Our first night was a restless one with the temperatures still in the low nineties as we tried desperately to fall asleep. We stayed up later than we should have, but the excitement of the day kept our minds running at a pace, not even exhaustion could catch. Sometime way after midnight, most of us finally gave in and headed to our tents. It was still a little strange for me being on the same river that tried to end me just two years earlier. As I drifted in and out of sleep, the sounds of the river were just feet away. This was the first night i’ve spent on this river since the flood. I thought about that night in 2014, and if I had done everything I could this time, to make sure everything was done right…and safe…for me and my son, Kyle and Austin. There were no clouds and no rain in the forecast for the entire week. But I still felt uneasy and occasional thought I heard thunder in the distance which made for an even harder time staying asleep. I knew if I could just get through the first night, the anxiety would ease up throughout the trip. I just didn’t like our escape route. It was crazy tough in daylight just finding the right path. But with headlamps? In the middle of the night? I’m laying six feet from the water. What if it rises before we realize, what if….go to sleep man, my gosh, just go…to…sleep.
We awoke later than i’d hoped, but I made it through the first night and, as expected, felt completely different in the morning. As I looked around and saw the sun rise and hit the canyon walls, I was completely at ease, and knew everything was going to be great the rest of the trip. Just needed to shake off a little brain dust and remember who I am, and the road that got me this far. We’re experienced outdoorsmen, and the second guessing needs to stop or it will do nothing but lead to more sleepless nights. After a few minutes of reflection, I put my big boy pants back on, and was ready to take on anything this river could throw at me.
After the slow start, we finally got our camp packed up, loaded up, and ready to hit the water.
It’s been a long time since i’ve been up this far…but today…we’re headed to Painted Canyon.
There were a few more deep pools we went through before getting to our first decent set of rapids to push through. We were all feeling the fishing bug and spent quite a bit of time wetting a line. It was more difficult fishing these waters with the clarity the way it was. We could see the fish from a ways off, and in turn, they could see us.
I was honored with the first bass of the day. A big beauty that I tried to get off my line once it hit. Yes, you read that right. Something I noticed was so many of the bigger bass were traveling in pairs. This one had a partner with it. A much, much bigger partner. Being the pal I am, I start yelling at the guys to hurry up and get over here, quick, quick, quick, but don’t make any noise. Somebody needed to catch this other hungry beast. By the length and girth of the other bass, I knew it was double digits. So as i’m fighting the one on my line, I look back and the guys were a ways off, back closer to the boats, but they’re coming. I slack the line, but it pulls it tight. Slack it again, still won’t get off. Come on,shake that thing loose, will ya? This goes against everything i’ve been taught and know. But man, you should’ve seen that other bass and you’d know why. They get off all the time when I don’t want them to, but this time, it wouldn’t get off no matter what I tried. This whole time, the monster bass was swimming all around mine, following it every where it goes. Taking jabs at the tails of the spinner lodged in it’s partners lips. I know if it’ll just shake it free, i’ll have a trophy to beat all trophies. The guys will hoist me on their shoulders and our cheers of triumph will echo through the canyons for years to come. But…I hooked her good, and I knew I needed to reel it in and be done. By the time the guys got there the big guy had moved on, and I finished reeling her in. After a few photos, it was released to continue to grow and produce more fighters. I think each of us cast 100 times all over the area to catch the big beast, but to no avail. They were gone, and we needed to be moving on as well.
There were a few more hits and misses, and Nick landed one before we got to the first set of rapids.
The first few rapids were pretty easy. Nothing too bad. Just a whole lot of pulling and dragging.
But then, after about half a mile of paddling, we could start hearing the sounds of rushing water. We knew it was about to get difficult. The water was getting deeper, and we could see big boulders and big turns up ahead.
When we got to our first challenging set, we got out and got a look from above. Very swift current, with very tight turns, and four to five feet deep in the main channel. Too deep to try and walk up without getting spit back down. We knew we couldn’t paddle straight into it without being pushed into the boulders because of the water splitting between two rocks and the other way was too narrow to get our boats through. We decided to throw lines to the boys upstream and they would pull them through to a shallower area.
The kayaks went easily up and through the 40 yards of fast moving water. But the heavily loaded canoe posed a bit of a challenge. It had two peoples gear in it and was a little overloaded. And no, we didn’t bring the kitchen sink. lol. Since I was riding shotgun, all my camera/video gear needed to be up front with me, which of course added a lot more to the load than we had originally planned back in the shop a few days prior. But with a few pulls, tugs, and pushes, we were through and off to the next.
The next few hours were becoming a routine. Long stretch, rapid, short stretch, rapid, rest…repeat.
Some of the rapids were very long, which meant more lining and pulling. The boys tried to paddle up every one they could, but there were so many twists and turns on each one, even the smallest miss stroke could cause problems and out they would jump to prevent going too far backwards or getting pinned on a rock.
And you can better believe I had my eyes peeled on every foot of that river, both sides, for any sign of a little black case carrying thousands of dollars of my camera gear, or my canoe, or the other kayaks, stolen from us by the flood of 2014. We stopped at quite a few areas where the cane was so thick on the rocks. As you can see in the photo below, it would be hard to see a full size kayak or canoe lodged up in that mess, as it was well over 20 feet tall and wrapped around the other side of the boulder. I knew this was from our flood, and used extreme caution when approaching any wall of cane. It seemed like one sneeze and i’d be a permanent addition to this river.
