Part 9: Take Out
“Too many times we stand aside and let the waters slip away, until what we put off ’til tomorrow has now become today. So don’t you sit upon the shoreline and say you’re satisfied, choose to chance the rapids and dare to dance the tide.” – Garth Brooks, The River
Ugh. The sun came up. Dang it! This is really happening.
Our last day on the river, our last coffee and OJ call, our last conch alarm, our last breakfast, our last morning talk with our trip leader and crew, our last fire-line to help load the boats, and our last chance to hit the groover. SO maybe we wouldn’t miss the latter so much, but the rest we definitely would. I felt like the morning of day 14 seemed quieter than usual. Although I had been packed up for hours, I wasn’t at all ready to leave this place. None of the group of river trippers were ready to leave. Not even Dean and Bruce, who had both rightfully earned themselves a trip to a medical professional once back in civilization (side note – when Dean finally made it home, he reported back to the group with good news…no broken bones; Bruce on the other hand checked in with us with the news that his toe was, in fact, broken – wishing them both a speedy recovery).
We enjoyed a great breakfast of French toast with Canadian bacon in camp, and after helping to load up the boats this one final time, Clare gathered us up on the beach for our final morning talk. Clare took the opportunity to say a few words, thank us all for a great trip, and to thank her crew and Tyler for a job well done on the river before opening up the floor for anyone to add any other closing thoughts of their own. A few folks said a few words, and we thanked Clare for being a wonderful trip leader. Our trip leader closed out her portion of the talk with a couple of final readings and poems that ranged from reflective to funny. Howie also read the group a couple of his favorite passages and quotes, closing out the final morning talk on the river while Lynn was setting his camera gear up for a final group picture.
We all clipped on our life jackets for the last time and boarded the boats. My dad and I found our way to the front of Howie’s boat, with Sharon and Bruce (my incredibly kind eddy tour passengers from the previous morning) taking their seats in the back, and we pushed off the beach for the remaining 6 river miles to take-out. No big rapids on this stretch of the river, but there were a couple of splashers along the way. Jay somehow managed to be swimming one last rapid (on purpose) – although none of us were shocked to see him swimming in the cold water, at times it seemed he spent more time swimming than actually being in the raft, and he clearly enjoyed every minute of it!
We were graced with a few more Howie stories along the way, each one making you respect the humble river guide that much more. At one point we found ourselves floating in a puppy-cuddle of rafts and Howie brought out his pictures to share with us. His 4-legged kiddos were adorable, and it was so nice of him to share his personal pictures. Clare joined in and practically disassembled the top of her ammo-box to show us all a great picture of her boyfriend – she had shown me the picture a few days before, and it is a classic! After pictures were shared and a few more stories told, the puppy cuddle faded, and we continued down river a few more miles before seeing take-out in our view.
Take-out was at Diamond Creek and was where our bus driver, Dan, and the gear rig driver, Waylan, were waiting for us. As we pulled up to take-out at river mile 226, we hopped off the boats and dropped out gear under the shade-structure. The guides gave us the option to help them unload all of the gear from the boats, so for those who helped out, we kept our life jackets on. When I say unload all of the gear, I mean literally all of the gear – so coolers, passenger bags, pako pads, tents, sleep kits, guide gear, tables, kitchen equipment, boxes, groovers (hehe), buckets, lines, straps, beer, oars, metal frames, etc. You get the picture. If it was on a boat – it was coming off and would be loaded into the back of the gear truck or in the bus, depending on who it belonged to. I elected to help, and I must say, it is truly amazing how much gear and equipment comes off a single oar boat. It is also amazing how carefully they are rigged and packed. After getting the bags and more mobile gear off the rafts, you are really left with the huge metal frame and all of the straps that hold it in place. Tyler and I helped Clare take off all of the straps on her boat including the flip line and line around the perimeter. Next was hauling out the large metal frame and getting it to the gear truck, followed by washing down both the interior and exterior of the raft (which ultimately involves flipping the raft over). Once the rafts are washed off, they are ready to be hauled to dry land where they would ultimately be deflated and rolled up like a giant sushi roll.
