On rafting

     Rafting is by far one of the most social sports that I participate in. When I kayak, mountain bike, climb, ski or perform any of my other routine recreational activities, I am never so close, nor so reliant, on the people around me as when I am in a raft. This has it’s perks, and downfalls. The great part about rafting is that you get to hang with your buddies while you smash through huge waves and work as a team to get down the river. For an introvert such as myself, this can be part of the downfall of rafting. I enjoy being around people, at times, but also enjoy solitude. In my line of work I get to take families down the river every day, and hold the guide stick, calling paddle strokes as we go. All of us raft guides tend to be a little on the selfish, narcissistic side. We want to do whatever the hell we want to do, especially when it comes to being in control of a rafting vessel. The problems come when you get four, six, or seven guides in one rubber vessel paddling down the river who want to test their skills against the oncoming obstacles of rock and current. Each in the boat is judging the calls of the guide in charge. Each has a certain perspective; a history of experiences which are reflected in the paddle strokes that they call for. When the water is moving quickly, at the most exciting times, the judgment must be spot on. There can be no hesitation in making paddle commands. “Forward hard!” or “Back paddle” commands are decisive instruments for the guide to safely maneuver the raft.

     The customer can be one of the best paddlers that you ever have sit in front of you, yet can also be poor paddlers which have trouble following directions. They are blind to the oncoming obstacles. They don’t see the rocks that your trying to avoid or the currents that your trying to subjugate. Customers don’t have a general understanding of how an eddy line effects a boat moving downstream. You say “forward two,” they go forward two strokes. You say “right back,” and the raft is turned by a conjunction of back paddle and forward paddle strokes, as instructed and coached earlier in the day. Of course there are times when customers get the deer in the headlights look. Usually it is the customers on the downstream side, looking intently at the rock that you are trying to paddle away from. Their strokes become feeble, as what they see is the inevitability of the boat hitting the rock. The whole time they are surely thinking about in the safety speech, how we told them that we never want to hit anything sideways. Their loose and out of sink paddle strokes sometimes are the cause of their own fears: hitting the rock.

     Today I am taking a rain check on rafting. All my homies are heading down the royal gorge for some rain induced whitewater. I tell my customers on rainy days that “your going to get wet anyhow, so no matter that its raining,” but on this day I don’t care to sit wet clothes as we head down the river in the afternoon thunderstorms that have been so prevalent this July an August. Likely the next time that I venture into the Royal Gorge I will by paddling a kayak. The independence and challenge of kayaking are alluring, though the danger is also stifling. There is a reason that kayaks are referred to as plastic coffins. Probably a big reason is that kayakers tend to run every feature god saw fit to cast water down in that hunk of synthesized fossil fuels. Being closer to the water, the features, waves, and currents grow more intense.

     Working so closely over a season with so many guides can only bring on the strongest of camaraderie, when it does not result in welling up of anger. All of us are only human anyhow, and particularly dominant in our personalities. I will certainly only remember the best of this season, when I reminisce about the great times, and great people.

 

Rafting, ownership, and redneck paradise.

Kansas, a fellow guide, directs us into the beginnings of the Royal Gorge.

     Living each day like it is your last is something hard to strive for. This is perhaps one reason that I choose to guide customers down the river every day as an occupation. There may be wind upstream, there may be a disgruntled person on the boat, it may be cold and wet, but it is never a bad day when your floating down the river. American Dippers, Western Tanagers, and White-Throated Swifts accompany us down the river daily. It doesn’t pay well monetarily, but sure has some advantages. I could not imagine being stuck inside an office cubicle eight hours a day, five days a week.

A neighbor with a skid steer was fixing the road, and had time to level off my building site. Best kind of neighbor.

