River Days | On the Main Salmon with OARS
One of life’s more challenging practices is learning how to welcome the unexpected, to let plans change and stay content, to release control and let life unfold.
I’m a person who derives a lot of enjoyment from anticipation. For example, I’ll often choose to go to a certain restaurant for dinner because I know they serve something that I love, and the anticipation of knowing I’m going to get to eat that thing makes the actual experience that much more enjoyable. But does that mean that I get less enjoyment out of unexpected experiences or changing plans?
This is all to say that the river trip I went on over the last few days of summer 2017 was filled with shifting plans and expectations from start to finish. The whole trip actually came up at the last minute – Corey was planning a trip out to California before OARS reached out to him, asking him to make a marketing film for their Salmon River Middle Fork trip, that happened to be the exact days he had just bought flights for.
That was not an opportunity to let pass though, and I was able to join and help photograph the trip. Change in plans #1, turns out great.
I fly to SLC, Corey and I drive to Idaho, hearing news of the raging wildfires that seemed to blanket the western US that summer, and seeing the smoky skies to prove it. We meet up with the guides, waiting, waiting, no trip? Lots of smoke. Different river? Different section? Driving in? Flying in? It’s eventually decided that we’ll switch to a Main Fork trip instead of the Middle Fork. Too bad, but everyone is just excited that the trip isn’t cancelled. And besides, this is one of the most beautiful rivers in the country, and all uncharted territory for me, so why waste disappointment over which section we float down? Change in plans #2, all good.
Turns out the river is very smoky for the first few days. Eerily smoky, to the point where we couldn’t see the sky, couldn’t see the tops of the canyon walls, couldn’t tell what time it was. Beautiful in its own way, and not a huge hinderance to floating through the River of No Return Wilderness, but definitely not ideal for a marketing video. More shifting expectations. The water is very low and thus moves slower; longer days on the water to make miles and less time for other camp activities. Also different than expected.
So was the trip ruined? Absolutely not. We swam every day. I paddled a few rapids in (and out of – not on purpose) an inflatable kayak. We slept on paco pads on the beach every night. We ate delicious food (so many avocados!) prepared by our wonderful guides, and formed our own little community of some of the most interesting and kind people I’ve had the chance to meet. By the last few days, we were out of the smoke and enjoyed the blue skies, warm days, and clear, starry nights that are more typical of this river in late summer. To have that much time with no distractions, really only each other and the wilderness, was simply a gift.
Far from what was expected, but an entirely memorable trip, through all the twists and turns. We’ll never be able to know all the incredible things that life has planned for us, so the key is, as it always seems to be, to stay present. And boy, rivers sure are a great metaphor.