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Nelbert's Salt River Trip, March 17-22

On the morning of Saint Patrick's Day the river was running 1,000 CFS and we were rigging and shuttling and packing for a six day float. Nelbert had two kegs of Mogollon beer, not to mention a substantial supply of canned swill. One one of the four rafts was a box filled all the way with bottles of booze.

I don't care for drinking that much. But it seems that it is the only way that many old school private boaters know how to have fun. I long to be on the water in a simpler, cleaner way. Less hefty boxes of gear, less big boats, less people...

We tried and tried to pay the Apaches their $15/day permit fee, but the store at the putin had closed down, and the money-taking table at Mild to Wild was never staffed. The Apaches are unkind to anyone they catch without a permit. They will end your river trip on the spot and confiscate your boats and camping gear. So we tried and tried to pay. But in the end we launched without paying a dime to the tribe. I was grateful when we passed the Salt Banks on day 2 without having seen a ranger.

There were plenty of scorpions, though. I personally saw three, but I'm sure that wasn't all of them. One morning I went to pack up the pile of clothing that I had left on a rock, and a little yellow backstabber fell out. He wasn't afraid. He went right to the middle of my one-person camp (at Canyon Creek) and sat there, tail raised, while I packed up to leave. He was reclaiming his spot. The other scorpions were both found on pieces of wood, when we were gathering wood for a fire. Didn't see any snakes...

We laid over one day at Canyon Creek, on river right in a small slot in the granite. It's a hard camp but I would stay there again. You have to hand all the kitchen boxes and stuff up and down the cliff. But the smooth white rounded granite is gorgeous, and there is a pothole by the river you can climb onto. The cliffs hold many perfect hangout spots, and you can find shade at any time of day.

One night on the trip a fellow asked me if I had any words in my book for riverside romance. I realized at that moment that I didn't. In all the years that I worked as a guide, not once did I hook up with a customer. Not long after he asked that question he made the move to kiss me. It was nice. It's been a long time since anyone kissed me. I wasn't really in the mood for romance, but there was something reassuring about his touch and his simple friendliness.

On Nels' trip we went "cowboy" style. We had one 10lb tank of propane, which ran out on day 4. Nelbert had thought another propane bomb was coming, but it didn't. We cooked most of our meals on the fire. Nelbert cooks a mean meal in a Dutch oven. Cornbread or cake or cobbler every night. Potatoes with onions and eggs in the morning. I've been around folks who cook meats and casseroles in DO's, but Nels knows the tricks to cook everything in them. And he MUST have his coffee in the morning.

A few years ago I did a ducky trip on the Salt that I did with my girlfriend Renee. Loki the dog rode with me in my ducky. The water was very low. Renee and I shared some tequila. We saluted the saguaros. We slept long and deep. We saw eagles. We barely cooked anything. That is more my style.

This group was 9 people. I wouldn't mind bumping into anyone of that group again. And I think that optimal river trip size is still smaller than that. I brought the intro to my Riverese book with me on the trip and several people read at least part of it. I am convinced at this point that my book concept is of general interest and hopefully a publisher will concur.

Our last night we camped river left across from Cherry Creek. We were worried about the 16 miles to the takeout but willing to camp there. That night was playtime for the pyros. My friend Shannon had brought some fireworks and a launcher, and after we launched one a fellow came canoeing across the river, bringing more. He said he'd swam in Quartzite and it had got a little bit wet, but we were able to finally explode it by throwing it into a pit in the sand that had hot coals lining the bottom.

Then after the fireworks had been exploded and the wax boxes burned, and the wind had blown the ashes all over camp, we retired--only to find that the rain was not the usual Sonoran speckle. Instead, it rained steadily all night long. Most of us on the trip did not set up a tent. Knowing that it was our last night out, we just let our bags get soaked. Personally, I did not sleep a wink that night, and when I finally got up and put on my boating gear (the only raingear I had brought) I was bone chilled and demoralized.

But the rain stopped at about 9am and we loaded fast and headed downstream. We busted out the last 16 miles in 5 hours, no problem, at 800 CFS. I got tired of sitting in the kayak and finally got in Nelbert's raft. He didn't want to but eventually he let me row. I enjoy rowing, even when the water is very low and the boat very heavy. Nelbert went to sleep in the back of the raft.

