well, well, that sounds like a fun vacation.” Robin said with wide eyes. It was
uncertain whether he was humoring the children with his intrigue or perhaps glimpsing
the trip‟s eventfulness through their enthusiasm. “I tell you what,” he said crouching
down to their level, “I‟ll save you a seat right behind mine so you can tell me all about
Before loading onto the bus the children gave Kristin a collective squeeze.
“You kids be good now.” She said.
“We will.” They said together. “Thanks Kristin.” said the youngest boy first.
“Thanks Kristin.” Added the 2 older girls next. Scrambling onto the bus they sat behind
Robin to fill the 2-hour long drive to Grand Junction CO Airport with non-stop stories.
Next Kristin embraced the children‟s parents.
“Please keep in touch.” They pleaded.
“I will,” Kristin replied, “and Thank You.” She finished.
“I think we‟re the ones supposed to say that.” Remarked the father.
Next was Dick, Dean, and their teenagers. With firm handshakes and little else to
say, they thanked Andrew sincerely while vowing to be back next year for a trip through
Cataract Canyon—this time with their wives. After exchanging addresses they shook
hands again and with a final wave to the Green River they loaded the bus.
“I have no idea what to say to you girls.” Lutke said to the New Yorkers.
“I know. Few people do.” Maria replied.
Shaking his head in amazement rather than perplexity he replied:
“You girls are something else.”
“We know that too.” Lisa said smugly as she wrapped her arms around the tall
cowboy. Sandwiched between the girls was Brett. Looking up from the ground he met
“Thanks Craig.” Brett said, using Lutke‟s first name.
“Keep your head up Brett. And do take care of yourself.” Lutke replied with a
firm handshake. Brett nodded his head in reply.
After all Brett had been through on this trip he still looked just as frightened as
when he started our rafting expedition 5 days ago, though for different reasons I imagine.
“I‟m nervous to go back.” he uttered.
Uneasy, Lutke replied: “It‟s all in you Brett. You‟re going to be fine.” The
cowboy didn‟t sound convinced though.
Sensing Lutke‟s uncertainty, Maria answered:
“Don‟t worry about him Lutke,” Maria said, interlocking Brett‟s arms at the
elbow. “We‟ll take care of him from here.”
With this, Lutke smiled easier.
Together the three loaded the bus on another journey back to New York.
“You do promise to send that lovely poem to us?” Katie‟s mother said just after
wiping a tear from her cheek.
“Of course.” I said. While hugging her farewell I replied: “You have a wonderful
“Thank you.” She said as she loaded the bus with her 2 oldest children.
Next I shook the hand of her husband Jim. His gaze soon fell on the Green River
one last time, with an expression that was entirely reflective. Still gazing at the river he
“City, does this river keep going?”
Unable to see the river‟s course in its entirety, I still replied with conviction:
“Yes, it certainly does.”
Nodding in agreement, he replied: “That‟s good to know.” as his gaze turned from
the beautiful river toward his beautiful wife.
Standing beside Jim, with a school bag slung over one shoulder, was Katie.
Before speaking I paused to look at her. She was a marvel to me, as I looked with as
much intrigue as affection. As I stood next to her, although my height towered almost 2 ft
above her, I knew, in the end, it didn‟t matter. Katie had, and would always have, the
upper hand. Worse still, she knew it as well.
Before I could speak she replied:
“So do I get a hug too?”
A devilish smile hinted at the corner of her mouth.
Playing along bashfully, I replied while drawing a circle in the sand with my toes:
“I guess so.”
I got down on my knees and gave her a hug. Her father then picked her up in his
“Thanks again City.” Jim replied with another shake of my hand.
With the bus loaded, Robin started the engine. As the bus inched forward every
windows nearest to the side we stood began to drop. Soon every person was seen hanging
over the side of the bus as they waved a final good-bye.
“Did that just really happen?” Andrew asked still waving, as the bus disappeared
down the dirt road.
