San Juan Jitters
| By Joe Leinweber - Fredericksburg,
Texas - USA
Wide eyes, sweaty palms, and uneasy
ankles. Symptoms of everyday life for many people,
just measured in different degrees. When a diver climbs
step after step up to the top it is almost certain
that every one of those steps is accompanied by a
deep breath. With his foot on the last step looking
down to pull himself up to the very top the diver
is overcome with a warm sense of tranquility. This
tranquility is soon struck in half by fear of the
height he is at when the diver’s eyes focus
on what is presented in front of him now. The diver
tries to numb the senses by relating the situation
to something humorous such as walking the plank in
a pirate movie. This only works for a few seconds
because every ounce of concentration is needed. Poise
counts for points so even less energy can be focused
on keeping calm as the diver takes slow yet graceful
steps toward the end of the board. One last deep breath
and that is it as the initial jump is taken to provide
bounce for the board. There is a certain amount of
skill that goes into a sport such as this but the
calming of senses and nurtured breathing are practiced
amongst everyone everywhere.
Let’s say that this diver and I were standing
next to each other when I was staring down in awe
at the San Juan River at Goosenecks State Park in
Utah. Even if we were completely different people
from obscure walks of life we could most likely both
relate to each other on similar situations.
sun set and the canyon walls shaded the
river, a sense of uneasiness came over
images to enlarge)
As the sun set and the canyon walls shaded the river,
a sense of uneasiness came over me. Yeah, I was scared
and never had I done anything like this before. I
knew that it would only be a short time before I had
to suck it up and face the fears that had been presented
before me. As I turned my back on the overwhelming
yet beautiful sight I realized that I was what seemed
like a million miles from home and I had no shoulder
to lean on.
|My legs were
shaky, I couldn’t hold a bowl of cereal
in my hands
The next morning came quick and it came with cold
weather for June. We all know how great cold weather
is for facing a challenge. Yeah right, My legs were
shaky, I couldn’t hold a bowl of cereal in my
hands and it was still eight hours until we were to
put the boats in the water. A fleece jacket and a
cup of coffee later I was not as cold but still overcoming
my anxiety attack from the night before.
at the Sand Island put in for the San
We camped at the Sand Island put in for the San Juan
river. It was not even where we were to put the boats
in so I guess it was a sneak preview to the feature
presentation. The river flow was smooth but swift.
Guidebooks for the river preached not to be fooled
by the easiness of the river at Sand Island and I
wasn’t…..I was intimidated.
|At this point
I knew there was no more delaying the inevitable
and that it was time to get to work.
A short drive to the town of Mexican Hat brought
us to our primary destination for the boating trip.
The vessels were unloaded along with necessary gear
for completing the 6 day trip and most of the cars
were driven to Clay Hills Crossing which was to be
the final destination point for the trip down the
river. It was only a matter of time now as we all
sat around waiting for one truck to come back with
all the drivers. It seemed as though that truck coming
back was a sigh of relief for the other 14 people
alongside me on the trip but I felt a little differently.
Waiting for the truck was not hard because I knew
they would be gone for a good 4 hours but as soon
as it rolled down the dusty road that feeling of anxiousness
filled throughout my entire body leaving me more uneasy
than I had felt the entire trip. At this point I knew
there was no more delaying the inevitable and that
it was time to get to work.
a hint of reassurance as I remembered
that I was in one of the wooden boats
with what seemed like good stability
Everyone quickly jumped up and started carrying boats
over to the riverside. What were these people doing,
I thought. They were actually hurrying to get into
the rushing river. I always try to face up to whatever
is ailing me so there was nothing to do except follow
the rest. It was hard not to when they were all asking
me to help them anyway. The boats were halfway in
the water and I knew it was time so everyone gave
one last nod of approval to each other and we set
forth in tandem canoes, single canoes, and two wooden
homemade boats. I felt a hint of reassurance as I
remembered that I was in one of the wooden boats with
what seemed like good stability but it was soon shot
down when a father son duo in our group turned sideways
in their canoe and ran into the back of my Dad and
I. Next, the duo’s canoe capsized and shortly
afterwards the first rapid on the river followed and
everyone was a little shaken up after the first 15
minutes of being on the river. Seeing boater’s
frantically bailing water out of their boats and a
soaked father son duo made me see the same uncertainty
in all my fellow river runners and soon the head count
was at 13.
|A select few
capsized their canoes and one or two had
to jump out in order to deal with the problem.
After a little excitement everyone cast off once
again, cutting their losses and realizing that there
was more to this than just floating the river. The
first day went by without any more mishaps and we
woke the next day feeling a bit more certain of our
ability to maintain. The next few days were filled
with lots of sun and water. By the third day anyone
wearing sandals full time on the river had strap lines
plastered across their feet. A select few capsized
their canoes and one or two had to jump out in order
to deal with the problem. Dirt under our fingernails
mixed with sand left a gritty taste to every bit of
food we ate but all the paddling and carrying gear
made the food taste just fine. After many rapids,
large and small, we only carried boats around one
whitewater frenzy. The rubber rafts of boaters not
in our group had no trouble bouncing off rocks and
plowing over standing waves but we were a little more
cautious. After several small rapids after our portage
around Government rapid the water seemed to slow down
and grow shallow. Paddling in such a large, swift
river, it is quite a sigh of relief to be touching
the riverbed with your paddle. As the river calmed
down, so did everyone’s emotions. After the
impending danger was presumably over, everyone in
the group laughed and joked a little more.
on one side, a pool on the other and another
canyon to hike and explore behind the
We camped at nice spot on the fourth night with a
great canyon hike. The entire group knew that the
end was near and calm waters were all that lay ahead.
The fifth day we paddled for about 8 miles and stopped
at the most scenic campsite yet. The river on one
side, a pool on the other and another canyon to hike
and explore behind the campsite. Several in the group
used their boats to paddle across the pool to get
to the canyon hike which made the campsite worthwhile
as far as I was concerned. Everyone ate dinner, had
their coffee and sat around and talked until the sun
went down. Some even forget to put their tents up
until it was almost completely dark.
| The challenge
was behind us and the road to showers, ice
cold drinks, and restaurant food lay ahead.
Oh yeah, and the road to indoor plumbing.
The sixth and final day of our trip we awoke at first
light and got everything packed up for the last time.
The challenge was behind us and the road to showers,
ice cold drinks, and restaurant food lay ahead. Oh
yeah, and the road to indoor plumbing. We paddled
nearly eight miles in the calm shallow water taking
in every last bit of the beautiful canyon scenery.
As the canyon slowly declined over the miles, we reached
an open spot on either side with only a red mesa in
front of us. Soon after there was a sign alerting
the group of the takeout point and another sign warning
of a dangerous waterfall ahead. Even if anyone wanted
to go further, it was completely out of the question.
pulled their vessels out of the water
with a smile on their face and a sense
Everyone pulled their vessels out of the water with
a smile on their face and a sense of accomplishment.
It was an unforgettable experience and a great time
that I think everyone who doesn’t have aquaphobia
should do. Although the last day and a half was very
subtle, the crew finally felt safe once the boats
were loaded and everyone was in their cars on the
way home. The diver and I can now discuss how we overcame
our fears and about challenges to come.