Life is a river (rev. 1)

Hey all! This is a short story I’m planning to submit to The Dirtbag Diaries podcast in hopes that they will air it next year. Give it a read. Let me know what you think!! I’ll take all the constructive criticism I can get 😀 Cheers!

2 comments

First revision (previous drafts below):

It was late 2016.  I had just been hired as a process engineer at a plastics manufacturing company.  I had been working towards this for my entire life to that point.  I was finally living the dream.

I was working at a company that had made Forbes’ 100 Best Companies to Work For list 30 years in a row.  I was put into a role where I would be challenged and have lots of room for growth.

Making almost $80,000 a year right out of school, I was already planning trips that most people can only dream of.  Denali, Bangkok, the Amazon, Madagascar!

Just a few months earlier in 2016, I had been offered a spot on what most consider to be the trip of a lifetime: a private river trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.  We would embark from Lee’s Ferry on March 20th, 2017.  The trip would last 19 days.

I’d be diving into this adventure having only a few days of whitewater experience on comparatively minuscule rivers under my belt.  I had only once rowed an oar-boat, and for just a couple of hours on the quiet San Juan River in southern Utah.  Lucky for me, that float happened to be with the Grand Canyon trip permit holder, my uncle from Flagstaff, Arizona.

Needless to say, it was a pleasant surprise when he offered me one of 6 boatmen spots out of the 16 person crew.  Not only would I get to join, but I’d get to pilot an 18-foot yellow raft down 225 miles of the Colorado River!

In order for me to join in on this epic adventure, I used every single one of my allotted vacation days for the entirety of 2017.  No sweat!  I couldn’t possibly have said no.  Hell, I probably would have taken an unpaid leave or quit my job if I had to!

March rolled around.  I headed out to Flagstaff, a college town.  It lies at the base of the volcanic San Francisco peaks at an elevation of 7000 ft on the edge of the Colorado Plateau in northern Arizona.  There, I made sure I had everything I’d need for the next three weeks packed into a single 45L dry bag.  A tent.  A sleeping bag.  Wool long underwear for sleeping.  A hat and sun shirt and shorts for the hot days on the water.  A full wetsuit for the cold days and big rapids.  My water shoes.  3 pairs of sunglasses; I have bad luck with sunglasses.  A toothbrush.  And 2 pairs of underwear and 2 pairs of socks.  We loaded everything onto the outfitter’s truck and headed out to Lee’s Ferry: a historic Colorado River crossing nestled at the base of the strawberry colored Vermilion Cliffs near Page, AZ.

Another huge truck met us at the gravelly put-in with our boats, boat frames, pre-frozen ice chests, ammo cans, and boxes upon boxes of food.  We tossed our dry bags into a big pile along with about 50 cases of beer. Only the necessities.  Each boatman and boatwoman rigged their steel pipe boat frame to their yellow rubber boat using straps of varying lengths.  Then, like an assembly line, we each dragged our boats behind the outfitter’s truck from which two people lowered first a massive ice chest, then dry food boxes and various other supplies.  Everything, and I mean everything, must be strapped down.  If your boat happens to roll over, you definitely don’t want to lose anything.

As we all know, everything that’s carried into the canyon MUST be carried out.  I ended up with the shit boat, literally.  When we left shore, my boat was fully loaded with my mom, my cousin, our dry bags, an ice chest of dairy products, boxes of dry food, 5 empty ammo cans each loaded with toilet paper and detergent powder, and a toilet seat made to fit atop a large metal ammo can.  Oh yeah, we were living the life of luxury.  We’d have no grooves on our bottoms from our groover.

I, the captain, sat atop the padded insulation of my ice chest throne whilst my crew comfortably lazed at the ship’s bow.

We pushed off the shallow gravel bank at Lee’s Ferry, and within hours found ourselves looking up, engulfed by the grandeur of the Grand Canyon.  A red and brown and orange and yellow chasm opened above.  The walls of rock changed color as day by day we descended almost a mile into the Earth.  The monumental size brings on a feeling of complete isolation from the world.

And yet, even in the impossibly humbling expanse, one does not feel lost on such a venture.  Such is the nature of river rafting.  If one does not stray far from the banks, there is only one way to go: down river.

And for 19 days we did just that.  Raft, camp, repeat.

