Dear Rafters, Please Don’t Go on a River Trip Until You’ve Read This
10 Things You Should Understand About River Trips
Everyone needs to go on a river trip at least once in their lifetime. And we’re not just talking a quick day trip either. Nope, for unplugged adventure at its best, you need to take it to the next level and experience the magic of a multi-day rafting trip. But, before you snap on your life jacket, hop on a raft and disappear into the wilderness for a few days, here are a few things you should understand…
1) You might fall out of the boat.
Let’s just get this one out of the way since it’s probably one of people’s biggest fears about rafting. And that’s totally OK. A river trip is not a cruise, or a Disneyland ride for that matter, and it’s not for everyone. But if it does happen to you, chances are you’ll go for a quick swim and be pulled back into the boat after a refreshing, yet rowdy ride through a few rapids. Sometimes it’s a bit scary and it’s almost always humbling. But usually, it’s not a big deal and you’ll have a really good story to share around the campfire for years to come.
2) It’s not just about the rafting.
If you think you’re going to be stuck on a boat all day, you’ve got it wrong, my friend. On a multi-day river trip, the whitewater is only a fraction of the fun. When you’re not on the water, which is typically about a third of the day, you’ll be discovering the other gems hidden within a river canyon. That might be a hike to a hidden waterfall or epic view, a soak in a hot spring or visit to an ancient pre-puebloan granary. Or maybe it’s kicking back with your favorite book and beverage while your kids frolic on the beach without a care in the world. It’s your vacation and you can decide how you want to enjoy your downtime.
3) This is the backcountry at its best.
It can be a real pain to get to a put-in for a river trip. Sometimes there’s a long drive in a bus on some pretty sketchy roads involved. Other times, you’ll fly in a tiny plane and land on a patch of gravel in the middle of nowhere. But that’s when you know you’re in for a treat. If you’re looking for true wilderness immersion, this is it. And guess what, there’s no backpack and freeze-dried food involved.
4) Speaking of food, you will not go hungry on a river trip.
We hate to break it to you, but there’s a good chance you might actually gain weight on a river trip. At least that’s a “complaint” we’ve heard from time to time. Because here’s the thing, the amount of food and beverages that are brought on a river trip is mind-blowing. For a little perspective, the crew for a 16-person Grand Canyon rafting trip will bring 40 dozen eggs, 15 boxes of cereal, and 9 boxes of pancake mix. