Sunday, February 5, 2012

Riding the Green

By Laurie Kay Olson
Copyright ©2012 by Laurie Kay Olson

It was our first vacation as a new family. A “blended” family they call it. For the first time in my life I had a brother and sister, both older. We filled the old VW bus and headed across Colorado. At Dinosaur National Monument we picked up the Green River to spend four glorious days. My father and stepmother were brave to take three teenagers on such a trip, trapped with us for hours in a vehicle and in the wilderness for days.
It was gorgeous weather as we took off, a float tour of three rafts. One of the river guides had his parents and sister in from Arkansas, which was entertaining as Jim picked on poor Heidi. The guide for our raft pointed out various points of interest, starting with a rock outcropping in the shape of a St. Bernard’s head. He regaled us with tales of Powell’s first expedition to explore the river.
Beth, Owen and I were in the midst of working out our territorial issues. I had never had siblings before and this was new ground. I made the mistake of borrowing one of Owen’s books and leaving it open face down to save my place. All hell broke loose for a bit as I learned that Owen had a pet peeve about people doing such a thing. There was ever such a verbal scuffle over that one.
Beth, Heidi and I hung out as the three girls on the trip. Heidi was a bit squeamish over the indigenous reptile population, particularly snakes. She would periodically start shrieking “SNAIK!” in her best Arkansas accent. Invariably, as she did so, one of the handsome young guides was walking by. Before we knew it “snaik” was our watchword for the approach of one of these men. The term was accompanied by giggles and glances over the secret meaning.
Evenings were spent around campfires. For the first time in my life, nights were slept out beneath the stars. For the first time in my life I used a down sleeping bag. For the first time in my life we found out that I was allergic and that I developed a rash. Spending the days wet with river water soothed the itch.
We made it through Hell’s Half Mile, Upper Disaster, and Lower Disaster. Amazing, adrenalin filled rides. Jim put Heidi in the raft so that she would face plant in the. Below such places we would find and pick up paddles lost by people on paddle trips who had not made it through so cleanly. In other places we floated along with the guide gently directing the raft with his one big oar, while we sat and enjoyed the journey.
On the third day the river widened out of canyons and steep valleys into vast, shallow flats. Sand bars with tall grasses interrupted the river in long intervals. The trip slowed. As the wind rose we found ourselves in the doldrums of the Green. The flow of the river in one direction was matched by the wind from the other.
We broke out the paddles we had found along, hove to, and paddled with a right good will. At last we made small progress. Right up until we lodged in the shallows and came to a complete stop; beached like some freshwater whale. We had to lighten the load to get moving again. Everyone jumped into the shallow water and pushed the raft back into the main current. Then they jumped back in. Except for me, I was about as athletic as a tortoise. They had to drag me back aboard and dump me in the bottom of the raft. Dad was looking down at me with that “Oh, Lilly, you are so embarrassing!” look on his face. I scrambled back into my place on the raft’s edge and put my face into the wind. I wasn’t in the middle of nowhere in Utah to make a good impression. Making a good impression would require things like a daily shower and clothes that weren’t spending the day soaked with river water. After 13 years with the man, you’d think I’d be used to disappointing him. Beth cast a sympathetic and supportive glance my way. Suddenly I realized that I was no longer all alone. My spirits rebounded as the river narrowed into another canyon and we sped up.
Other than my run in with my father issues, it was the trip of a lifetime, to be remembered forever. Beth became a permanent friend and ally. We sat together on the bus ride back to where the car was parked. I was amazed, while in the doldrums we had become the sisters we had never had.

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