“I think so,” I said, “but don‟t hold me to it.”
With the bus long on its way, the 5 of us stood quietly on the washboard road.
The sudden transition from friendly good-byes to silent aloneness was abrupt.
Turning toward the boats, we changed focus as best we could. Now we prepared
ourselves for the unenviable task of breaking down the gear. In addition to hauling it all
back to Moab, we needed to clean everything and store it in it‟s rightful place. After all,
we still had 16 more trips to do this summer.
(End of Book II)
August 5, 1997
How are you? Are you still having as much fun on the river as we had during our
trip together? I hope so.
Things are good here. Jack [my husband] has started running again. (It’s been so
long since he’s run he’s really suffering!) But he committed to a 10K race next month.
It’s great to see him active.
Justin is making progress too. Although he’s still smokes (at 16) he does seem
more open to us—more approachable. Just last Saturday, out of the blue, he asked if I
needed help in the garden. We spent the rest of the afternoon pulling weeds together. (I
realize that may not sounds awfully exciting, but believe me...it was.)
Yep, it feels good to be home again. Don’t get me wrong! We had an amazing
experience out there on the river. And maybe that’s why it feels good to be home—again.
Thank you all for a truly wonderful 5 days.
July 23, 1997
We just got home today. After our river trip my parents took us to Zion, Bryce,
and the Grand Canyon. (My brother, my sister, and I still enjoyed our river trip best.)
I start school next week—the fourth grade (in case you forgot). I’m excited to see
all my friends again and tell them what a great summer I had. You’re lucky to be able to
spend the summer with your best friends doing what you do. I think that’s so cool.
Please tell Andy and Kristin I said hi. Also, tell Lutke my older sister has a crush
P.S. Inside are a few pictures from our trip. The one I like best is the picture of us
burying you in the sand at camp!
August 16, 1997
Dear Mr. Smith,
Man, does it feel good to be home!
There isn’t a single mosquito draining the life out of me here...
There’s no sand in my draws...
I have a roof over my head again (in place of a leaky rain fly)...
There’s no fear that a water fight might break out in my living room...
One word: shade...
And I have a toilet that actually flushes!
Feeling it couldn’t possibly get any worse, Marylyn and I picked up the phone and
booked another trip for next year (after we took our first warm shower in a week that is!).
Hope to see you there,
Hey Big City!
Do you miss us crazy gals yet? If so, here’s a picture of us to keep in your ammo can. (I
think it says it all!)
[The picture displays a rather dirty shot of the 8 women who came on this particular trip
together. Dirty, not because they were all naked (which they were) but because every
inch of their bodies were covered by thick mud. Only their pearly white teeth were
distinguishable through their devilish smiles.]
June 29, 1997
Thanks again for a wonder trip. I appreciate all the hard work you did to make our trip
enjoyable and safe for my family. My wife hasn’t stopped raving about it since. (She even
convinced some friends of ours to book a trip for next year.)
If you’re ever in the bay area, please look us up. Also, if you decide to get back into the
professional world this fall, feel free to give me a call.
August 25th, 1997
The best summer of my life is nearing its end. Tomorrow will start our last
commercial river trip of the season.
My first commercial trip felt like a dream. I remember thinking it couldn‟t
possibly get better. The experience I shared with everyone on that trip—Katie, Brett, the
girls from New York and my crew especially—seemed the pinnacle of friendship,
growth, and discovery.
All through my second trip I thought about those passengers. Cliff jumping, talent
night, family unions and friendly bonds. I wanted my second trip to be just like the first. I
wanted to relive these same experiences in the same way. This was my first mistake.
As I held onto the moments of my previous trip, as special as those times were,
they kept me from experiencing something new. I failed to capture the opportunity in the
present to learn from a new group of people. Granted, they might not turn their lives
around with a cliff jump or make me laugh as hard as Maria and Lisa once did. Still, did
they have something else I might learn from? Did I have something to offer them? I never
found out. Although cordial, I barely made an effort to explore the lives of these new
passengers. All that I missed, I‟ll never know. That was my second mistake.
