River Time

The cool rush of water rolled over the bow of the paddle boat and hit me in the face for the 10th time that morning. The women in the boat giggled and squealed and the men let out a hearty laugh. We were all delighting in the fun adventure, great weather and good company on a trip through the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho.

Anyone who takes this trip must relax and unplug metaphorically as well as literally. By virtue of the remote location, no standard electronic device will work in the Impassable Canyon. It is 99 miles of steep jagged-edged cliffs, soft sandy beaches and sparse forests.  There are no roads and no motorized vehicles allowed. The only familiar noise was a propane tank firing up to cook. It is the ultimate antidote to stressed city lives.

The only decision that needed to be made each day was the choice of activity. The river guides inquired, “Would you like to do the kayak, fish or paddle boat?” There was also the option to do nothing and sit atop a perch while the guide paddled — dubbed the “princess boat.” We also hiked and explored petroglyphs and long abandoned pioneer cabins. We heard stories about the indigenous Chilcotin people, “Sheep eaters” and Earl K. Parrott, “The Hermit of Impassable Canyon.” We even slept next to the tombstone of Whitey Cox at one of our campsites. It was the Old West in a remote part of the country. It was hard to fathom the survival skills and independent streak of those who had made that area their home. 

Realistically, I don’t think I could unplug if I wasn’t forced by circumstance to abide. For the second year in a row, I had the good fortune to be on a week-long vacation with no cell phone coverage, no internet and no electronic access. There was a satellite phone along for emergency communication and peace of mind but otherwise no news was good news.

After a few days on the river I asked the Idaho River Journeys guide what the plan was for the next day. He said, “We’ll get to that later, just enjoy.”  I replied, “You have been with me a few days now, I’m a planner, I like to know what’s coming up ahead.”  He smiled wryly and replied, “Just enjoy, you are on river time.”

I have been counseled many times throughout my life to slow down and enjoy the moment. I am a list-maker, I like to feel productive.  I like planning, “calendaring,” and crossing items off my list. “It’s the journey, not the destination,” has not been my mantra.  I like to know what might be ahead on the next river bend. Yep, I like control and contingencies.

However, as I get older, I am finding that I am getting a tiny bit better at savoring the moment. While I may never be a “journey” type of gal, I was able to enjoy more on this trip than ever in my past. I was not constantly anticipating and planning the next step. Although I needed a little help to accomplish a state of mindful presence, self-permission was a piece of the puzzle. While I won’t embrace Yoga or Buddhism anytime soon, I found my own way to transcend.

One of the hallmarks of the trip was the great big cooler of drinks that always greeted us when we stepped off the river into our camp site. As a fan of advertising jingles I could not get out of my head the 1970s Olympia Brewing Company ditty,”It’s the water and a lot more. ”

After this trip I believe it was a whole lot more.

Carol Lewis Gullstad August 20, 2012


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