By day, I rowed tirelessly atop pristine flat-water between massive whitewater rapids where the boat pitched and rocked and shuddered through gnarly swirling waves and massive holes up to 30 feet tall.  My river guide cousin lead our 6-boat fleet fearlessly.  We gratefully dipped our toes into tributaries ranging from small, cold trickles to large, brown sediment-infused rivers.  We gently scrambled our way around micro ecosystems with glacial blue waters that have nourished native civilizations and microbiomes for millenia.  We gasped through arid, red desert and soaked our souls in lush, green valleys in a single day hike.  We gazed with awe at water pouring from gaping slots in massive sandstone walls – gargantuan, rigid sponges releasing the snow and rain that graced their plateaus all winter long.

By night, we cooked fish over a cackling fire.  We listened intently to stories of each others’ lives.  We were captivated by each others’ dreams and fantasies.  We joked lightly and wrestled playfully.  Youth and elders.  Old friends and new.

For the most part, the adventure was the best version of exactly what I had expected it to be.

I look back on this trip far more fondly than I ever could have imagined.  Not for the fact that I had just spent 3 weeks in one of the most beautiful places on this planet.  No, what I elicited from this trip was something far more important: a new outlook on life.

I got to know my river guide cousin and his river guide buddies.  I learned of their nomadic, yet simple lifestyles: chasing mountains in the winter and rivers in the summer.  I was hit by confusing pangs of jealousy for their living accommodations in trucks and trailers on forest roadsides throughout the west.

They were living a simple life.  And it appealed to me.

Over the two years that followed, my heart grew less satisfied by the work that I was doing.  I begrudgingly showed up day after day to my “dream” engineering job even as I felt increasingly detached.  Yet, over that same time, I could feel myself being drawn to a different life.  A life outdoors.  But not just one lived for myself.  A life where I could inspire others to be just as curious about the world as I have grown to be.

In February of 2019, after two and a half years, I left my job and career as a process engineer.  I made this move with both fear and excitement in my bones.  I used the following months for some extreme self-exploration.  I climbed throughout the range and basin province of eastern California and Nevada with my incredible partner.  I ran a youth summer camp at a climbing gym in NYC.  I started writing prolifically.  And, in August of 2019, I was hired as an enthusiastic new outdoor adventure guide taking New York City clients to the still wild areas of the Northeast.

Life is a river.

It’s easy to get swept up in the all-day everyday flow and only enjoy the beaches just along the shore.

It was not easy to leave a life that I’d worked towards for decades, especially one as comfortable as the one I had.  But, in the end, that was not a life that I chose for myself, it was one that was chosen for me.

Don’t just go with the flow.  Explore the side canyons and the cliffs around you.  Listen for the calls of birds and coyotes.  Tune in to your thoughts and feelings.

And, always, keep your mind open.  The river of life will take you everywhere.

===

First draft:

It was late 2016.  I had just been hired as a process engineer at a plastics manufacturing company.  I had been working towards this for my entire life to that point.  I was finally living the dream.

I was working at a company that had made Forbes’ 100 Best Companies to Work For list 30 years in a row.  I was put into a role where I would be challenged and have lots of room for growth.

I was making almost $80,000 a year right out of school.  I was already planning trips that most people can only dream of.  Denali, Bangkok, the Amazon, Madagascar!

Just a few months earlier in 2016, I had been offered a spot on what most consider to be the trip of a lifetime: a private float trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.  We would embark from Lee’s Ferry on March 20th, 2017.  The trip would last 19 days.

I would be diving into this adventure having only a few days of whitewater experience on comparatively minuscule rivers under my belt.  I had only once rowed an oar-boat, and only for a couple of hours on the quiet San Juan River in southern Utah.  That float was with my uncle from Flagstaff, Arizona.  Lucky for me, he was the Grand Canyon trip permit holder.

Needless to say, it was a pleasant surprise when he offered me one of 6 boatmen spots out of the 16 person crew.  Not only would I get to join, but I’d get to pilot an 18-foot yellow raft down 225 miles of the Colorado River!

In order for me to join in on this epic adventure, I used every single one of my allotted vacation days for the entirety of 2017.  No sweat!  I couldn’t possibly have said no.  Hell, I probably would have taken an unpaid leave or quit my job if I had to!