Trying to duplicate the past. Not living in the moment. I vowed never to make
these mistakes again. Each day, every place, each person that passed my direction was an
opportunity to learn. And that‟s just what we did the remainder of that summer. Whether
it was during river trips, road trips or just plain sitting on the sidewalk in Moab during a
Car Show as we talked to locals, we viewed each day as an opportunity to learn
something new. Once we got a taste for it we vehemently sought after new opportunities.
Thus was born: The Road Trip.
Although we might only have 2-3 days off between trips (if we were lucky) we
were quick to pack our things—a few t-shirts, clean shorts (if we had them) and some
leftover food from the previous river trip—and tear out of town. Any hesitation could be
costly, for if we stuck around the warehouse too long we stood the chance of being
nabbed for work on “The Daily” stretch—an unenviable task indeed.1
Often times we didn‟t have a set destination in mind for our trip. Sitting in the
passenger seat of Lutke‟s truck I held the map. Depending on whether he turned right on
Main Street (heading South) or left (heading North) I began searching the map for areas
The Moab „Daily‟, though beautiful and even adventurous during high water, bares little resemblance to
the journey I‟ve described in my first trip. With 14 companies working this unmanaged section of the
Colorado, the ramps are filled with busses, the river is choked with boats, and the solitude that is so
synonymous with the desert is soon drown by a bucket of water tossed from a 13 year old German kid at
9:00 in the morning.
“How about Mesa Verde National Park?” I‟d suggest as my eyes tracked the
purple outline on the map that indicated National Parks.
“Never heard of it.” Lutke replied. “Sounds perfect.”
This area was all new to us anyway. During our 200+ journey to a particular
destination we‟d inevitably make stops along the way. Often these unscheduled detours
were as memorable (if not more memorable) than our ultimate destinations. Only 10
miles out of Moab, just as I was opening a fresh bag of Jerky, Lutke made a sudden turn
into a parking lot.
“Hole in the Rock?” Kristin said, reading the sign.
“What‟s this about?” Andrew asked.
“No idea. Let‟s check it out.” Lutke answered.
From outside the so-called “Hole in the Rock” looked like a gift shop set halfway
into the sandstone. Taking a risk on this unlikely adventure we paid our $3 and waited 5
minutes for the next tour to start. Soon we were greeted by a 16-year-old named Chet
who was to be our guide. Beaten by the repetition of offering this 15-minute tour 20X a
day for the past 4 months, Chet‟s predictable gestures and emotionless tone had us
believing he was in fact an early prototype of some Disney animatronics.
“During a 12-year period,” Chet started, “Albert Christensen excavated 50,000
cubic feet of sandstone to make this home.” Like Vanna White (in her less-enthusiastic
days that is) Chet motioned to the next room: “And over here we have the living room.
This is were Mr. Christensen liked to practice taxidermy.”
Taxidermy?” I whispered to Lutke who‟s stare was lost to a most unusual object.
“As one of his first taxidermy projects Mr. Christensen prepared this pet donkey
named “Daisy” whom we see over by the fireplace.”
Standing forever silent in this cave-like home that was carved into a sandstone
wall outside Moab Utah, was an innocent donkey named “Daisy”. Only slightly more
unnerving than the queer expression of this peculiar choice for home decor was the
colorful bonnet that sat as a final insult to this once loyal beast. The donkey, with his last
bray muted for eternity, appeared to object stubbornly (even in death) to this ridiculous
red and pink bonnet that capped his head between his long ears. Forever sealing his fate
to the mockery of hapless travelers who stumble into this oddity as the four of us had just
Andrew, Lutke, Kristin, and I looked at each other—first disturbed and confused
by this abomination. So absurd was this place, this robotic guide named Chet, and this
stuffed donkey named Daisy, that we could not help ourselves from exploding in childish
laugher. The kind of laughter you fight to restrain in public places and control by
avoiding eye contact with each another. This effort is futile however, especially when
you have a “snorter” in the group such as Lutke. The first sound of Lutke‟s muffled snort
instigated anaerobic seizures among the rest. His second snort however sent us reeling
desperately for the exit doors.
