on four days on a river in a shiny canoe …

I’m back online!!! I’m also clean!!!

I just got back from four days canoeing down the Colorado River with seventy-five frosh, eight faculty, and a cadre of naturalists from Naturalists at Large the company that runs the trip and logistics for us.  Every year our middle school sends everybody packing and all three grades on our campus go off for a week of really fun retreats.  Seventh graders go camping in Malibu, eighth graders head off to either a camp in Santa Barbara or backpacking in Joshua Tree National Park, and the frosh go canoeing down either the “lower” or “upper” Colorado River.

This year I headed off on the inaugural “upper river” trip.  We put in a few miles below the Hoover Dam and made our way down about 24 miles of the Colorado stopping at two campsites along the way. The frosh have been paddling down a 42 mile stretch of the Colorado on what is now known as the “lower river” trip for years. Because the full class is too large to take down the river in a single group, though, the class has always had to be split into two groups with one group going  Monday-Thursday, and the other half did the trip on Tuesday-Friday.  This year, we all headed off from Monday-Thursday, but at two different sites.  I had  previously been down the lower river three times so I signed on to be one of the first groups to try a trip down the upper river.  It was definitely a much more “back to nature” experience.  On the lower river, you camp in established camp grounds, most of which are accessible by car so you have substantially more access to supplies, food, and outhouse facilities.  On the upper river, everything goes down the river with you on your canoes or on one of two support boats and the big thing for most folk is that you have to “do your business” in a “groover” which is basically an eco-friendly portable outhouse (not really a huge deal for me, frankly …).

Though we covered much less ground than on the other side of the river, the Colorado is much deeper and wider along this stretch so there is actually very little current and it is much more like paddling across a lake than a river in many areas.  As a result you have to actually paddle your canoes much harder and much farther in a day than on the lower river trip where the current moves you along a a rather quick couple-of-miles per hour clip even when you aren’t paddling. The scenery and terrain along the upper stretch of the river is absolutely gorgeous and stunning.  The the river was sometimes a good (I’m guessing) half  mile across, but there were sections where it got much narrower and we paddled through towering canyons that just took your breath completely away.

The reality is that I get paid to hang out with a bunch of kids and go camping!  How cool is that?  Honestly, there are almost always going to be some challenging times when you hang out with twelve frosh kids for four days. There are headaches and bee stings and a few “river princess moments” (with two very special young ladies in particular …); and muddy muck in a layer over your sunscreen, in a layer over your bug spray, without soap and a hot shower for four days–which really is about as dirty as you can feel in the developed world these days.  Ultimately, though, what you remember about the trip long after it is over is watching innocent sweet young love bloom (But just in case … boys on one side, girls on the other when it is time for lights out.  Thank you very much …); or the moment that the river princesses find out that they can steer and paddle a canoe and that they don’t need two princes who will tow their canoe; or the moment you round a corner into a canyon and teenagers that have “seen it all” paddle alongside you and tell you, “Oh my God, this is SO AMAZING!!!”

Oh my God, getting paid to do that is … SO AMAZING!!!

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