The Bucket Trips: In 1970, I entered the University of Colorado and was assigned to the first co-ed dormitory there, Sewell Hall. With the Vietnam War raging and the Haight-Ashbury District flowering, revolutionary sentiment and the smell of cannabis hung in the air.
I met a wonderful group of matriculating students there who became lifelong friends. We spent many hours riding Enduro motorcycles through the canyons surrounding Boulder and hiking in the nearby foothills.
During the day we attended some classes on campus and at night we imbibed 3.2 Coors beer at the Sink or saw performers like Country Joe McDonald and Leon Russell at Tulagis on the Hill.
Country Joe McDonald - I Feel Like Im Fixin To Die
Rab MySpace Video
Two years ago the Bucket Trips got started when Swell Hall alumni C organized a reunion for ten of us on a week-long professional rafting trip of two boats and twenty-eight persons down the Grand Canyon. Tragically, one person who wasn’t part of our group died during that trip of a heart attack.
Last year we sailed for a week in the Florida Keys. This year J and G, brothers who live in Colorado, organized a rafting trip in Gateway Canyon on the Dolores River for ten persons on two 3-person oar boats and one 4-person paddle boat.
In the run-up leading to the early-May trip, a sense of uneasiness developed among some trip members, myself included. It was going to be a grueling trip in a wilderness area with some significant rapids.
I called up one of the organizers and asked, only half-jokingly, if anyone was going to die on this trip. My friend laughed and said no, but added that we all better be in shape for it.
C wasn’t going on this trip but he loaned J and G some river equipment and one of the boats. He told G, in all seriousness, not to get anyone killed on the trip because he would regret it for the rest of his life.
The Gateway Canyon stretch of the Dolores River starts at Gateway, Colorado, on the western slope about 45 miles west of Grand Junction. It is 37 river miles from the put-in at Gateway to the take-out at Dewey Bridge on the Colorado River in Utah. (Right: The Dolores River is, well, beautiful.)
There are no roads near the river for most of the way except for dirt trails that service ranch vehicles. There’s no cell phone service either, and we didn’t encounter any other boats.
It’s remote. We were on our own with no ability to call 911.
I flew out to Denver on Saturday, May 1st and drove to Durango that night to visit my octogenarian uncle who lives there with his daughter, my cousin. I visit him once a year as he is the only relative I have left who is of the World War II generation as all of the rest have passed on.
Since I was too cheap to pay $25 to check a bag on the airlines, I went to Walmart when I arrived and bought a sleeping bag for $9, good down to 45 degrees, and a sleeping mat for camping out under the stars for four nights. I brought along a tarp and some rope with which to fashion a tent in case it rained.
My visit with my uncle went well and then on Sunday I drove through a snowstorm to Montrose where J lives. We were leaving from there to go to the river to put in the next day.
Everyone else was already at J’s house, six other men, B, G, H, J, Jy, T, all Swell Hall residents in the seventies, and three women. A was T’s wife and a Boston Qualifier, Ju was B’s S.O. and C was the sister of both H and Jy.
Everyone except for C, who was in her sixties, was in their fifties. G and J were veteran river men and would oar two boats and T would direct the paddle boat with the two couples in it.
Except for G and J, and maybe T, who is generally an excellent waterman, we were all inexperienced, if not novices, at river rafting. Except for the Grand Canyon trip, where we went through several Class V rapids in a motorized boat, I have been along as a paying, paddling passenger on at least a dozen day rafting trips through some Class II and III rapids.
I have been instructed several times on what to do if you fall into a rapids. To the best of my memory, I have never been told what to do if you get trapped under a capsized boat in a rapids.