Our exploration of America‟s Southwest was extraordinary and extensive. Among
the National Parks we engaged (Arches, Canyonlands, Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Choco,
Mesa Verde, Grand Canyon), among the rivers we adventured (Price, Deloras, Animus,
and Muddy Creek) among the towns we settled (Durango, Silverton, Ouray, Telluride,)
there is a lasting story, photo, or memory I hold dear in each.
I remember Mesa Verde National Park: The grandest Native American dwellings
still standing in all of America. Although these multi-story buildings built around 1200
AD are enough to insight awe and imagination for most visitors, my experience was
made complete by the Park Ranger who brought this ancient place back to life once more.
Clyde was his first name, I don‟t recall his last. A Navajo descent himself, his
interpretation of this sacred land was less instructional than it was personal. With
peaceful eyes and weathered dark skin Clyde walked us quietly through Balcony House,
Mesa Verde‟s marquee structure set just beneath the plateau under a massive sandstone
overhang on the edge of a tree filled gorge. “Green Table”—this is Mesa Verde‟s Spanish
translation. And rightly so.
“It‟s beautiful isn‟t it.” Clyde, our experienced Park Ranger said while looking
across the green expanse as if it were his first time. Turning toward us many seconds later
he said with a smile: “Some of the best Real Estate in the Southwest (not to mention
some of the first).” He replied. “These people didn‟t own this land though. No...” he said
gently. “They may have cultivated it, harvest from it, or worshiped this land, but at no
point did they lay claim to it.”
Upon first seeing Clyde at the start of this tour, I thought the wrinkles of his broad
face were a result of too much sun and weather. I changed my mind however after
viewing his great smile.
Clyde began to tell of about a people who fought, not with competing tribes, but
fought together to survive as individuals and families. Leaving the archeological facts of
this place to the brochures and the Visitor Center, Clyde continued our education in the
same manner he once acquired this knowledge: through stories passed down from his
“I was fortunate to have touched 7 generations in my life.” He said extending his
left arm out. “Through stories from my Great Grandparents, Grandparent, and Parents I
learned about this place and my people.” Extending his right arm he continued. “I then
passed this knowledge on to my children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.”
This was the first time I realized, after viewing so many abandoned dwellings and
granaries scatters across the Southwest, this was the first I realized these Native people
still lived. It was a hopeful moment.
Continuing our education (or perhaps more accurately our inspiration) Clyde
asked (rather than told): “Look around.” he offered. “What might you do for food if you
were hungry, clothing if you were practical, or shelter if you were cold?”
During the next half hour we discovered which plants were best for making rope,
where to find fresh water, and which season was best for eating Pinyin Nuts. We learned
these skills from the people before us, just as Clyde had learned many years before.
When our time together had ended Clyde said as his only request that we leave this place
quietly. It was not difficult to abide. In fact, none of us had spoken a word until well after
we packed into Lutke‟s truck. Just as we were leaving the Park boundaries on our way to
our next adventure, Kristin broke the silence: “I think I‟ll write Clyde a letter.”2
Being Guides ourselves we had a new appreciation for the gratitude communicated through simple letters
from passengers. Not only was our working appreciated, but in some way (however large or small) we
believed we were richening the lives of a few.
Never in my life had I packed so much fun into a few short months. Such
experiences are only made complete when you share them with friends—as Kristin,
Lutke, Andrew, and myself did together. Picture us...
...Running frantically through a field in Zion National Park as a dark storm bears
down on us. With lightening shooting horizontally just above our heads, the four of us
dive for cover into Kristin‟s car without a moment to spare.