At the takeout again we saw the group of four men that we had named the Team America trip. They had a flag flying from their raft, and one of the kayakers had an American flag on his paddle, too. About halfway down the run I took an opportunity to ask them what the flag symbolized to them. They said "Freedom and Opportunity" and continued in that direction with the rest of their remarks. I had hoped for a more thoughtful answer. One of my companions on the trip found their flag waving to be offensive, believing that politics has no place on the river. I personally think that politics is everywhere, and if we refuse to talk with people who disagree with us, we will never find the common ground...

But back to the details of the trip. Team America, being a rich bunch of Americans, had driven a fancy red crewcab pickup, and had left their laptops, blackberries, ipods and cell phones in it. Somebody had taken one look at that pickup and known it was full of goodies that they could sell to buy meth. So Team America go ripped off, thoroughly, as did a few other vehicles to a lesser degree. The vehicle I rode in was not touched. I suspect that the turkey feathers hanging in the window were protective, against invasions by tribe members at least.

I am glad to be home again. I wasn't very well prepared for this trip, and I was not as comfortable as I like to be. I took a hand-me-down sleeping bag that turned out not to be warm enough. My period started on the next to last day. I didn't bring a tent. I wanted to just hang out on a rock and practice yoga...I wanted to listen to Jeromy play guitar...but instead we were all setting up and taking down the kitchen and groover, packing and unpacking, cooking and cleaning, burning down and blowing things up, etc. Color me lazy. The things that I enjoy most are not so hard.

So we got home at midnight on Thursday night, and on Friday morning at 7:30 my cell phone rang with the first work emergency. I worked ALL DAY Friday and Saturday too. Sunday won't be a day off either. On Monday school starts again and I will begin to have some down time. I am ready to have a day of rest.

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
neptunia67
Mar. 25th, 2007 05:30 pm (UTC)
I'm glad I stayed home. I have no desire to be around drinkers or fireworks. They pretty much scare the crap out of me (the fireworks, not the drinkers - heh).

Hope you get some rest soon.
xplorher
Mar. 27th, 2007 09:35 pm (UTC)
the Salt
well, I'm glad I went on the Salt! Hurray for spending time in a ducky navigating one riffle and rapid after another! whoohoo!
I also prefer less kitchen work and more laziness..and I felt the drinking was much less than any river trip I've ever been on. Nobody got outta control..which is nice! Just good ol' fashioned relaxation with some barley sodas...and when the liquor came out, people seemed to keep it at a minimum. Good times.
Home is a great place to spend time cooking..the river is a great place to spend more time (just) looking. Although everyone has different styles..and I see that many of the people enjoyed the kitchen duties...I am of the k.i.s.s. school of thought, and believe my thirst for simplicity contributes to me going down a different path than guiding/commercial boating as a money maker. With a head down in the kitchen, ya miss alot of the details of nature happenin' all around ya. When I was a twenty-something, I felt the need to do alllll the chores I could get my hands on (on Grand Canyon river trips), in order to earn my keep...but these days I consider it a joy to let myself relax a bit more and simply do my little part in things. Crush some cans here and there, set up and take down the groover at least once or twice..fetch beers when folks need 'em..do my night of cooking..etc..
As for the days on the water..
YEAYYY for boatin'!!!!
The Salt is not a snoozer! I enjoyed the athleticism of the upper Salt.
It's my kind of river!
As for the flag waving..
I didn't appreciate the display. Wilderness is not the place for banners or bilboards. I put flag waving in that category.
I am not opposed to discussing politics on the river.
I am opposed to rounding the bend and seeing a large flag waving 1/4 mile downriver. There are few moments in life when we can away from all that is human made..
wilderness trips are where I find my solice from the man made world.
Wave yer flags at home.
Talk to me about politics anytime anywhere.
This river trip was the perfect start of spring after an extremely home based winter.
I feel very lucky that I was invited and happy that I was up for the adventure!
Grateful I am.
The trip was full of good people...and I was especially happy to have finally done a trip with Nelbert! He's great. I like 'em.
I now know 3 generations of those Niemi boys..from 4 to 67!












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