Ask A River God: What If I Can’t Paddle?

Aug 20, 2012

Ask A River God: What If I Can’t Paddle?
Got a burning question about rafting trips? A catalog can only cover so much, then it’s time to Ask A River God. Send us your questions, and we’ll put our guides and staff to the test!

 

Hi, O.A.R.S.,

I have taken 2 trips with you (the Tatshenshini River trip and the Chilco trip) and was last with you, on the Chilcotin, about 7 years ago. As then, I still have arthritis so am unable to paddle on a river trip, but the Grand Canyon trips always look wonderful from your pics and write-ups. I would especially like to go down that river in a dory.

Would that be possible for me? Would I be better suited, as I would have difficulty rowing, in a raft or is that, too, rather out of my capabilities?

Glad you are still taking people to these many places … Living where I do, in Nelson, BC, I have experienced much of the natural landscape so know how much these kind of offerings mean to an ever more human-imprinted world,

 — Cheers, Glenda

Jeffe AronsonDear Glenda,

The Tat and the Chilco/Chilcotin are 2 of the coolest rivers ever. The Colorado through the Grand Canyon is more than just an incredible river trip. It’s about the enchantment, being soaked in magic as well as cold water.

It’s just that good. You will love it, or I’ll eat my toque.

You don’t need to paddle, darlin’. Just dance with the water like you already have, and you’re in. I happened to pioneer Grand Canyon river trips for folks with disabilities, so I know what I’m talking about (for a change).

First off, dories are absolutely the most graceful and fun craft on the river. As Grand Canyon Dories’ founder Martin Litton once said: “They just BELONG!”.

There are plenty of places to hang on to in a dory (which is a good thing if I’m rowing), and they’re more comfy to sit in than most rafts. Padded seat. Wood handles. Backrest. Cup holder. Satellite radio. (Just kidding on those last 2).

I have to assume you have meds for your arthritis, and that all that rocking and rolling and leaning into the waves that your body hasn’t done in years is going to be OK after a pill and some sleep on a foam pad.

I also have to assume that you’ll be able to hold on in whitewater (like riding the hood of your car while going through the car wash), and if on the off-chance you end up in the drink, you can dog-paddle around in your life jacket until we pick your soggy behind up. Also that you can walk on sandy, sometimes rocky beaches at camp, just like on your previous rivers.

Riding in a dory is a bit more active than in a raft, since you have to keep the thing “trim” by leaning this way and that, and have to lean into the waves. I have taken some folks in dories that had a weaker grip on things. Come to think of it, I myself generally have a rather weak grip on things.

You just have to be honest with yourself, and with O.A.R.S., about your condition. I’d suggest a chat with Joy in the office, or she can direct you to my lovely wife, Carrie, who has joined me on several dory trips, as well as those original Jumping Mouse disabled trips. She’ll know the questions to ask, can help you evaluate whether you’ll be able to go or not, and whether or not you might consider bringing along a helper for camp.

If you end up going, the crew will need to be aware of your abilities and dis-abilities, so they’re prepared. They might want to put you in a bigger boat, or make sure the water levels will be right, or have a strong hand available to help out when needed.

I’m all about accessing the wilderness for all. I created and led the first Grand Canyon river trips for folks with disabilities, including paraplegic folks, people with M.S., M.D., C.P., all those acronyms. With a little pre-trip planning and thought, I’d say feed your soul.

(Come to think of it, I say that all the time).

— River God

Jeffe Aronson
Jeffe Aronson rows dories in the Grand Canyon, and rafts in Alaska, Idaho, and other far-flung rivers. He loves nature at her wildest, when she is most beautiful. His evocative descriptions of untamed places and the constant tension and nearness of death has gripped travelers and readers alike for the duration of Jeffe's 37 years as a river guide and story teller. Jeffe has published several stories on Amazon, each a chapter of: “Onwards Wayward Boatmen”—a riveting collection of adventure narratives and personal stories. You may subscribe to his blog: “I Can’t Make This Shit Up” at his website: River-God.com.