March rolled around.  I headed out to Flagstaff to make sure I had everything I’d need for the next three weeks packed into a single 45L dry bag.  A tent.  A sleeping bag.  Wool long underwear for sleeping.  A hat and sun shirt and shorts for the hot days on the water.  A full wetsuit for the cold days and big rapids.  My water shoes.  3 pairs of sunglasses; I have bad luck with sunglasses.  A toothbrush.  And 2 pairs of underwear and 2 pairs of socks.  We loaded everything onto the outfitter’s truck and headed out to Lee’s Ferry: a historic Colorado River crossing nestled at the base of the strawberry colored Vermilion Cliffs near Page, AZ.

Another huge truck met us at the put-in with our boats, boat frames, pre-frozen ice chests, ammo cans, and boxes upon boxes of food.  We tossed our dry bags into a big pile along with about 50 cases of beer.  Each boatman and boatwoman rigged and loaded up their own boat to ensure we knew what we were doing from the outset.  Everything, and I mean everything, must be strapped down.  If your boat happens to roll over, you definitely do not want to lose anything.

As we all know, everything that’s carried into the canyon MUST be carried out.  I ended up with the shit boat.  When we left shore, my boat was fully loaded with my mom, my cousin, our dry bags, an ice chest of dairy products, boxes of dry food, 5 empty ammo cans each with toilet paper and detergent powder, and a toilet seat made to fit atop an ammo can.  Oh yeah, we were living the life of luxury.  We’d have no grooves on our bottoms from our groover.

To that point, I had not seen anything that compares to the grandeur of the Grand Canyon.  Particularly when engulfed at the bottom of it.  A red and brown and orange and yellow chasm opens above you.  The monumental size brings on a feeling of complete isolation from the world.

And yet, even in the impossibly humbling expanse, one does not feel lost on such a venture.  Such is the nature of river rafting.  If one does not stray far from the banks, there is only one way to go: down river.

And for 19 days we did just that.  Raft, camp, repeat.

By day, we’d float mile after mile between massive whitewater rapids, my river guide cousin in the lead.  We passed tributaries ranging from small, cold trickles to large, brown sediment-infused rivers.  We explored micro ecosystems with glacial blue waters that have nourished native civilizations and microbiomes for millenia.  We trekked through arid, red desert and lush, green valleys in a single day hike.  We gazed with awe at water pouring from gaping holes in massive sandstone walls – gargantuan, rigid sponges for the snow and rain that graced their plateaus all winter long.

By night, we’d cook over the fire and tell stories.  We’d joke and wrestle.  Youth and elders.  Old friends and new.  For the most part, the adventure was the best version of exactly what I had expected it to be.

This trip did more for me than I ever could have imagined.  I got to know my river guide cousin and his river guide buddies.  I learned of their nomadic, yet simple lifestyles: chasing mountains in the winter and rivers in the summer.  I was hit by confusing pangs of jealousy for their living accommodations in trucks and trailers on forest roadsides throughout the west.

They were living a simple life.  And it appealed to me.

Over the two years that followed, my heart grew less satisfied by the work that I was doing at my “dream” engineering job.  And, over that same time, I was drawn to a different life.  I was drawn to a life outdoors.  But not just for myself.  A life where I could inspire others to be just as curious about the world as I have grown to be.

In February of 2019, after two and a half years, I left my job and career as a process engineer.  The following months were a time of self-exploration.  I climbed throughout the range and basin province of eastern California and Nevada with my partner.  I ran a summer camp at a climbing gym in NYC.  I started writing more prolifically.  And, in August of 2019, I was hired as an outdoor adventure guide taking clients out of NYC to the still wild areas of the Northeast.

Life is a river.

It’s easy to get swept up in the all-day everyday flow and only enjoy the beaches just along the shore.

It was not easy to leave a life that I’d worked towards for decades, especially one as comfortable as the one I had.  But, in the end, that was not a life that I chose for myself, it was one that was chosen for me.

Don’t just go with the flow.  Explore the side canyons and the cliffs around you.  Listen for the calls of birds and coyotes.  Tune into your thoughts and feelings.

And, always, keep your mind open.  The river of life will take you everywhere.

2 comments on “Life is a river (rev. 1)”

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