It's funny, as I sit here at my desk punching away at the keys on my computer, alternating between work and this blog, I keep getting drawn to the window and to the rolling rumbles and darkening skies as a thunderstorm builds and flows in from the west. I'm excited to see where it goes, it's the first real clipper of the season. Storms in the mountains can bring awesome power and intensity, but too often, only last a few moments. Winds can rip through town scattering branches, debris and anything else not tied down onto paths of their own. Heck it's how we ended up with a brand new BBQ cover; and it came with free shipping. It's also why my dogs go AWOL. Disappearing into closets and under beds. Whimpering at every distant rumble or loud gust of wind. And still, as all of this power erupts high above I can't seem to get my mind off of the river...the other powerful force that is literally carving its way through the valley, only blocks away from our home.
I can't help but think how nice it would be to get out there right now. I know the risks of paddling during storms; I've been stuck in my fair share, but the intensity one feels as loud cracks of thunder snap above your head, or the heavy down pours of rain, or even better, marble sized hail beat off the top of your helmet is something to behold. I would never advocate paddling in severe weather, nor go looking for it, but you truly feel alive when it chases you down and leaves you with no option but to push ahead until safer refuge can be found. When on the river, to me weather isn't something to fear; not on its own anyway. Weather is weather....and you will need to weather it, whether you like it or not. It's a part of any guides life. It's the combination of both a storm and the power of the river that can give guides pause...it's a combination to be respected for sure. You are not only reading the river, the way the water is moving, and where you need to put your boat "to work with it, not against it" is a river guides modo, but you also need to read the weather. The river is dynamic. Always moving. It waits for no one. Weather is dynamic; it moves as well, but hardly in the way you would like. If you can't figure out where to be, or how to get there, you lose most times. And it can be ugly. But if you figure it out and find the zone, it's exhilarating.
Anyway, enough of the storm rumbling. What I'm trying to say, is that being on the water is a way of life. In good weather or bad. Over the years I have found myself becoming more and more drawn to the solitude that rivers bring. To the lifestyles that form on long multi-day trips. To the perceived hardships of living disconnected to the outside world. No phones to steal your attention. No TV to steal your gaze. No internet to surf. No car horns or sirens to rattle the brain. Only the sound of the blade breaking the water. The sound of the wind playing in the trees. The water breaking over rocks. Birds cutting the silence with song, and the sound of fine sediment, carried by the water, with its constant hum, eroding the hull of your boat.
There are times when you can forget what real solitude is. Being home alone is one thing. Being away from the world, totally disconnected, is another. I have had the pleasure of running some of the more remote sections of rivers in Canada, the US, and in Belize. None of which are cell friendly. You pack a sat-phone away in a drybag and hope not to see it again until you are unpacking your gear back at home, days, weeks, or even months later. On some trips you drive your vehicle to a certain point, then maybe jump in a shuttle vehicle for the next part of the journey. Once that shuttle stops, you load your gear and yourself onto a plane, helicopter or jet boat and then disappear deep into the backcountry. The next time someone on the outside sees you, is when the river spits you out somewhere along its way. You spend nights staring into fires...looking up at countless stars. Packing and unpacking gear. Sharing food and kitchen duties with friends and colleagues, singing songs and telling stories. Oh, and of course finding the best place to put the toilet, to sit and rejoice at the view. And when it all comes to an end, you're tired, dirty, and smell like an old sock someone left beside the fire too long. Your gear and cloths are almost in a state of disrepair, and you long for a shower and your bed. But I'll guarantee, no matter who you are, you will feel empowered by the experience, and have most likely already planned for the next great river expedition.