...Trips through Westwater Canyon. The hard Vishnu schist rising up at the river‟s
edge, choking the canyon, and causing the water to flow more angrily. Our hearts crawl
up our throats as our boats close in on the first rapid and the black sheer walls of
Westwater Canyon close in on us.
...The time we dared Lutke to eat his Whopper in 6 bites, and he did. (Only to be
outdone by Kristin a week later who ate her‟s in 5 bites.)
...A game of Frisbee on a far-away beach at the Colorado.
...A moonlit bike ride on Moab‟s famous SlickRock.
...Chasing waterfalls down Kane Creek road during a sudden desert torrent.
...Sitting under a shaded porch. (You can choose from any number of scenarios
here, be it: sunset, laughter, Andrew‟s guitar, or a big bowl of ice cream—we enjoyed
...Waking up one morning in a Nursing Home courtyard because we were too
cheap to flip for a KOA during our travels.
...$1 drafts at The Rio.
...During one of the coldest, most miserable river days on record, watching a
rainbow spring off the Fisher Towers, this simple beauty turning our entire day around.
...Andy helping Kristin suture a deep gash in her leg from a hiking fall.
...Kristin helping Lutke knot a bowtie one dress-up night.
...Lutke helping me with my first rock climbing accent on Wall Street in Moab.
...Me helping Dicus with lyrics for his first song.
...All of us nestled in our sleeping bags under Delicate Arch during a Full Moon.
We took many trips together that summer—some took us further and further
away, yet all brought us closer together.
Chapter 34 – One Last Trip
“Three-hundred-eighty-four trips down,” our manager Brian said with an
exhausted and satisfied sign, “One more to go.”
The warehouse was unusually quiet this time of year, as most of the guides had
already migrated North. Some went back to school in Salt Lake City, if only part-time.
Many worked at the Ski resorts as Patrolman. Others traveled abroad to chase the
summer. Wherever our destination, each guide kept a close eye on Utah‟s snow reports
that winter—more-so than even the current events.
“Oh, by the way...” Brain said, interrupting his train of thought. “How was your
trip down the Deloris River?”
Between commercial river trips we managed to squeeze in a few privates trips.
And our 3 days trip down the Deloris River in Colorado was perhaps our most
“Everything went pretty smoothly, “Lutke answered. “Until we got to Snaggle
Tooth that is.”
A tributary of the Colorado River, the Deloris River is a beautiful but dangerous
Class III+ sections. It‟s narrow rapids and quick pool drops demanded flawless teamwork
and precise strategy—and Snaggle Tooth rapid tests a boatman‟s appreciation of these
skills like few other rapids.
“Did you guys run into trouble?” Brian said, always concerned for our safety.
“Yes, But not from us.” Kristin replied. “When we portaged to scout the run in
Snaggle Tooth we noticed a boat pinned on a rock in the middle of the rapid. Two boaters
were still holding on.” She finished recalling the tense moments.
“The rest of their group had apparently made it to the opposite shore safely, but it
was impossible to communicate to them over the sound of the rapid. By the way they
paced up and down the shore, they looked frazzled.”
“Were you able to help?” Brian asked, in his tone was a certain hope.
In the river community there is unfortunate friction between two groups: Private
vs Commercial boaters. Private boaters make strong accusations against Commercial
companies that, among other things, they are unfairly allocated the majority of the user
days on a given section. Although I will not get into the details surrounding this topic at
this time, I only mention this controversy because an argument in support of Commercial
companies is at hand.
Given our knowledge of certain river sections (many of which we travel
repeatedly in a given summer) we have an intimate understanding and appreciation for
these sections. Furthermore, driven in part by the high cost of insurance to actually
transport a paying customer down a class IV river, commercial boaters are arguably the
most prepared boasters on the river. Carrying with us such things as rescue equipment,
satellite phones, and guides who are certified EMT‟s, (such items, mind you, are not
required by Rangers) we‟re equipped to help distressed boaters like few other people on
the river. In an isolated wilderness environment with dangers abound, most private
boaters would consider themselves quite fortunate when3 danger strikes them and a
commercial company happens to be near by.
