It’s day six in a push of 30+ days straight of work, 30+ days of sandwiching river trips in several states between long drives through the desert and gourmet meals of potato chips and ice cream. It’s April, and I’m already tired in the very best way, the way that reaffirms you are doing what you absolutely love.
The river season is both a sprint and a marathon, demanding your totality but rewarding you completely. My schedule is full of trips in four different states, and I couldn’t be more excited.
I’m a new trip leader this season, excited to cultivate transformational outdoor experiences.
It’s been a challenging trip, navigating group dynamics, high water, and less-than-familiar places as I shake off the winter rust.
We zip out of the eddy from our final camp after explaining we will be doing a silent float. Some of the middle schoolers groan and scheme to get a few sentences of chatter in. Some shrug, as middle schoolers do. Anna looks at me and smiles.
“Can I ride with you?” she asks.
As a guide, I try always to open the oars to anyone who wants some time “on the sticks.” I learned to row as a teenager on a trip from a woman named Katie, who still is one of my mentors and friends.
Anna, intelligent and observant, hadn’t ridden with me yet.
I push ahead, setting a pace that allows us to appreciate the silence rising over the bluffs. We have six more miles before the takeout, and the youth on my boat remain silent, hushed into awe by the beauty of chocolate water and sandstone skies.
I tap Anna on the shoulder and point to the oars. She grins, her braces glinting in the sun. I nod, and she steps into my seat. I crawl onto the bag stack, ready to support her if necessary. It isn’t.
She takes to the movement of the water with an easy grace, instinctively picking up on concepts like reading water and feathering. I breathe easy, knowing I should hold this moment close.
Whitewater rumbles beckon us, and Anna looks at me, offering me the helm without words. I smile and shake my head. Her eyes slightly widen, then she digs in. I sit ready to take over, ready to support her in both word and action, but I never have to. She makes a few succinct pulls, straightens her nose, and plunges into the final fun wave train on the Upper San Juan, the once we affectionately call Satan’s Mullet. Anna’s smile as she pushed into her very first rapid mirrored mine.
Though the rest of the students have broken their silence, my boat holds contemplative until the take-out is in sight. The boys turn around, not realizing Anna had been controlling the boat. She smiles and we hug, and in her sunglasses, I see the reflection of my teenage self, hugging Katie as she led me through the basics on this very same river.