Written by Geoffrey Johnson
We met at the Pump House put in, out of Kremmling, Colorado. Our adventure was to take us about 9 miles down a stretch of the Upper Colorado River, to end at Rancho del Rio. The team consisted of 1 whitewater canoe, 1 stand up paddle board that was piloted by myself, and 1 14-foot raft that would carry 4 people and a full cooler. The conditions were perfect. The sun was bright and able to keep the air warm enough to balance out the cold water. No wetsuits would be necessary for our dips in the river!
We embarked on our journey while the thoughts and emotions of the river began to over take us. First, I noticed myself in a deep contemplation of the wind. Where does it come from? Does this invisible current of air ever stop? Does it disperse further to the east, through the plains, until it is greeted by the winds of the Atlantic? I then noticed the water was shining brighter than its usual hue and there was a new tint of the sky. And on this mighty river I could see all routes of possible navigation of my paddle board. There were obvious currents within the current that I had never observed until this moment… and the adventure had begun.
The flow was strong, and immediately after getting in this river I was met with a drop. I was unable to remain standing and fell into the water. I emerged to from the river and quickly swam to my board and hurried back to my standing position. A very quick start to the day. It was the 4th of July, and as any true patriot would, I was going to conquer this river, standing stoic on my paddle board; Just as Mr. Washington, crossing the Delaware in the name of independence. This trip was for George, Benjamin, Thomas, and the rest of the founders. On this day we paddled in their honor.
For a few minutes we moved through calm water. The wide vistas of the American west are sights that never get old. As we paddled, the wide canyon slowly became narrower. Then ahead we saw that the shore on both sides of the river disappeared into steep and high walls. Surly, as we entered this narrow canyon that lay ahead, the river would change as well. The class II and III rapids would be nothing but gentle pushes for the raft, but would be quite large obstacles for me on the standup paddle board and my buddy in the whitewater canoe, a first ride on these vessels for both of us.
As the rapids approached, I dropped to my knees. With a lower center of gravity I’d have more balance. The extra stability helped, but the river was not impressed with my maneuver and sent me swimming. When my head was back above the water, I saw my board far down stream and the rest of my crew far upstream.
The 4 people in the boat barely noticed the rapids and the canoe made it through with no problem. Though I was swimming through rapids, there was no stress to get back to my board. I had swam in much more intense water and found this swim to be quite enjoyable. I made it back to my board and waited for the rest of the team. We then continued onward.
We then came to a large cliff that was met with a calm stretch of river. It was the 4th of July, and as any true patriot would, we were going to jump off that cliff. This jump was for Glenn, Armstrong, Lewis & Clark, and all other Americans that bravely jumped into the unknown while proudly carrying the flag. One by one we made the leap. Acquiring new rushes of adrenaline. The jump was too much fun. We enjoyed the free fall so much, that we each jumped a few more times.
We then moved down the river. Our next stop was Radium Hot Springs. We stationed our vessels ashore and were happily greeted by others enjoying the hot springs. Drinks and stories of rivers were shared as we sat in this natural hot pool. We noticed another cliff that was perfect for jumping. After a few dives off the natural platform and about an hour relaxing in the hot tub we moved onward.
We came along a long stretch of calm flat water. The paddle board, lighter than the raft and canoe, moved much faster through the water. I soon found myself alone. The stillness and ease of this section of river took me to an even more peaceful and thought provoking plain of focus than I had yet reached this trip. I then entered into a deep conversation with God and for a few moments and we were in perfect agreement about the truths of the universe. As all conversations with God seem to be too short, our communication would come sudden end before I was ready.
I had moved far ahead of the rest of my group being much lighter on my paddle board. The beauty of the river and Colorado cannot be beat. The river shore for this section was covered in tall grass. I noticed some movement in the grass. I could tell that whatever was moving was big. Next thing I know, a full grown black bear took a few steps into the water. I looked back and no one was in sight, it was just me and the bear. Curiously and with no fear he stared at me. Most likely pondering if I was worth the effort. There would be no escape if he was hungry. But fear was not my primary emotion. This was as close to a bear as I have ever been. We stared each other in the eyes for a what felt like an hour, then he majestically walked back into the grass. I waited for the rest of my group. I see them approaching and hear someone in the raft yell “bear!” The bear then scurried out of sight. All of us were amazed at the experience. Soon enough we pulled up to Rancho del Rio.
We pulled off the river and set up our camp. We cooked dinner on a fire and finished the drinks in our cooler. It was the perfect 4th of July, and as any true patriot would, we celebrated!