“We were starting to strategize options for helping the guys off the rock.” Lutke
began. “But then the strangest thing happened.” He said in a tone that was as perplexing
as the moment this oddity actually occurred. Flashing back to the moment ourselves, we
shook our heads in disbelief.
“What was it?” Brian inquired.
“Not what.” Kristin continued the story. “But who.”
“Who?” Brian said, struck with curiosity.
“I wouldn‟t have believed it had I not seen it for myself.” Lutke said while
building up the story like the true boatman he was. “Now keep in mind Brian that we
In this paragraph I intentionally use “when” and not “if” because tragedy befalls all who challenge nature.
And ironically it‟s the most experienced and careful adventurers who meet this tragedy most often, if only
due to the number of times they challenge these obstacles. The law of probability.
were in a very remote section of river. Not to mention that stumbling onto a full-blown
rescue situation such as this happens maybe once or twice a summer.”
Andrew suddenly jumped in to continue the amazing recollection.
“As if someone had made a distress call to the Bat phone itself, there he was
running through the woods toward us!” Andrew said, still in amazement.
“Who!” Brian said in anticipation.
“It was Dave Miller.” I said. “A.K.A. „Crazy Davie’.”
“No.” Brian replied.
“Yes!” We said in unison.
The very man who taught us Swift Water Rescue at the beginning of the year in
such colorful fashion, was now swooping into this desperate scene like Superman
himself. (Though I don‟t recall a bushel of hair protruding from the corners of
Superman‟s nose in any of the comic books I read). Nevertheless...
“Without so much as a ‘how do you do?’ Davie rushed to the scene. Seconds later
he had us building a rope system, just like training 4 months ago.” Lutke remarked. “The
coincidence of it all was simply unbelievable.” Lutke remarked.
“You don‟t say.” Brian said with a smile. Although Brian wasn‟t a guide any
longer these days, he took a certain nostalgic pleasure in listening to our tales.
“For a brief moment we had actually convinced ourselves that Crazy Davie was a
Super hero.” I said recalling our post-adventure talks.
“There was no other plausible explanation!” Andrew added.
True, after the smoke had cleared and Davie was off once again and the boaters
were safely rescued, we tried to match the superhero we thought Davie most resembled.
Kristin had suggested Aqua Man—a good possibility indeed—if only it were not for the
Marlboro cigarette perpetually dangling from his mouth. Andrew then suggested perhaps
Captain America, though the T-Shirt that Davie sported (which read: ‘Fat Elephants and
Stupid Asses run this country!’ ) probably precluded him from this distinction. In the end,
we all agreed the happenstance and heroism that Davie demonstrated that afternoon was
most likened to the famed Swamp Thing.
After the laughter subsided, a silent pause accompanied our reflective smiles. As
our most defining summer neared it‟s end, in the company of new friends who, in just 4
months, had become my best friends, there was no telling where our thoughts now
lingered—past, future, or present.
“Did you have a good summer?” Our manager Brian asked, more to see our
disbelieving smiles than hear us literally answer the obvious question.
“Good.” Brian said before any of us actually spoke. “I‟m glad to see this place
hasn‟t lost its touch.” He replied with deeper meaning than I understood at the time.4
Perking his head up, he continued: “I have one last trip for you four.”
Although his title at Western River Expeditions is Chief Operations Manager, perhaps a more appropriate
title might be Chief Crusader—as Brian is active in more than just the daily functions of a river company.
To be in the rafting industry is to be an environmentalists, activists, and lobbyists (even a Lawyer, as Brian
happens to be also). Issues such as: development along the Colorado River and public access restrictions
are a constant threat to the wilderness experience and the sheer availability for the average American to
glimpse these natural wonders. His battle never ends, and his ultimate reward are the letters that pour in
from changed passengers and the expressions just witnessed on our faces as he asks a question he already
knows the answer too: “Did you have a good summer?”