As the morning turned to early afternoon, we kept on pushing as hard as we could, and getting as far as we could, before stopping and having too many breaks. I know there are bigger obstacles up ahead, and the further we can get, the better, as long as our spirits are up, and there aren’t any signs of over exhaustion. Sure, we’re hurting and wore out, but as long as we stayed well hydrated along with snacking, we could get a lot further before we stopped for lunch. I think I said, “we’ll stop after this next rapid” about three times before we actually did. The more that’s behind us, the less that’s in front of us. Or at least that’s my thinking. I did become aware, not everyone thinks like I do, including my son. Most of my normal fishing trips are solo, and I needed to get into a more group frame of mind…and remember the concept of “other people”, not just me. My son’s face in the photo says it all…we should have stopped three rapids ago for lunch. Way to go Dad…jerk. 🙂
After an extravagant lunch of Vienna Sausages, jalapeno deer sausage, and washed down with filtered and flavored river water, our dessert consisted of applesauce and Scooby Snacks. Yes, they can be purchased at the grocery store. I figured what better way to motivate a group of weary river runners than to be energized with handfuls of Scooby Snacks. It was either that or Popeye’s spinach, and I figured there might be a mutiny if I handed out handfuls of spinach. 🙂
The next mile or so was easy going. It had longer stretches between rapids, and the deep pools between the canyon walls were awe inspiring. It’s easy to get caught up in the everyday grind, but when you get out here, that grip is loosened and you can really feel what life is all about.
And even as picturesque as everything around us was, there were only a few mishaps along the way before the weir. And then it was the calm before the storm.
So far we had made it through many challenging rapids, and we were within a few hundred yards of the weir dam. This set looked like most the rest, except with a hard turn at the end. Tough, but doable, and requiring a good amount of lining. Looks can be deceiving. Even in lower water levels, this set can be tricky, and we were about to find out just how much.
There was really only one good way up these, and we had to head to the right. The water was deep and extremely swift. There was more stumbling and falling in this little section than all the previous ones combined. There wasn’t anywhere to get out and pull from above, so we had to make it through, trying to keep our balance from rock to rock and not get our feet swept out from beneath us. On our way up, Nicholas’ kayak took a hard right and nose dived into the cane along the bank. He tried to get the rod from the rod holder that was starting to get entangled with the brush. Within a second of letting go to try and save it, the kayak flipped. Kyle and I were set at certain locations in case of problems and we got there as quick as we could as the kayak became submerged and pinned under the raging current. Within the few seconds it took me to get there, Nick had already flipped it back over and was trying to keep it from going over again, but at this point it was horizontal with the flow. I grabbed the front rope and pulled to straighten it out, the whole time wondering what gear was floating downstream that I didn’t see. But fortunately, the only things lost were a rod that wasn’t leashed up like it needed to be, and an empty water bottle. Could have been worse. (side note: the water bottle was found in some brush and collected on the way back, but the rod was lost forever)
We made it through the last of those rapids. Nick and I rested for a minute before making it up to the weir itself. Once we were ready, we walked the yaks around the bend and finally the weir came into view. But something was odd. There’s Kyle, there’s Austin, and there’s a guy drinking a beer talking with Kyle. Um, ok.
We got up to the weir and joined in on the conversation. It was a bit odd going through all this untamed territory, just to come up on a fella kicking back and sippin’ on a cold one. There is a road that goes down to the weir that he had used to get access to the place. Only for landowners, or in his case, friends of landowners. He was a nice fella and we talked a while about various things. He and his sons, who were up river a ways, were out enjoying the afternoon on the water. During our conversations, the flood was brought up. I said I was a part of the four man group that got choppered out.
He said, “you were down here with Bert Rodriguez?”
Okay, that whole “small world” thing just got a little more real.
“Yes sir, Bert, Dan, Ryan and myself.” I said.
He laughed and said, “man, that was some crazy luck right there. You could go another hundred years and that not happen again.”
Yep, that’s me. Mr. Lucky. 🙂
He was from Ozona, and had apparently met Bert some time after the flood on one of Bert’s trips back down to the river to search for our gear. We talked for a little bit longer, and decided to go ahead and start to get all the junk hauled up the dam.
Only two miles to our destination and one set of rapids. But to hear our new friend tell it, that set was easy, just real long. Forgive me new friend, but there isn’t anything “easy” on this river. lol Well, he was half right. It was long. Real long. Nearly a hundred yards of shallow rapids. But it was definitely NOT easy, although we made it through without too many problems other than exhaustion.
After that set, the only thing we had in front of us was Painted Canyon. Our base camp. Our final destination. And we were ready.
There were some long pools and a few shallows, but it made for easy paddling. The water was so clear, it was like you could just drink straight from it. But of course, we knew better than that.
After a while of paddling, we turned around a bend and all of the sudden, we heard a sound of water. But this wasn’t like all the rest. This was loud. This was a lot of water. We sat there for a second…then…there were smiles all around. Whoops and hollars came instinctively, with a couple of yeehaws thrown in. After all the hard work it took to get here, our time running up rapids would be coming to an end.
We came around the corner, and there it was. Painted Canyon rapids. A majestic sight for our wore out eyes. Our goal was to finish the day with a campsite perched high above this amazing flow.
And we’re finally here.
With all the hard work, and exhausting efforts to get here, we still had a ton of work to do before we could relax. Everything had to be unloaded and portaged over a hundred yards to where we would call home the next few days. We were tired. We were sore. But there isn’t a way to describe the way we felt. Exhilarated? Validated? At peace? Yea, maybe some or all of that.
But the best part was to grab my son, give him a hug, and feel the miles behind us as we looked toward the river in front of us. The same way we try and live our lives everyday.
It was a special time.
It was a special day.
to be continued….
Here’s a link to Part 1 of our journey…http://trailinghookjournal.com/2016/09/19/dudes-trip-2016-part-1/