The final chapter in our adventure was finally here. We were heading back. The boomerang returns. Each day had been amazing, and this river threw everything it could at us…minus rain. (thank goodness). It had made us work harder than some of us had in a long time, and for some, harder than they have ever had to before. There were moments where it was a grind. Endless paddling, lining, and the constant pushing, pulling, and struggling up rapids. But every moment was an amazing experience.
That night before, we had a great supper of bass, supplemented with mre’s, then had a quick horse bath in the rapids. After, we sat around talking about the previous days and how cool it was to all be able to share this together. The good times and tough times. There was definitely some mixed feelings towards some of the rapids that were ahead of us. Mainly at the weir, because of the tough time we had there before with the boys. We figured most the rest would be easier this time, going with the current instead of against it, but the weir rapid was trickier than most on this section. We circled up for a quick prayer for thankfulness and safety, then headed to our rooms for our last night at Painted Canyon. And yes, it was still hot.
We awoke early and quickly started tearing down our mobile homes. Everything needed to go back where it was in the boats, just like we originally had it. So once all was packed up, we started the reverse conveyor belt we had done when we got here. From Austin, to me, to Nick, to Kyle, who then got everything where it needed to be. We made a walk-through of the entire area, picking up anything that wasn’t there before…and some that was there before, unfortunately. Some folks don’t get the “pack it out” concept of Leave No Trace.
We were on our way South. The winds hadn’t picked up yet and we made good time to the weir.
As expected, we breezed through most the rapids with ease. It was so nice not having to fight every step. And it was a lot more fun for the boys, who could finally put their skills to the test as they navigated the swift water down.
Soon we were at the weir. We decided to only empty half of the canoe, and try and man-handle it and the loaded yaks over the dam. It worked great and instead of spending an hour there, it only took us about 15 minutes. Then we had to figure out the best way to make it down the rapids.
Kyle and I went first and made it down with the greatest of ease. We made our way back up and positioned ourselves at certain points again in case of any trouble spots and hollered for the boys to come on. Austin came down flying and made quick work of it, but Nick zigged instead of zagged at one key turn and…bloop…in the drink. He quickly corrected the yak back over before I could even get there, then hopped back in for the ride down. It was all smiles and it felt great to watch him fix a difficult situation so fast, then get back on and keep going as if he meant to do it. I jumped in the current feet first, and rode it down after him. We knew at this point, the rest would be gravy.
The wind was starting to pick up by the time we got back to our first night’s camp. We stopped, ate lunch and refilled our 20+ water bottles, because we knew the water would be worse the further we went from there. And tonight’s camp was smack dab in the middle of the murky stuff…Deadman’s Canyon.
After about an hour, all the rapids were behind us. Now all that’s left is some tough paddling, straight into the wind until we got there.
Once we cleared the last set of shallows we decided to tie up the yaks and try our luck with the motor. The main reason we brought it…the trip back. Those winds are fierce and this would make things so much easier, or so we thought. That little Yamaha 2 horse worked like a champ those first 8 miles, and we expected it to do the same job on the way back. But whether it was all the banging around through the rapids, the laying in the canoe for a long time, or who knows why, it kept giving us problems. It was a wet ride for me as the waves were breaking over the bow, then without warning, it would die. It did this numerous times throughout the next few miles. At this point I had my paddle in hand the whole time and when it would die, I would try and keep us straight as Kyle tried to figure out the issue and get it going again. And again. And again. This wasn’t part of the master plan. We knew if the wind took us sideways, it wouldn’t end well. But we had a plan of action for this scenario too. The boys would disconnect from their rope (attached by carabiners) and paddle hard to guide us straight, or just get us picked up. There aren’t too many places that don’t have sheer cliffs in this stretch, so it was important to figure out those contingency plans ahead of time. This place is nothing but a wind tunnel some days…and today was one of them.
Kyle was able to get the motor going most times, and we all breathed a sigh of relief when we saw the entrance to Deadman’s Canyon. I know that sounds kinda weird to say. 🙂 But it was a relief.
As we pulled in, the high canyon walls were amazing, but with the water levels, it was hard to get to the camping spots. We got out to survey what was our only choices and determined this wouldn’t be a place to stay the night. After sludging though the thick mud back to the boats, we tucked ourselves up against the canyon wall to get out of the sun, and rethink our next plan of action.