It was a lot of work, but I feel like all 6 rafts were taken down fairly quickly with all of the help. I have no idea how long this process generally takes, but it felt fast. Everything felt fast at take-out. Dan and Waylan – as Clare had told us the night before, once at take out, the drivers are the new trip leaders – had prepared lunch under the shade structure. A lunch that included shrimp (I have no idea what preparation – I am not a shrimp consumer – perhaps boiled if that’s such a thing, but they didn’t last long so I assumed they were pretty darn delicious), cold drinks, and the works. We also took the time to grab our dry bags and dump the contents into large plastic bags and loaded them up onto the bus. This, I found entertaining for whatever reason.
We said our goodbyes to our river guides (I also put a plug in for Clare to bring me back as an assistant – I will continue to remind her of that over time – because I was completely serious!), and looked forward to seeing most of them later in the evening for a trip dinner after we made it back to the hotel in Flagstaff and showered multiple times, and after they finished up their remaining work at the warehouse – cleaning gear, etc – and had the opportunity to shower as well. What would everyone look like with normal clothes and freshly showered?! Would we even recognize anyone?! Tyler was put in charge of coordinating the dinner while on the 3 to 4 hours or so ride back to Flagstaff (I lost track of time), and we ultimately decided on pizza at the hotel – nothing fancy, we just wanted to keep it simple.
Dan, our bus driver, had warned us that the first half hour or so of the drive was rough. He was not kidding. It was jarring as we made our way up diamond creek (yes, the actual creek bed at times) along the graded rocky/dirt road. I could barely hear my own thoughts for most of this part of the trip, and it actually became a little amusing. At one point I felt like I was nearly thrown from my seat!
Thankfully we found our way onto the modern, paved road and ultimately ran across an old friend of mine from my USA road trip this summer, Historic Route 66. Hello, friend! There’s just something about Route 66 that I find so alluring and spectacular – it was great to see it again, and as cheesy as it sounds (nerd alert), it really brought my four amazing months of funemployment full circle. See, I told you. Nerd alert. And I missed the Route 66 memo in my trip information – had no clue we would end up on it on our way to Flagstaff! We stopped along ole Route 66 at a perfectly kitschy spot called Delgadillo’s Snow Cap in Seligman, AZ for ice cream – I treated myself and my dad to an orange-vanilla milkshake, which was delightful! We made our way from there to Flagstaff, and eventually drove up to the hotel. After unloading our bags, we headed inside, found our luggage bags, room keys, and made a small purchase at the AZRA store that was set up in the hotel lobby. I wouldn’t leave here without my traditional road-trip ‘souvenir’ of a sticker and coozie. You can never have enough of each!
I took the longest shower in the history of mankind, put on the cleanest clothes I’ve seen in weeks, packed away the smell of 14-day old river clothes into my luggage, scrubbed the life out of my flip-flops, permanently retired my several year old hairbrush to the garbage after staring at the red silt that now took up residence in it, plopped on my splendid Parrot headphones, threw on some music, and relaxed until dinner while happily replaying the last 14 incredible days.
Seriously – longest shower of mankind. It was glorious.
Dinner was originally planned for 7, but was pushed to 8ish after learning that our incredibly hard-working river guides and Waylan had not one, but two flats, on their way to the warehouse. If there were a group of people that least deserved this, it was our crew of guides who had just worked their tails off for 14 days on the Colorado. I think we all felt terrible knowing that their last day of the trip had just gotten that much longer. They fortunately made it to the warehouse after a series of tactical events and were able to wrap up their work finally, although much later than originally planned. Understandably so, most of the crew were not able to meet us for pizza by the pool. The fact that any of them came was remarkable – they had to be absolutely exhausted – and it was so sincerely kind of both Alan and Clare to stop by to see us before we all went our separate ways back into our realities, representing the entire crew and sending along well wishes from Lynn, Howie, Colin, and Kim. It’s the small acts of kindness such as this that make this group of river guides so great.
As people began to call it a night during our pizza dinner, we said our goodbyes and hope to see you agains, many of us sincerely meaning the latter sentiment. I gave my wonderful new friends Rosie, Eva, and Ben farewell hugs as they retired one by one throughout the evening, following suit for the rest of the great people from the trip as they departed the pool area. A few of us stayed down by the pool and chatted with Clare, not quite ready to call it a day. And eventually, Jay and I walked out with Clare and her boyfriend, Ben (whom we recognized from the picture in her ammo box), and we said our final farewells as we ventured off in our opposite directions.
And that was that. Our final day of the trip had officially come to a close.
Commence depressingly sad music.
I was sincerely looking forward to seeing my friends, family, and pupsters, but I was already missing the river.