The W

All day Monday was spent getting geared up for a 2 day trip down Westwater.  Westwater is a stretch of water on the Colorado that runs through a pretty narrow canyon and then opens up for 6 miles of open water before the takeout.  We started loading up at 6:30 on Tuesday morning and drove a little over an hour to the put-in at the Westwater Ranger Station, rigged our boats, and got onto the water at about 11.  My first introduction to trying to steer a big rubber boat was underway.

Oars are tricky buggers.  Brad sat cross-legged in front of me on the raft and tried to explain the intricacies of pushing, pulling, and double-oar turns.  “Ok, spin around to the right” is a really complicated request when you can’t remember which way to pull in order to make the boat go right.  There was a lot of, “Oh, wrong one,” and “Oops, that’s not what I meant to do” going on.  After about a half hour of trying to push myself through the canyon, I switched with Annie so she could try to learn some moves, and collapsed into the back of the boat.  “You are going to get strong this summer!” Brad keeps telling me.  I look at him with the “I am pretty sure I cannot physically do this” face a lot.

Allison, a girl who works at the Canyonlands Field Institute, was our rapid negotiator for the day and it was a lot of fun to be in the boat with her.  She takes kids out on educational river trips so she knew all about the geological formations in the canyon and could identify birds as they flew over us – she was also quick to point out when the buzzards started circling towards the end of our flatwater stretch at the end of the day… haha.  Running the rapids in Westwater was a lot of fun, especially doing it in an oar boat so that all I had to do was lean on the bow and hold on.  Gordie, a seasoned Splore vet who has been guiding boats since the early 90’s, was in our boat as well and he would point out to me what line Allison was going to take as we approached a rapid.  Having to anticipate a line is a lot different than just taking it as it comes, like I did when I spent 3 weeks lining a canoe through the North Big Salmon River.

The second part of the day was spent on flat water, rowing the 6 miles from the last rapid to the takeout.  We loaded everything up and drove back up to the put-in so that we could get ready to run the same stretch again the next day.  We made burgers and a campfire, and sat around answering questions like “Which countries only have one syllable in their name?” (Answer: France, Chad, Spain, Greece, Wales) and “Which words in the English language have all 5 vowels in order?” (Answer: facetiously [which I came up with, thankyouverymuch] and abstemiously).  By 10:30 I was in my sleeping bag under the stars, nestled between two bushes that I hoped would block the wind if any came in.

Well, the wind DID come in.  At about 1AM the W rolled in all of a sudden, waking everybody up and making me thankful for all the rocks I had put on my gear as it was drying.  The bushes I had positioned myself between to act as a wind barrier only turned my sleeping area into a wind tunnel, and I spent the whole night alternating between dreams of being in a raft as it was blown away and waking up to try to cinch my sleeping bag up even more.  The next morning the wind let up just enough to give us hope that we might be able to row through it, so we loaded up and headed back out on the river for round 2 of Westwater.

The trip from the put-in to the first rapid, which usually takes about an hour and a half, took us almost 3 hours in the wind.  I sat opposite Gordie as he pulled with all his might on the oars and I pushed along with him.  There were a few times that it seemed that the wind might die down, but as soon as we would round another corner, there it would be, doing everything in its power to keep us out of the current.  When we finally made it to the rapids, everyone was having problems lining up in the right places to avoid holes and rocks because the wind was so strong.  Eventually, one of our boats ended up flipping in an infamous hole in a rapid called Skull because the girl rowing was unable to get set up in the right way due to the wind.  At the end of the rapids, we were all dreading the 6-mile stretch of flat water to the takeout.

The next 3ish hours were spent with at least 2 people rowing at a time, one pushing and one pulling.  The wind was so intense that our boat would get spun around by a strong gust, and when we finally stopped for lunch after about 2 and a half miles, the dirt from the shore was blowing at us so hard that it felt like I was getting slapped in the face.  From lunch to the takeout, all 3 of the people in my boat were rowing – one person pulling on each oar, with Gordie pushing along with us.  Allison was rowing on the other oar, and since she is much stronger than I am, I had to throw my entire body weight into every pull to keep us from turning the wrong way.  We finally made it to the takeout, and I could barely unload the boat because my arms were so tired.

We made it back to Moab, unloaded the gear and de-rigged the boats.  My shower water ran like mud from all of the sand that had encrusted itself on my face and legs from the wind.  I could barely lift my arms to brush my hair, and 11PM saw all of us sprawled on couches and even on the floor in the living room, trying to muster the energy just to go to bed.  Everyone agreed that it had been a rough day to try to learn how to row, but I was reassured that “You will probably only see wind like that a handful of times in your life,” so at least I got getting acquainted with the W out of the way in my second day ever in an oar boat.

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1 Comment

  1. Mom

     /  29 April, 2010

    My arms hurt just reading this!


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