Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Packrafting the River of Sorrows

Winter was very kind this year, with drought defying, dam busting moisture and a record setting amount of powder days across the West. I’d hazard a guess that there were a record number of sick calls this winter, too. And isn’t it curious how those calls seemed to align with each low pressure system? But that is neither here nor there. What is here and there and in nearly every thirsty watershed is water.

With such an abundance of snow melting from the hills, rivers that haven't run in years are now floating boaters through overgrown canyons and forgotten rapids. Among boaters, the proudest of these waterways may be the Dolores River in southwest Colorado. Prior to being sucked dry by damming, irrigation, and climate change the Dolores was a significant tributary of the Colorado River and was known for it’s varied scenery and unspoiled desolation. Sadly, most years McPhee Dam barely releases enough water to keep a rattlesnake hydrated.

This year, courtesy of winter’s bountiful crop, a too full reservoir and much more melt water to tame has forced the Bureau of Reclamation to allow boaters their fun. For the first time in 15+ years, the Dolores has scheduled, legitimate flows for 10 weeks! Boaters are rediscovering overgrown campsites, forgotten ruins, and hitting rocks long rinsed of another generations plastic and rubber.  

Travis, Keri, and I almost didn't spend three days enjoying 47 miles of what the Dolores has to offer. Why did we almost not do this when we’d been planning it for weeks?

Keri waking with a jolt to my loudly issued four letter word and the slamming on of car brakes will explain that question. And no, it was not a wreck or collision with something that was once alive but is now dead, but is still alive because hitting something didn't happen. It was a forgotten piece of gear and a dose of humility.

Climbing shoes, climbing harnesses, climbing ropes, ski poles, skins, ski boots, PFDs, boat seats, bike shoes, bike helmets, bike wheels, headlamps, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, camp shoes, stoves, stove fuel, maps, tent poles, tent, crampons, gloves, utensils, water bottles, etc…

That is a rather long, and most certainly, incomplete list of items forgotten by others on trips I’ve participated in over the years. I’ve always taken pride in not being one to subscribe to the PLAM method of packing (pack light and mooch) and having what is required. Hence, the surprised waking of my loved one with an obscenity and screeching brakes when I realized our drysuits were still hanging in our closet at home. And this happened three hours from home. Without drysuits, we’d be dangerous and down right miserable at best or dead of hypothermia at worst and likely we’d be dangerous, miserable, and then dead.

Our third companion, Travis, made this situation all the more humbling. I love Travis like a brother, but he has forgotten a fair number of the above mentioned items. It’s one of his more endearing qualities and we’ve shared many a laugh as a result. And now he had a massive trump card. Damn.

One of Travis’ other endearing qualities is how much he is absolutely not a morning person. Six hours of napping in his truck bed wasn’t going to be an issue.

I’m sorry to say he didn’t get that 6 hour nap thanks to Keri’s idea. She knew a poor student living off ramen and bean burritos who didn’t have plans and wanted to make a hundred bucks. She met us over halfway, saving the day.

We finally made it onto the river and it did not live up to it’s namesake as we shared a collective smile for three days and each mile. Winter, thank you for your generosity. 

We spent our first day floating and camping among vanilla scented Ponderosas.

Beautiful, sunny days and still frosty night; defining spring in the rockies

Always another story
Inner warmth

Ruins and whitewater on the second day

800+ year old hands spread this clay
Your's truly, photo by Keri
Anxiety, fear, intrigue. Scouting SnaggleTooth IV
Winner goes first?

Flossing Snaggletooth IV
Travis, just avoiding becoming a cavity

Drastic change from our previous night's camp

Morning enlightenment 
Breakfast on the balcony. Photo: Travis

A final few hours of change

Big walls and green yield to

Thirsty brown halls
The End

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Spring. Growth.

Spring. Growth.

These words compliment one another and become synonymous as those of us in the northern hemisphere begin our turn to the sun.

Shorts, t-shirts, sun, bikes, happy girl
Plants bloom, bear cubs stumble from their den, rivers swell, Stan's sealant dries out.

Urban Camping
Relationships, too, grow in spring's warmth.

And the mind?

Spring mountain biking is prime riding season in our desert home. Relatively moderate temperatures, longer days, bright florals contrasting with red rock, freshly tuned bikes, and pale legs abound at trailheads. Locals rush like lovers separated by a six month voyage to embrace favorite trails. Visitors from around the globe head to Moab, Sedona, and Grand Junction to test themselves in unforgiving, alien terrain of which we have no shortage.

Excitement is the catalyst for the mind's growth. Last year's skills and comfort level return quickly as our enthusiasm draws us to ride as frequently as possible. Confidence springs forth and we begin to wonder about new possibilities on the trail. With excited, fresh nerves it's much easier to pedal or drop into uncomfortable situations and nurture the mind.

Travis keeping it straight 
The other Jesse
Keri, Jesse (there's another one), Travis, and I all hooted and cheered each other as we took turns tackling doubt and discomfort in an effort to cultivate growth on recent rides. We all added up a few frequent flyer miles in the process.

Keri: MASSIVE growth with much more to come.

JSwell himself. Photo: Keri Gonna Be Selwyn

"Honestly, you just take a deep breath and say 'Fuck it.'" -Johnny Knoxville


Saturday, February 4, 2017

Controversy and Celebration

My country's political climate has been dismal for the last two weeks. In previous years, I rarely kept track of the news because it seemed that good news was a rarity and I chose to be blissfully ignorant. However, that ignorance has been difficult to come by since January 20. By choice and by association, staying away from current events is impossible on social media, at work, walking around town, in my email, etc...Now for the first time in my life, I find myself paying attention and seeking more information and participating because of the grave and very real attack on what I believe is important to us all, our environment.

Each and every one of us lives, works, recreates, relies upon the environment every day of our lives. Even if the most time you spend outdoors is walking from your car to the grocery store, you are reliant on the air, the water, the food, the overall climate. For me and many others in the country, the outdoors is far more than air, water, soil, trees. It's a gestalt that provides our place of worship, a place to grow and learn, a place to deepen or develop relationships. Simply put, the outdoors is to be appreciated and cherished and protected. 

Given, in our day and age, we require resources to function as a society. But to sell off lands owned by the people and that has infinite value to millions for the short-term gain of a few is wrong and very, very short-sighted. To take away protections for the water that we ourselves drink, rely upon for crops of food, and play in is beyond belief. Our representative's willingness to do such things and their motives, which basic common sense should say is wrong, is confusing and frustrating. 

I have hope, though. Just this week Utah Representative Chaffetz withdrew his bill to sell off 3.3 million acres of our public land thanks to the outcry of constituents. However, there are still a number of other bills just as sinister waiting to be passed. If you care about these issues find your representatives and call them. Tell them you care. It helps ease the feeling of helplessness.

"Leave it as it is. You cannot improve upon it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it."

My belief is that Theodore Roosevelt's words apply to all of our natural world, not only the Grand Canyon. He knew it then, let's remind them of it now.

This post is filled with photos of OUR PUBLIC LANDS.