First Flip

Taking it out on the pastels

Taking it out on the pastels

I was invited on an overnighter guys' trip through Westwater Canyon. I have a hard time turning down such an invite, as this is probably my cherished spot on the Colorado Plateau. I lived out there for a little while, learned to row there, have had all sorts of strange encounters there, was officially married there at 23,000 cfs, have celebrated anniversaries there, etc. I've run it Very Low, Pretty Damn High, and have seen some weather, like this time.

I've been rowing a decent amount since 2000, when Alvin the River Ranger dropped me off at the Loma river access and said "figure it out." I've spent many days and nights on the river with friends, with my wife, with my child. We've been lucky to visit the Grand Canyon, the Selway, Cataract, the Main Salmon, Desolation Canyon, and others on our oar rig, which my wife and I received as a wedding present in 2003. Its maiden voyage was through Lodore Canyon of the Green River, and we took it through Cataract for a very memorable and momentarily stressful honeymoon. 

River rats like to tell stories. And many of them have something to do with crashes. Flips. For the last fifteen years, I would quietly sip my beer as others told their flip stories. When asked where I had flipped boats, I would say something nebulous like "I was washed out of my boat here" or "Emily is a great high-sider" and leave it at that. The truth was, I hadn't flipped a boat. However, I would never, EVER acknowledge that fact. I am a strong believer in The Gooch.

So there I was yesterday, approaching a rapid that I've never fully understood. Skull is the big one in Westwater, and I've had some interesting experiences in/around/because of that rapid. But Sock It To Me. That one makes my heart go pitter patter each time. I could draw you a diagram of every other rapid in Westwater and tell you exactly where you should put your boat and why. But not with Sock. I usually just kind of show up and wish for the best. 

Well, the best didn't happen yesterday. I went straight into Sock's crashing wave/hole kind of daydreaming and felt the boat lift. It wasn't fast or violent. It was soft. There was enough time for me to know what was happening and to accept it. And then sure as shit it flipped. 

I came up next to the boat, lunged forward and grabbed the boat. It zoomed directly into Magnetic Eddy, like it had been grabbed by a hook. There I was, bobbing next to my overturned raft beginning to process what had just happened. I flashed to the time several years ago when my dog Mocha (no longer with us) got stuck in this eddy. I shouted "my first time!" to my buddy as he passed with a confused expression on his face. I looked around and was delighted to see one of my flip flops enter the eddy. Then the other came in, which seemed a little over the top. Then entered Charles the kayaker/hero.

After some fruitless solo righting efforts (and after Charles found a mysterious and funny third flip flop), Charles and I fairly efficiently flipped the boat back over. We did an awesome underwater high five. I assessed the damage, which appeared minimal. Closer inspection revealed two inches of water in my not-so-dry box. The nice cold temperature inside my cooler had risen with the influx of river water. But everything was there, with the exception of my favorite Subvert hat. Oh, and my art kit was drenched, including a drawing I had done that morning.

The thing I'm still trying to figure out is that during, immediately after, and even now, I'm not pissed off or scared or shaken or embarrassed about the flip. Rather, I'm fully exhilarated by it. It feels as though things are now in balance.

Three or so miles downstream of Sock It To Me, as the adrenaline was wearing off and I was getting a little tired, one of my friends pointed to something floating low in the current and said, "Chad, is that your hat?" I said, "that's my hat!" I wrung out a little Colorado River from it and put it back on its rightful place.  

An unfinished, untitled, and still drying pastel drawing from Westwater's Hades Bar camp.

An unfinished, untitled, and still drying pastel drawing from Westwater's Hades Bar camp.

UPDATE: Upon returning home, I pulled out my artbox and was surprised to see that my Westwater drawing is somehow mostly intact. My pastels got a little smashed (see above photo), but they'll still make many more drawings just fine (once they dry out).