Since I arrived in Buena Vista at night I had no idea the view that was waiting for me when I woke up. I stretched, yawned, and open the door to see the trailer park where all the rafting guides were living for the summer. A glance skyward had me in awe, almost everywhere you look there are beautiful 14000 foot peaks, and the sun was shinning in the valley.
The Sawatch range, on the west side of the Buena Vista valley is home to fifteen 14000 foot peaks, the largest collection in Colorado. Not only do these mountains look gorgeous, but when storm fronts come through the area they smash into the Sawatch range and dump all their water and snow on the west side of the mountains, the storm systems break apart and reform on the other side of the valley. Because of this the valley of Buena Vista is blessed with an average of 312 sunny days, the most sunny days out of any other town in the whole of the USA.
Jenn returned with Mike and it was off to coffee, breakfast burritos, and renting a raft. Then we were off to the liquor store and I still had to find shoes.
"Pull over, pull over! That's a consignment store, I'll be two minutes." I shout to Jenn as i jump out of the car.
So no, I didn't bring running shoes. I've lost so many pairs of shoes over the past two years that I only own flip flops, black flats, and some heels that have stayed in my closet at my parents. I had considered buying runners in Toronto but I had trusted our materialistic world to provide, and it did. After two minutes and $20 I was back in the car with a pair of brown and turquoise Brooks. Now I was ready to raft.
While Jenn and Mike pumped up the rafts and got things secured, I got my basic training. It was a mix of: paddle hard, stick your feet in strong, and you'll know your PFD is tight enough if your beer stays in place at the top. It wasn't time for helmets just yet, Mike drove the car to our put out (where we'd be taking the raft out) and was going to hitchhike back to our put in.
Jenn and I took that time to play a game of crib and begin to catch up on all the summer adventures. When Mike came back I was finally nervous, I have never been on white water before and I didn't want to fall in. We went over all the saftey precautions and I knew I was with the best have-fun-BUT-safety-first guides. Mike had ran the river only once before, and Jenn was going to try her paddle at reading and running.
Notes were scribbled on paper and put in a clear dry sack giving clues on what turns and bends and rocks where coming up, but Jenn would have to rely on her training as a guide to make it through these class 4 rapids.
First you hit Primero, Segundo, Tercero, and Pumphouse; a succession of four rapids close together that give you just a taste of what you're in for.
Jenn maneuvered us and the raft by shouting out strokes that we had to obey. I did my best to plunge my paddle deep into the water without falling overboard. At the beginning my enthusiasm made up for my lack of skill but by the middle I was leaning into the action and making a strong stroke.
Then it was Wall Slammer and rightly named. Our raft tapped the wall of the gorge and we were pushed back to the middle to observe the great walls of the canyon on either side of us. I was in awe of the 1200 ft walls of the rock on either side of us.
Then it was back to paddling. Rafting on the Royal Gorge combines Class IV rapids setting you up for a wild ride and finishing with the unanticipated bliss of completing Sunshine Falls.
Unbeknownst to us there was a photographer that captured us at Sunshine.
After we were three quarters in we found a spot to pull up the raft where there was a small climb up the canyon to a mini ledge for cliff jumping.
I have never gone cliff jumping before. Yup, I'm just too chicken shit. This time I was armed with a helmet, a PFD, an encouraging friend, and I still had hesitation. I was clinging to the wall, just afraid to look down. Mike went first and my heart was racing.
"If you jump before me, I'm not going to do it." I told Jenn as she offered to go ahead.
"Well, you don't have to…"
"I want to, I just… I've been conditioned not to do things like this."
Moments away from a deep philosophical conversation, "You're thinking too much."
"Yeah, you're right." I took a deep breath and launched myself from the rock, screaming all the way down. The plunge was amazing and I surfaced quickly. I was still alive, adrenaline was pumping, and as my head broke through the water I had one though: I want to do that again.
"Feet up!" Mike screamed at me as I quickly floated back to the raft turning to see Jenn jump behind me.
We were all wearing broad smiles and passed around some fireball to warm up from the cold water and added another layer of sweaters. "That was fucking amazing! I can't believe I've never done that before!"
"Yup this is what we've been doing all summer." Mike leaned back with his arms gesturing to the life of rafting.
"I'm thinking of all the Monday's I've woken up to go to school, go into an office, get on the subway. This is the best fucking Monday of my life."
"And we still have more rapids to hit!"
We jumped one more time and got back in the raft for the craziest rapids of the gorge. One after the other, all in succession. No time to think, just listening to Jenn calling out strokes to make it through the zig zag rapids without flipping and without getting caught it the rocks. We all hollered and whooped and clicked our paddles together at the end of Sunshine. As we came to the put out we were all exhausted and euphoric.
|Laying on the raft as it lets out air photo by Jenn|
|Photo by Jenn|
I am so grateful for that day