One essential lesson I’ve learned in life is that there’s almost nothing as satisfying—as consistently joy-producing—as a well-stocked costume box. It seems like raft guides and I have that in common.
The first costume emerged on the morning of day two on a late summer trip down the Middle Fork Salmon. It was a glittery number, donned by one of our male guides—a polyester 70s disco shirt with some galaxy-patterned leggings if I remember correctly.
The disco shirt apparently signaled “game on” for the other guides, and the outfits only got wilder from there. For the rest of the trip, as soon as the sun rose over the canyon walls and warmed the cold, early September morning air, all weather-appropriate clothing items were swiftly replaced by tassels, cut-off Harley Davidson t-shirts, mumus, mullet wigs and an array of items in every animal print you can imagine—a floating catwalk of the best of rural Idaho thrift stores.
As someone who is always keen for a good costume party, I feared I was missing out on the distinct fun of dressing in clothes that were both enthusiastically eccentric and arguably unreasonable for outdoor activities—the art of which I had learned from a lifetime of wearing dumb outfits while skiing. This being the case, I was simultaneously bummed that I hadn’t considered the extent to which I might have needed my cheetah print leggings while on a raft trip, and also quite pleased that I had decided to toss one essential party item in at the last minute: a lime green bob wig.
I don’t know exactly how I decided the wig should come along. I admittedly know very little about rafting culture—this Middle Fork Salmon rafting trip was only my second raft trip ever—but what little I do know is largely informed by my raft friends posting photos of themselves wearing ridiculous clothes on the river. Figuring costumes were a fundamental ingredient of a fun raft trip, it seemed like a safe assumption that the wig would come in handy.
I spent days being too nervous to bring the wig out. No other guests had flaunted any costume items by dinner on day four, and I was growing antsy about the potential that I wouldn’t even utilize the one costume item I’d hauled all the way into the middle of the Frank Church Wilderness. By this point, it had grown increasingly ratty as it fell deeper and deeper into my dry bag, buried by more “useful” clothing like sun shirts and warm layers for cold mornings. After dinner that night, as the guides continued to brandish a range of wild outfits out of their seeming black hole of a costume box, I decided it was time.
I loosely combed the wig out with my fingers and put it on while attempting to hide any errant hair from my ponytail. I returned to the table and continued to sip wine with the other guests, but it didn’t take long for the guides to notice the ratty green bob, fresh from the bottom of my dry bag. Within minutes, the three women guides were rummaging through their own costume collections to find pieces that would complement the wig, eventually landing on a silver glittery tank top and blue sequined hat. Other guests eventually joined in, laughing as they tried on tasseled vests and patterned dresses and wigs in similar condition as my own (which is to say, used, abused and impossibly haggard). A few others pulled an item or two out for themselves for the night, lavishing in a feeling I know and love, one that’s only possible while assembling a wildly mismatched outfit from a well-stocked costume box.
Two days later, on our last night on the river, the guides collectively assembled a miraculous array of costumes for all 16 or so guests to rummage through. I once again wondered where they were storing all these costumes, but above all found renewed respect for their undying commitment to the party vibes.
The selection was ceremoniously laid out on a blanket before dinner—a heaping pile of patterns and textures and old Halloween ensembles, including an entire Elvis getup (yes, even the hair). Steve Kenney—our lead guide who had been wearing various floral, ground-length dresses for most of the trip—insisted that everyone grab something. Items were passed around, deemed perfect and enthusiastically donned through the night. Costumes, it turns out, are a reliable crowd-pleaser. As the sun set on our last day on the Middle Fork, we continued to relish in that particular joy that can only come from the collective commitment to looking completely ridiculous.
Maybe the allure of the costume box is how few opportunities we get to be utterly unserious with our outward appearances. How often do you have the chance to pair rainbow leggings with a camo robe without having your friends ask you if you’re going through something? When was the last time you wore a tutu and a Lucha libre wrestling mask simultaneously? Why not put that old Halloween costume or formal dress that you’ll never wear again to use?
All this to say—as you prepare for your next river trip and painstakingly decide what gets shoved into the dry bag and what stays at home, I have one humble recommendation to offer: you should probably bring the wig.
Want to join in on this fun rafting tradition? We’ve got you covered with our post on five easy costumes to pack for a river trip.
Photos: Gloria Goni; Amanda Monthei