We had mixed emotions toward our last trip. A part of us was sad of course that it
was ending. Surprisingly though, despite all that this summer offered, we felt ready for
our next experience, whatever that might be. Perhaps our readiness was simply a factor of
the inevitable. Our acceptance of another summer‟s end however did not prepare us for
the last evolution of this memorable experience.
“I‟m sending the four of you down to our operations in Fredonia, Arizona.
Tomorrow morning you‟ll rig for the Grand Canyon.”
Chapter 35 – Old Friend
“City, it‟s for you.” Kristin said with the phone in her hand.
We were rushing around the trailer to pack our clothes and gear for our 10-day
Grand Canyon trip. It was already 6:00 and we had a 6 hour drive ahead of us from Moab
“Hello?” I said, with my mind in other places.
“BIG GUY!” said a booming voice across the receiver.
“Who?” I said, not recalling my nickname from my college years. “Who‟s this?”
“It‟s Dish you dumb ass.” Replied Tom Dischmann, an old High School friend.
“Tom?” I said. “Holy smokes.” I replied, as my focus switched gears.
“Who was that girl that answered?” Tom asked.
“Did she just call you „City‟?” he asked. I hadn‟t spoken to Tom (or anyone from
New York for that matter) for close to a year.
No, she said Smitty.” I said, not having the energy to explain my newest nick-
“Is she a hottie?” He said perversely, while continuing to catch me off guard.
“Um, yeah.” I replied uncomfortably.
“Are you living with her?” he persisted.
“Well, sort of, but not exactly.” I said, losing control of the conversation.
“You DOG!” he shouted. I think he was drunk. Finally he replied tactlessly: “So
you‟re boning her then?”
“No!” I answered annoyed. Changing the subject I asked: “How did you get this
“I called your folks. I‟m out here on Fire Island. We rented a beach house for the
weekend. Everyone‟s here!” he exclaimed.
He then turned his voice away from the receiver and into the noisy crowd: “Hey,
I‟ve got Craig Smith on the line. Everyone say hello!” Just then a jumbled mass of hoots,
hollers, and hellos echoed across the line.
“Hello.” I answered back with a reminiscent smile. It was short lasting however.
“So what‟s this I hear about a Rafting Company?” Tom barked dismissively.
“Umm, well...” I said stalling.
“Are you in their Marketing department or something?” Tom asked. The last time
I had spoken to Tom I was still working for an Advertising Agency in Salt Lake City.
“Not exactly.” I replied.
“Actually,” I paused, preparing myself to say it: “I‟m a Guide.”
“You mean like Consultant?”
“No, I mean like a Guide.” I answered. “I‟m a River Guide. I bring passengers
down the river.”
Tom was quiet for a second. “You‟re kidding right?”
“No.” I said.
Feeling a strange relief in my admission, I said it again: “I‟m really a River
Not knowing what to say next, Tom answered with the first thing that came to his
New York mind: “Is the money good?”
“It‟s OK.” I said, realizing the futility of details by this point.
After speaking a few minutes longer, Tom and I parted ways—not to speak again
for another 14 months.
Slightly dazed, I hung up the phone. As I walked back to my room to continue
packing, Lutke asked: “Who was that on the phone?”
Considering for a moment how to answer, I replied only:
“A distant friend.”
The next morning we stepped out from the Western River vehicles at Lee‟s Ferry.
We had traveled over 400 miles from Moab, Utah to get here. During the next 10 days
we‟ll travel 225 miles more on the Colorado River. Still, even at this slower pace, the
magnificence of this canyon is simply too Grand to absorb. So much history, so much
beauty—the sheer number of viewpoints and vistas can be dizzying. Move a few feet in
any direction, or climb atop a rock, and the Canyon changes form. Travel a mile or two
down river and your perception of this area changes altogether. Side canyons, tributaries,
waterfalls—add to this wildlife, Native American sites, Geology, and Politics. You‟ll
soon discover—no matter how many days you have, or how slowly your travel might
be—the Grand is too Grand for our minds to mind.
