Friday, July 4, 2008

You bet your life

Last month twenty-eight clients started an eight-day motorized boat trip covering 240 miles down the Grand Canyon. Eighteen finished it.

Twelve were in my group, all college roommates or friends of them, most of whom I hadn't seen in decades. Also coming were another group of eight, being three oilmen and their wives and family members, a police dispatcher, two school administrators traveling together, a Canadian, a married couple from the midwest and two business partners. One woman in the oilmen's group died the fourth day, of apparent heart failure. There were four boatmen and two rafts.

(Right: Boatmen Lindsay, Travis and Julie.) We literally entrusted our lives to the boatmen. In charge was Travis, a twenty-something professional boatman who grew up on the river and who goes on hikes and climbs mountains in the extreme wilderness of Alaska when he needs a break from the harsh rigors of crewing boats down the raging Colorado. He was in the lead boat, with Kelly as his crew.

Kelly is the boss's daughter. She wore skirts a lot, and I heard her father later describe her as a city girl, but she grew up around the boats and went on her first river trip at age eleven. She knew what she was doing.

(Right: Julie and Lindsay joined Barry, far left, and Andy, right, in songs on the second night.) Lindsay guided the second boat, with Julie as her crew. Lindsay is from Ohio and has a biology degree. She was a swimmer in school and has powerful shoulders and arms. She knows a lot about the river. Coolly capable, she was apparently tireless.

Julie hopes to captain her own boat next season. She's a darkly beautiful, capable woman, a force to be reckoned with. I never saw her back off from any task.

The last day, Barry and I tried to help Lindsay and Julie place the four detached and deflated outrigger pontoons onto the boats for their final travel into Lake Mead. There is some reason these oversized pontoons, which weigh over 100 pounds each, can't be sailed into the lake. We'd watched the two women hoist the first two pontoons up onto the first boat and wrestle them into place when we solicitously came to their assistance. The four of us made light work of heaving the third pontoon up onto the second boat. Leaving Lindsay and Julie to lock it down, Barry and I went to retrieve the last pontoon. We both lifted, grunted, and dropped the heavy object back onto the beach. "We better wait for the girls to help us," I told Barry.

(Left: Julie and Lindsay kept order in the second boat.) Everybody in my group immediately fell in love with Lindsay and Julie, and took over boat two. I think the initial riders on boat one, who were even older than us, occasionally looked down their noses a little at the rowdy, boisterous passengers on boat two. I often went over to the first boat to balance things out. I liked the way Travis ran things.

Travis told good stories. Here are some examples.

A pirate encountered a shipmate he hadn't seen for awhile in a bar and saw that his friend was now sporting a pegleg, a hook, and an eyepatch. "What happened?" the first pirate cried.

"Arrgh. I be whaling in the Bering Sea when a killer whale jumped out of the ocean and into me boat and bit me leg off!"

"What happened to your hand?"

"Arrgh. I was in the Caribbean stealing coconuts from the natives when they caught me and cut off me hand for it!"

"And how did you lose your eye?"

"Arrgh. I was walking down the dock checking the position of the sun when a seagull flew over and shat in me eye!"

"And that put your eye out?"

"Well, it be the day after they replaced me missing hand with a hook."

Ha ha. Maybe you hadda be there. (Left: Travis reads a boatman's prayer before we shove off one morning.)

Travis told us about his recent ten-day solo backpacking trip in the Yukon. He ran into a grizzly and shinnied up a tree real fast to the top. The bear eyed him for awhile, then started shaking the base of the skinny pine tree for all she was worth. Back and forth the tree rocked while Travis hung on for dear life, being slung around like a slingshot. But the tree held and the bear ambled away.

Only to return presently with her cub. Now the two of them pushed and battered at the tree trunk, whipping Travis around ever more dangerously. But again the tree held and the grizzly and her cub ambled away.

Only to return a third time, this time with a beaver in tow.

Travis swears the story is true, except for the beaver part. (Above: My trip down the Grand Canyon was in many ways a cleansing experience for me.)

The Arizona-based outfit our group used had a friendly rivalry going with its main competitor, a Utah company. Hence we heard an occasional Mormon joke. We never thought of raiding the competitor's camp or trying to trade with them because they obviously wouldn't have had anything we wanted. They are tee-totalers, see?

Anyway, some Mormons are, or used to be, polygamists. Travis once uncorked a funny line when he said, "Brigham Young, more than just a funny name." Only he pronounced it, Bring 'em young.

It's a joke, folks. (Left: Kelly flashes her winning smile.)

Seriously though, despite his small wiry frame and wisp of hair under his lip and high voice and showy tattoos, no matter what the situation, Travis has you covered. You could bet your life on it.


David said...

good times.

I am glad you got to do that while we're all still so young.

Anne said...

Love the adventure and the way it is being told. That Travis is one lucky guy 'cause it sounds like Mama and Baby Bear were determined.

jeanne said...

fabulous trip. the leaders have to be so much more than capable boatmen (and women). along with having to have excellent survival skills, it also helps if they're good entertainers. that waterfall pic should be your new profile pic--you're looking GOOD!

Sunshine said...

Great to have your story-telling and pictures of a trip most of us will never get to take. Good job!

ShirleyPerly said...

Ha! I love the stories and jokes, especially that Mormon one (my stepdaughter goes to BYU).

Sounds like a fabulous trip. That Travis guy sounds a lot like my brother-in-law who went to college in Colorado, was a river raft guide, and now lives in Alaska.

Rainmaker said...

Sounds like an incredible trip. Hilarious stories! Gotta love the river! Sounds like I need to take ya up Kayaking.

CewTwo said...

Great stories! I emjoyed them. Another bit of making the trip an enjoyable experience.

Funny thing, though. When I was with some loggers in South Park, They told me that if I was ever chased by a bear, never climb a tree. They're better at climbing then we are.

Oh well!

Don said...

I envy you that wonderful boat trip.

Sunshine said...

Just finished reading your July 10 post.. and want to add.. the hope that maybe one of your sons is reading his Dad's stories. Wishing for all of them to know who their Dad is!!!

Jade Lady said...

What a great crew you had - I loved our descriptions of the strong women and the pontoons! This guy, Travis...sounds like he needs his own TV show! Maybe we can then get some footage of the pine tree and the bears!