Finding Flow

Not to steal a title, but I mean this in the most literal sense of the phrase.


Or call it faith based boating.  Either term is apt in this circumstance.

       I've had a growing obsession over the last few years with small volume extremely seasonal runs.  The desire has grown so ravenous that it has altered the very way I approach more conventional runs - now eschewing "peak season" or "peak flows" to massage the shoulder periods.  The gifts of such an approach are ample and I find something immensely satisfying in floating currents outside the bounds of established dogma. 

       Gear plays an increasingly important role in being able to make these choices, and just within the last few years runs are opening up with trivial head scratching-ly low amounts of water required to float them. 

        One such run - I'm leaving things vague but most people will recognize the area - has long been called my "Unicorn River" (The River of Sorrows has now taken this title) based on its ephemeral nature.  What I am coming to learn though, informed by trips done in the recent past, is that "minimal required flow" is a loaded term and one that I can no longer trust or put much faith in.  I also find myself smiling when I read sentiments such as "such and such river cannot be enjoyed on flows <200cfs."

       What makes this particular run difficult to quantify is the nature of the source gauge.  Two small streams combine to form a singular river but only one of the feeder creeks has a gauge and it is above the confluence (the other stream had its gauge destroyed in a flash flood some years back).  As a result, sitting in the comfort of your own home, the numbers you read on the interweb only tell (literally) half the story.  There may actually be enough water to float, but just as likely, there may not be.  That is where the faith based thing comes in.

        At the outset, one of us, pressed by the tyrannical thumb of careerism did not have the time to undertake a full week-long adventure.  But a 3 day window opened up and we decide to throw caution to the wind and go for it.  We walk away from the truck, boat in bag, not knowing what we will find when we reach that there river down there.  Will we find flow?

       The red sandstone walls, growing in height as we sink in depth, do a grade-A job of distracting my skeptical brain.  The gauge (when I left) said something like 5 CFS.  Surely there can't be more than a trickle down that-a-way I tell myself.

       Pro tip:  Keep your eyes peeled, even if the glossy guide book and accompanying Fotos don't show them on the neatly printed map, there are Points of Interest to stumble upon outside the intended focus.

       We reach the confluence, the terminus of our approach canyon and begin the transition.  There is always a Huck-Finn like innocence to this occasion, you throw a boat in your pack only to unfurl it after stretching your legs at rivers edge.  All that is missing is a ragged straw hat and a long strand of wheat to chew on.

 Well I'll be dipped, there is some kind of river down here.

       From propelling oneself through the natural world we take a moment to appreciate the conversion to passive forward momentum.

Necks begin to crane. 

       After a leisurely float we decide to call it in the early afternoon.  My buddy crosses the river finding an un-named arch as I sit on the beach and listen intently to the sound of running water.

       Eventually the one small (thanks for sharing) flask of whiskey is brought out as we sit on a table-top like rock perched above the river and do little more than observe.  I think about Herman Hesse's Siddartha, the enlightenment, or "striving downwards" that Siddartha eventually found at rivers edge.  It is a sound, more like a state of being, that I have known all my life, one which has meant different things to me say when I was a child then it does now as an adult.   The atmosphere, and what it means to me in my life at present as explained by Hesse:

"I have transported man, thousands; and to all of them, my river has been nothing but an obstacle on their travels.  They travelled to seek money and business, and for weddings, and on pilgrimages, and the river was obstructing their path, and the ferryman's job was to get them quickly across that obstacle.  But for some among thousands, a few, four or five, the river has stopped being an obstacle, they have heard its voice, they have listened to it, and the river has become sacred to them, as it has become sacred to me."

       Maybe there is another form of flow to be found here.  One other than the physical one we sought at the onset........

       The Swiss army nature of these small boats never ceases to amaze as my buddy's inflatable pad falters, the boat steps in to fill yet another role.

       We get on the water relatively early the next day, the river corridor bathed in shadows as the bookending canyon explodes with the new light of day.


Even some fun splashy drops, somehow runnable even at these flows.

       Eventually we reach our terminus, the "take-out" (which sounds so damn formal for such an informal spot). 

All packed up and ready to go.

       After some more bushwhacking things get a bit more technical.  The route is inspired in that it takes full advantage of the beautiful symmetry of the natural world.  Though we were allowed to travel nearly 15 miles of river, the canyon we entered and now the canyon that we exit bend towards each other at their mouth, allowing us to end damned near where we started.

       Breaking free from the virile undergrowth the middle section of the canyon is quintessential Colorado Plateau.   

       Big clear pools, running water and wide treeless stone lined canyon bottom.  The walking here is just pleasant. 

       Things change dramatically as your approach the upper end.  The flowing water disappears and bushwhacking again becomes the central chore.  Eventually a massive fluffy sand dune plugs the canyon requiring a steep awkward climb.

And finally, one more sheer sand dune to ascend to the rim.

        The goal was simply to make it out of the canyon.  We had agreed en route to have one river camp and one camp "up on top."  Reaching the top in the waning light of day we scramble up one last little ridge and realize that the view before us is too good to pass up.  A little twiggy fire, the last remnants of whiskey, and a resplendent star field are the preamble to a deep and peaceful sleep.  Meditative you could say.

       In the morning we traverse a helter-skelter expanse of slick rock in a north-easterly direction until we intersect the dirt road leading back to our vehicle.  Its nothing short of amazing, how deep one can get with just three (more like two and a half) days worth of unstructured free time.

        Before this trip, I was hyper focused on traveling this entire river, from top to bottom in one fell swoop - a week-long deep immersion.  But now, on the backside of a stellar outing, my approach to this drainage has been irrevocably altered.  My desire now resides in biting off chunks of the river via entrances and exits found by way of the multitude of side canyons that line the east and west bank of the river corridor.  It will be a multi-year approach, but one that is much more holistic - for to know the river, to understand the miracle of flowing water in the main channel, the long-form knowledge is written in the side canyons.

       Flow was found.  In both its physical and (albeit brief) immaterial spiritual form.  Rivers and flowing water have been a staple of my existence since I was in-utero, my childhood spent on the banks of the Columbia River, my summers on the shores of streaming rivers all over the intermountain west.  Now in my early 30's I am only beginning to contemplate my life up to this point, where is has been, where it is now, and where it is going.  One constant, a certainty that I know will forever be a part of who I am is running water.  I am still trying to ascertain the meaning of why - but I know it has something to do with an enforced passivity in movement - the idea that with rivers, unlike walking, biking, climbing, jeeping, parasailing, etc. that traveler is constrained to one path, one direction, one route.  Most importantly however, the traveler is completely subservient to natural force.  Completely and utterly constrained to the present.  There is meaning in lack of choice.  There is humility in lack of control.  Like Siddhartha eventually came to realize - the river is everywhere, its dependent on you to find the flow.