We don’t see much of anything when we arrive at Moab, UT. A half day’s drive stretched into the wee hours of the morning. Such is life when on the road with a three-month old baby. After a few hour’s sleep the morning sun reveals the powerful Colorado and beautifully bizarre red rock formations characteristic of the land – just steps away from our camp site. Despite my apprehension for the day’s plan, I stop and paint.
The baby is left in his grandma’s good hands. I am new to this. I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m putting my faith in my wonderful friend and skilled river-rafter to get me from point A to point B still breathing. We load up the agile two-person raft and set off along the Colorado.
I’m in love.
The rock formations become monoliths and understanding their magnificence becomes a little easier as one of the major natural forces that carved them into being carries us along. The cloudless sky offers welcome sunshine on that brisk desert afternoon. We hit our first small rapid and my adrenaline skyrockets – and leaves me laughing, for the first time in a very long time.
My pregnancy was a difficult one, slowly chipping away at my body until I was left on crutches, waking up in the middle of the night screaming in pain. In clearer moments I remember begging my partner to not give into my demands for an induction. I remember him and my mom encouraging me to take the painkillers prescribed by the doctor and I remember weighing the pros and cons of a few hours pain-free.
I remember frustration at not being able to get out of a chair on my own, and a deep sense of betrayal and shame for not being able to hold or burp my son.
That was only three months ago. Now I’m here, river-water and sun on my face.
We tackle a few more small rapids and took a few breaks for a delicious chicken salad lunch and exploration. I have no real waterproof gear as a newbie. I pray my layering of backpacking dry sacks has held up against the river water. It has! I take out my miraculously dry pochade box and sit on an isolated bank of the Colorado and I paint again, squinting against the sun and its brilliant reflection off the water.
The sun moves to set and the shadows within this imposing river canyon begin to lengthen. We are nearing our pick-up point as the wind kicks up and creates sharp, choppy waves in the water and brings a chill to the bones. It’s been almost seventeen miles of rafting and I’m starting to hit my wall, my body having engaged muscle rarely used and my c-section incision site becoming sore. I’m looking forward to hot food and a warm down jacket and brand new memories of my time on the water.
The river, however, wasn’t done handing out memories.
“My finger isn’t responding.” My friend and captain says.
Fifteen seconds later – whitewater. Rough, turbulent, and wilder than anything I’ve seen on this trip so far. A wave rushes at me, a roaring cacophony of chaos. Behind it more of its kin.
I freeze. At that moment I am breathlessly aware and awe-struck at how unadapted I am to this. This environment, this river. I steel myself for the inevitable submersion into the alien world just below this white water. My physiology, my biology, my evolution has not prepared me for this.
But my friend has.
“FUCKING PADDLE.” She screams and breaks through my trance. She’d later profusely apologize for it, but it’s what I needed to dig my paddle into that water and pull with everything I have against this unexpected class four rapid – a rapid she’d never take me on if she knew it was there.
Time becomes clearer. My mind becomes razor-focused. At that moment, I am nothing but paddling. I keep paddling even when the boat tips precariously, but doesn’t capsize. I keep paddling through the stunningly cold water crashing against me.
A detached observer part of me knows that this? This is a survival situation. Our second boat is long out of sight. I’m vaguely aware of a large raft after the rapids hanging around, waiting for us, waiting to make sure we pass safely – but in this moment I can’t be sure of it. I see the setting sun and feel the biting wind.
We could die right now. We could capsize and be swept under and that would be that.
I paddle harder. My friend’s here with me, and if there is anything I can do to help her captain us through this, I will. C-section be damned.
I paddle harder. To calmer water, to safety, back to my son.
I paddle harder even when we’re past it. My friend, in a much calmer and soothing voice, tells me we’re good. It takes another moment for me to communicate that to my arms. We pull up to the raft. I laugh. The tour passengers were smiling. Apparently watching us navigate that whitewater was a treat. I’m smiling more. Adrenaline junkie? Maybe just a little, but as we pull up to the gently-graded beach and I see my jeep and my son I feel wild and alive and strong again.
This is part one of a series of adventures that took place during a week in Moab, UT with my son, his grandma, and my wonderful friend. More camping, rafting, hiking, and off-roading shenanigans to come!