We decided it would be better to head down a little further. I knew of quite a few decent spots downriver, and figured we could make it work for just one last night.
After a few more miles, the the railroad bridge came into view.
And we were lucky enough to catch a train going across this time.
Once we passed under, we went about another mile or so before getting to one of the larger, flat areas suitable for camping. The motor continued to give us problems every little bit, and we decided that would be a good place to get in and figure out it’s problem, especially with the wind tunnel lasting the next two miles. We got out and surveyed the land. It was definitely a popular place to camp….and leave old and discarded items, like broken chairs, broken tents, old car parts (???). But it would have to do.
Kyle began his inspection of the motor, and after first checking the spark plug, the problem was found. Pretty rough looking. A quick clean, and it was good to go.
Once fixed, we grabbed some water, snacks, and wandered off about 75 yards to the only shade for miles. It was a curved rock face that was about four foot tall, five feet wide, and sloped in about two feet.We all crammed in there to get some relief from the sun. It was hot. We were wore out. And there wasn’t much else for us to do until we left the next day. This was just a lay over spot. We only had about three and half miles left, and, for a second, thought about heading on to the boat ramp. But without the truck being there, staying at the ramp was out of the question. It was against the rules, but even before that, it just wasn’t safe.
We sat there silent. Sweating in the shade. Watching Austin pick out all the peanut M&M’s out of the trail mix. Then an idea was brought up.
“Wonder what Uncle Jerry’s doing right now. You think he might consider driving the truck to the ramp today instead of tomorrow?”
“Maybe, if he’s just sitting around”, Kyle answered. “But that sat phone probably won’t get any reception between these walls, but it’s worth a shot.”
In a blink of an eye, I sprinted…Um, I mean, I casually walked with haste, to retrieve the phone at the yaks. The boys were beginning to perk up at this point. It’s been a exhausting five days, but we had done everything we set out to do on this trip, and then some. But the heat was baking what was left of our brains, and the thought of an air conditioner and drinks with ice were starting to get everyone a little excited.
I got the phone turned on and amazingly, it connected to enough satellites to get a decent signal. Kyle quickly dialed the number. It rang four or five times and then…”Hello?”
Amazing. Phone actually got a signal, and Uncle Jerry actually answered. They talked for a few minutes, and then Kyle hung up.
“Let’s go boys, Uncle Jerry said he’ll have it there in about an hour.”
The boys jumped up and threw around some high fives while Austin chanted, “Chill-ee’s, Chill-ee’s, Chill-ee’s”. Ok, it wasn’t just him, I think we all joined in on that one. For a second, in that moment, i’m pretty sure I tasted Skillet Queso in my sweat. 🙂 They were ready, and I think at this point, we all were.
We got hooked up, cranked the motor, and headed into the wind. We only had an hour left on the water, and the boys took full advantage of the little time we had left in this amazing country.
And then…we rounded the turn. The wind tunnel was over. The water laid somewhat flat. And there was Highbridge in all it’s glory. What a sight for sore eyes.
Shortly after, the boat ramp came into view.
This incredible adventure was at a close.
Yes, it was a little crazy to do this in August, but we did what we had to in order to keep our Dude’s Trip alive. We talked about how we won’t do it again down here this time of year…but if the opportunity presented itself…yea, we probably would. It pushed us. It made us work harder. It brought us to new limits some of us didn’t know we had. Nothing is handed out, you worked for it. These are the trips that won’t be forgotten. The trips that the term, father and son, are pushed aside, and we become one unit. Watching each other’s back, doing what needs to be done without asking, stepping up and taking control of any situation, whether you’re 15 or 42. We’re on the river’s terms, and any wrong step could be you’re last. We knew this going in. This is a place young men are made…and older men wonder why they’re bones hurt so bad in the morning. I thank the Lord for giving me the drive to do this, and having the opportunity to do this with the greatest companions you could ask for…Kyle, Austin, and Nick. We walked away wore down and tired…but we walked away with our heads held high, and full of amazing memories.
We were getting our air conditioning. Austin was getting his Chili’s. And we all got our drinks….with extra ice please.
Thanks for coming along,