“There is hardly anything that holds our attention and focus so much that we will ignore a cell phone vibration or the 200-times-a-day thought, “I wonder if anyone’s interacted with me on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest/Instagram in the last 6 minutes?” –Brendan Leonard
There is something about being in the wilderness that facilitates connections…not the wifi connection that you’re normally searching for, but the kinds of connections that much of our society no longer strives to seek out. We try to pretend that it has nothing to do with there being no ‘app’ to make the latest version of your trendy gadget reliably invincible in the face of frothing rapids, rambunctious water fights, or feisty fish. While that may be a piece of it, I think that a bigger part is that rivers and the people who chase them are wild, and things that are wild tend to quiet the less important things in life.
These reflections always catch me by surprise while spending extended durations outdoors. Last week as we prepared piles of gear and loaded our boats on a trailer to head down to the Owyhee River, the “what did I forget to pack” game dominated my thoughts. Those things that I was bringing with me, the items of organization and routine, were managing to crowd out the excitement of the adventure we were embarking on.
The Owyhee River, dubbed the Grand Canyon of Oregon, has quite a majestic reputation associated with it. Stories of incredibly colored canyons, shy wild life unaccustomed to human presence, and rapids recalled in all of their glory had been handed down to me from the well seasoned boaters that have mentored me in my guiding career. However, due to unreliable water flows in the last decade, most plans to visit the Owyhee have been thwarted in the weeks prior to launch. With each failed attempt, the pedestal on which the Owyhee sat continued to grow.
With the amazing snow pack that this winter has brought though, the Owyhee once again is being presented with dependable water levels and I was beyond thrilled for a chance to participate in a staff training there this spring. I was finally able have a chance to experience this legendary place and to make my own small story in its great abyss.
Pushing off the banks at the Rome put in, loaded with sleeping bags and paco pads, spare oars and spare batteries and a spare dutch oven, all of the knives and slotted spoons and the specific number of mixing bowls that the packing list required, the whole kit and caboodle, we felt as though we were carrying everything that we could possibly need with us.
And to be honest, that spare dutch oven came in handy when Gianni spoiled us and secretly made a pineapple upside down cake while the rest of the guides were cooking dinner and engaging in a very competitive round of spike ball on the beach. Those paco pads made us sleep much better than your average baby after long days of basking in the sun and craning our heads to spot the eagles soaring above us and each new set of geological wonders as we rounded the river bends. The spare batteries helped guide us along the uneven trail for a late night dip in the hot springs and a sunrise summit overlooking that last stretch of wilderness on the final morning.
But do we really need those things? A set number of trash bags or an extra set of shoes? Our towels, that favorite camp chair, even our beloved fire pan? The things that we carry with us are for comfort. The ‘things’ that we need, that we truly can’t live without, are those connections with the people and the world around us. The people who are up at the crack of dawn making a giant pot of coffee, the ones inviting everyone on a sunset hike up a cliff or asking me what animal I’m most like, followed by what makes me most nervous in life. My news comes from current event discussions with fellow rafters rather than a news feed. On the river, I’m participating in the most exhilarating things that I can imagine in life surrounded by the most breathtaking settings, and Facebook rarely sees any of it.
The wildness of these trips…so removed from the things that we give so much attention in life but give us so little in return…wraps us up in its long days, forging a different kind of relationship with new friends and old companions, deep conversations and echoing laughter, cascading water and pebble paved pools. It is the most intoxicating thing that I’ve ever experienced. So step away from the Iphone, do your ‘turn up’ on that water bottle and get outside, because there’s no app for embracing life.
Wet Planet will be running trips on the Owyhee this May, along with multi day trips on the Lower Salmon and Hells Canyon this coming June-September. We’d love to share these experiences with you! Find out more at https://wetplanetwhitewater.com/rafting/multi-day-trips/
Courtney Zink is a part of the Wet Planet guide staff and office team. Her fourth favorite thing about rafting is a tie between midnight runs and sandwiches.