River guide prep class gets salty

Part 2 of a 2 part series
Posted Thursday, April 17, 2008 - 12:00am

We arrived at Show Low around 6 p.m. and made our way to the Fool Hollow Recreation Area where we made camp and pitched our tents. Next it was off to K-Mart to purchase our permit for the river and to pick up a new pair of shoes for Derek VanHatten (size 14) who had lost one of his sandals and had been walking around and boating in his socks since our first day on the San Juan.

After securing our permit and outfitting Derek with shoes, we sat down at Fiesta Mexicana for an awesome Mexican dinner. At this point we had been camping for three days and I wondered if our collective aroma was starting to turn ugly. So I asked the hostess if we smelled bad ... "I only smell campfire smoke" she said. I don't know if she was just being nice. I do know whenever I caught a whiff of my own odor, it was not campfire smoke. However, my odor on that night was nothing compared to the night we arrived back in Price after seven days of camping with no facilities.

The dinner at Fiesta Mexicana was the only time we sat down and were waited on for a meal during the entire trip. We made the most of it. The nine of us had our waiter hopping as we attacked the chips and salsa, and then dinner like it was our last meal.

We made one stop at Safeway to pick up some last minute groceries and then it was off to Fool Hollow to settle in for the night. It was clear and cold. As I got ready for bed, I tried to get a drink from my Camelbak and had to take it into a rest room and use a hot-air hand dryer to thaw out the drinking tube which had frozen solid.

When we awoke in the morning the temperature was 22 degrees. Brandalyn Karren (Brandi) didn't have a tent and slept out with only her sleeping bag and bivy sack. I don't know how she survived, but she did. After a 10-minute breakfast at McDonalds, we were on the road again.

We arrived at the put in around 9 a.m. We had driven for an hour from Show Low and in that time we had dropped in elevation significantly. Most of us were now in shorts and t-shirts soaking up the sunshine. The water in the Salt was much clearer than the San Juan and we could see right from the put in a bigger rapid than any we had seen on the San Juan. Our anticipation was reaching a fever pitch to get on the river.

Steve Christensen and Brandi left the rest of us to rig the boats as they ran the car shuttle to our take out point. The shuttle took three hours and by the time they returned, we had eaten lunch and had everything ready to go.

We climbed into our wet-suits, tied up loose ends and snapped a group picture before ecstatically launching our boats around 2 p.m. The nine of us were in four boats. Bo Christensen, Kellen Spillman and Brandi were in their own 14-foot oar rafts. Tommy Ward, Derek, Chris Jensen, Levi Simmons, Steve and I were in a 14-foot paddle boat called a Culebra. Steve was our paddle captain and did a masterful job negotiating the river with an inexperienced paddle crew. It didn't take long before we got into our rhythm and whooped, hollered and high fived after the significant rapids.

Later on we were following Brandi into the biggest rapid of the day with Bo in front and Kellen being our sweep guy (last). As we started into the rapid Brandi was 30 feet from us and halfway through it when she hit a hole and was launched from her boat. We all saw it happen and wanted to respond immediately when Steve screamed "don't worry about her, we need to make it through this rapid first!" One second later, I glanced at Brandi's boat and she was sitting in her seat at the oars like nothing had happened. Turns out she caught herself on her rowing frame with her foot, reached up and grabbed the frame with her hands and pulled herself back in the boat in less than a second.

Even though she was back in her boat in record time Brandi received the bobber award that night. The bobber award goes to the last person to unintentionally swim. No one else went into the water unintentionally so Brandi kept the bobber clipped to her personal floatation device (PFD) for the remainder of the trip. (Love ya Brandi)

That night we camped by a spring-fed water fall held sacred by the Apache Indians. We had stopped early enough in the day so we had some playtime. Bo and Kellen did some bouldering on a rock near the river, most everyone else hiked around and checked out the landscape. We were all wearing a lot less clothes than we had been on the San Juan and we were enjoying the Arizona warmth as we hiked and relaxed before dinner.

After a dinner of spaghetti, garlic bread and salad, we gathered around the campfire telling stories and each gave a brief synopsis of our lives. Some of us had fairly ordinary experiences, and some of us had been knocked around a bit. I think we all went to bed that night feeling good about where we were literally, camped by a beautiful river and where we were as a group. I know I felt closer with my fellow river rats, now understanding the personal challenges each of them had faced and overcome to get us where we were that night.

The next two days were a blur of clear cold water, floating through dark grottos, towering rock gardens, bright warm sunshine and clear blue skies, short intense rapids, big-horn sheep and other wildlife, saguaro, prickly pear, barrel, and chollas (jumping) cactus, camp food, (which always tastes better than normal) the full moon and stars ... and campfires with friends all around.

Filed under: lifestyles