     As I start to develop the property that I bought two years ago while in Gunnison, the question of ownership plagues me. Why do we, especially in America, tend toward this obsession with having more and more things? As long as our daily needs are met, why shouldn’t we be happy? Is there a better system? One that would not require such misuse of all the resources on the planet. We all know that things deteriorate over time: metal rusts, rubber seals decay, wood rots. Why would a supposedly advanced society (which is starting to realize it’s own impact on the planet) allow houses, tools, and equipment to deteriorate unused, only to be replaced with the newest model within the next ten years at a great ecological cost. Jacque Fresco calls for a kind of resource based economy, as opposed to a monetary one. I imagine in this style of economy you can have access to tools and equipment you need when you need it. Instead of having a chainsaw in every garage, there will be a central location where you can go and borrow it for a day, or a week. Use of tools helps them to stay in a working order also, as well as having a maintenance person to do regular preventative repairs. For every one chainsaw that is used regularly, how many sit on the shelves to be used every five or ten years? Those on shelves falling into disrepair.

     This same concept can be applied to the houses that we build. As it stands, developers (with money) who understand that our population is ever increasing, and that there will always be a demand for new young families to buy houses, are making a killing by building on every square inch of soil that can be divided into a subdivision. Of course, part of this is derived from our culture of self sufficiency in America. In America children must become independent and move toward their own life path. In countries like Argentina and Peru, there is a more family centered outlook, where grandma stays in the same domicile and helps manage the children while mom and dad are free to take care of subsistence and other obligations. Grandma and Grandpa have a great influence on the children’s growth, and become part of passing on traditions. We could probably live more happily in more closely connected, and not dispersed over the country(as it stands), family units. Another problem with our housing situation in America is our numbers of wealthy families, who have two or three homes which are unoccupied, excluding a week or two of each year. I have seen this mostly in wealthier communities such as Rockport, Snowmass, Crested Butte, Telluride, and San Diego. This is not isolated to these cities, but is an epidemic of misuse of resources. These beach and mountain homes sit idle and decay in the salt air, or spring thaw. The wood from our forests which built them house nobody, shelter no one. In one hundred years the architecture will be obsolete, and the houses bulldozed and rebuilt by the next, and wealthier kin of the previous tenants.

An alpine lake in the Sangre de Cristos, west of Westcliffe, CO.

     Being on my own property, with the ability to decide any aspect of where to dig, or build, or burn makes me question ownership more than ever. Truly I am just a steward of this land, until I die and the next living generations utilize it for their own goals and aspirations. I continually question what I really need to live on a daily basis, and if the structures that I build will be put to use, since they are certainly resources being consumed.

     I am slowly meeting the neighbors. One carries a 9mm sidearm always. I assume all of them vote Republican. Every one that I have met has multiple guns. On the weekends you can hear the report of rifles and handguns, one neighbor conveying “I just want to make sure people know I have guns, and am not afraid of using them.” These neighbors have plans to bury large amounts of what they regard as trash: tarps, broken bike parts, pieces of pallets, broken plastic buckets, etc. I only hope that nothing they bury in toxic, leaching into the groundwater. It is sort of a redneck paradise up there, with nobody to tell anyone else what to do or how to live. There are a few thieves about. As I mentioned before I had two water tanks stolen. I apparently had a nice wood stove in the old hunters cabin that was removed by the one questionable group of neighbors down the hill that I was warned about. My outdoor furniture was also moved around recently, making me worry a little that they have plans to take them next chance they get.

Raft Guides in their natural habitat. From left to right: Kansas, Atticus, Reid, and Megan.

    All said, this question of ownership makes me rethink whether or not I even want to strive to own my own structure. Maybe it would be better, instead of going it alone, to join a community where everybody works toward the common goals of growing food and providing housing to the community long term. I don’t think that I’ll be able to solve this internal crisis anytime soon, but at least I have the river, and fellow guides to comfort me along the way.

The narrow in the Royal Gorge. You can see the suspension bridge off in the distance.
Looking straight up at the bridge. The prominent dihedral leading to the right side of the bridge was soloed by Dean Potter.