Live, Play, Travel

On the River, In the Desert

July 14, 2015

I don’t remember what it was that inspired me to try paddleboarding the first time. I do, however, have a vague recollection from those early days of seeing a picture of someone paddling down the river in Moab, amidst towering red rock cliffs. I remember thinking I want to do THAT.

Sunday I had my chance.

After my husband finished his race on Saturday, we knew it was time to get out of Beaver. While the town, and it’s sweet people, had grown on me a bit over the course of our stay, we knew we wanted to hit the road. We had a day to kill before we had to be home and played with some options. There are large parts of Utah that we have not been to and we considered stops in Escalante, Brice, and Zion. But we also wanted to break the long drive home up into more manageable chunks and all of those options would have left us with 8+ hours on the road come Monday. So we ended up in a place we already knew well: Moab.

We have been to Moab many times but it’s always been in the spring, in the days when endless snow drives most self-respecting Coloradans to head to the desert. We have been snowed on while camping in Moab in April, but for the most part the desert at that time of year is warm and sunny and just the thing to thaw our frozen bones.

Moab in July? It’s hot as hell.

When we rolled into town on Saturday evening my husband told me to spend Monday doing whatever I wanted, that my toddler wrangling duties were done for the trip. Not even once did I consider getting on my mountain bike and taking it for a spin. It was too damn hot. I knew that if I was going to do anything, it was going to be on the water. And then I remembered my canyon SUPing dreams.

Paddling on a river is a lot different than paddling on a lake. It’s also a lot more fun. Instead of tooling around, choosing your destination from various points along the shoreline, you are at the mercy of the water. Even a gentle stretch of river is powerful. Paddling upstream is difficult to impossible and missing your take out means ending up farther away than you planned. It requires you to pay attention and be smart. And it rewards you with gentle rocking and an ever-changing horizon.

I knew I wanted to paddle but I didn’t know where to go so I stopped in and chatted with the folks at Adrift Adventures on Main Street in Moab. “I have a paddleboard and want to get on the river. Where can I find some nice, calm, SUP-friendly water?”. The guy at the desk told me, without hesitation, to head up the river road (aka Highway 128) to Big Bend and put in there. I loaded up with sunscreen, begged my husband for a shuttle, and got ready to make my canyon SUP dreams a reality.

The spot where I got on the river was a little bit rough (for someone with no whtiewater SUP experience), in a fun way, and there were a few more turbulent sections in the first mile or two as I headed downstream. I haven’t fallen off a paddleboard since the very first time I went but I came damn close on Sunday. Getting dunked into the cool water of the Colorado River on a blazing hot Moab day wouldn’t have been the worst thing in the world so I didn’t mind it much. I was just happy to be out there.

Yes, this iPhone pano has a super wavy horizon but, hey, I was on a boat!

As the water calmed and the canyon walls started closing in, I was able to relax and just float. A strong wind coming up the river meant that standing turned me into a human sail. It was more efficient to sit and float let the water carry me. I spent a lot of time lounging on my board watching the red rocks go by, the words of the Grateful Dead on a constant loop in my head.

In a bed, in a bed
by the waterside I will lay my head
Listen to the river sing sweet songs
to rock my soul …

Two hours later I floated into town and pulled my board out of the water. I was soaking wet, hot, and happy. One glorious day on the river, one more item off the summer checklist.

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