Friday, April 09, 2010

The 7 mile/11 mile question occupied a big part of our time at the Pre-Trip Meeting, as it should have. We discussed the pros and cons at length - weighing the drawbacks of stopping too soon against the risk of paddling too far. While it did seem like a preference emerged, we didn't reach any definite conclusions and ultimately it will probably be a game time decision.

It is times like this when it's nice to be able to turn to The Book for guidance (and a clue as to how it will probably turn out):

It showered yet again. I knew that around the next curve, a mile and half below, I'd be able to see the Dark Valley bridge, and knew too that that was the place to quit. But the river was pretty where I was - wide and clean and even-flowing, with curious, arching, limestone overhangs along the right shore(*) - and after the rain had stopped I dawdled, reluctant, only steering in the current, wondering if a home I remembered near the bridge would have a telephone, or if I'd have to hitch to Palo Pinto. On those country roads the first car along usually gives you a lift.

I said: "Hell, bridge."

The bridge said nothing.

I said: "Passenger, are we going to quit?"

The passenger construed it as an invitation to play, and came scrambling back to gnaw on my pants cuff. There is a big rapids under the bridge, an ugly one. It has old rusty car bodies sticking up out of it, and crashes straight in against a rock bank before veering left into a long shallow chute. Smart boatmen don't run it when the river's high, but walk the gravel bar on its inner curve, letting the boat down gently by a line.

But I had a feeling that if I stopped there, I might be obliged to quit, and dawdled still until the sucking funnel at the head of the rapids caught me. Because my stupidity didn't deserve good luck, I had it. We flicked the jagged remains of a Ford and then I was pulling deep and hard on the right, the paddle spring-bending in my hands, to bring the bow left and clear of the stone bank at the turn, and did bring it left, and rammed the paddle head-on against the rock to keep the stern from hitting, and yelled aloud as we straightened into the long run.

A mile below, I stopped on a gravel bar and made bouillon on the little alcohol stove, and with it ate crackers and cheese and slices of onion. The sun bit warm into the knotted muscles of my back as I ate, and relaxed them. The sky and the water and the multicolored chert gravel of the bar shone with a brightness that I'd forgotten, and made me a little sleepy. It was payment for three bad days and I took it so, and lay down for a while, and threw pebbles up into the air and heard them fall in the current, and drank coffee and smoked.

Goodbye to a River, pp. 43-46.


(*) There are only a few pictures in existence from the Goodbye to a River trip and they were not published with the book. This is one of them. It's a photo of the "curious, arching, limestone overhangs" referred to above, taken on the Brazos River by the author, in 1957.

This is a picture of the same limestone overhangs, taken on the Brazos, by the truly obsessed, in 2002.


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