Ironically, in a place that is entirely forged by change, one thing remains
unchanged in the Grand Canyon. No matter who you are, no matter what part of the
Grand Canyon you visited during whatever time of year, the emotions involved never
change. Feelings, impressions, or opinions of the Canyon may vary from person to
person, but our core emotions we share together. And although words such as beautiful,
inspiring, tranquil, or majestic are used to describe many of our Country‟s National
Parks, the word awesome is reserved for the Grand Canyon.
I stood in awe by the Colorado River at Lee‟s Ferry—my first ever glimpse of the
Grand Canyon. Here at “Mile #1” our trip will begin. (Negative 15 ½ miles upstream sits
the Glen Canyon Dam.)
As I stared at the large river (the same river that carried5 us the entire summer) I
knew something was not right—so much so, that I even questioned if I was standing
beside the Colorado River at all. For the Colorado I knew in Westwater and Cataract
Canyon had a very different desert charm. This cold, clear river that now flowed before
me was more likened to that which flows from Mountains, rather than through deserts.
Note: Insert any of the following verbs in place of “carried”, including: inspired, nurtured, elevated,
moved, educated, motivated, encouraged, stimulated, relaxed, etc.
The Colorado that flowed through Arizona (who‟s very name is derived from the word
“Reddish”) bared little resemblance to the river I knew in Utah and Colorado.
“Hello? Can you hear me? Are you there? Is it you?” I asked.
“Is that you?” I said again. Although the voice sounded familiar, its face I no
“Yes, it‟s me alright.” The river replied, a hint of sadness outlined its tone.
“Wow, I hardly recognize you.”
“I know.” It said, a little sadder than before.
“Don‟t get me wrong,” I replied, “You‟re still magnificent. Some might argue
perhaps even more beautiful that before.” I said (though in the back of my mind I
suspected those supporting this view are also likely to favor breast implants, Las Vegas,
and Lake Powell).
In a much happier tone, the river replied: “Thank you.”
“You‟re welcome.” I said, happy to return one of many favors to the Colorado
River. “Actually, you remind me of a much younger Colorado.” I said. Having traveled
through Rocky Mountain National Park that summer I witnessed the Colorado River as
an infant mountain stream.
“I suppose so.” It agreed more happily. Then, with a curious tone (as if it knew
something I didn‟t) the river replied wisely: “It‟s only temporary of course.”
“I‟m not so sure.” I said with skepticism. “That‟s a pretty strong Dam we‟ve
created up there.” I said brashly as I looked upstream.
Ironically I uttered this blasphemy in the presence of the Colorado River, as the
Grandest Wonder of them all lay just over my shoulder. It‟s laughable really! Indeed, I
could have stepped right into a Gary Larsen Far Side cartoon with this comment.
Any other force of Nature would have undoubtedly been insulted by my
arrogance. In my limited perspective of only 23 years on this planet I couldn‟t be
expected to appreciate the wisdom of this 6 million year old river. Instead of offense, the
Colorado forgave my naivety as it did many men before.
“Maybe you‟re right.” The Colorado River replied.
With the task of rigging the boats still ahead I had to cut short our conversation.
“Well it‟s good seeing you again.”
“You too City.” Replied the river.
“I‟ll see you down river old friend.”
“See you down river.”
As I walked away to help my friends unload the trucks, the river stopped me one
“Oh, one more thing.”
“What is it?” I said turning.
“When you start heading down the Canyon tomorrow, keep a weary eye out for
Granite Rapid.” It said. “Granite has a tendency to surprise boaters at this water level.”
“I certainly will do that.” I said, meaning every word.
“Very good then.” It replied. “Enjoy your float.”
“Thanks to you.” I offered in praise.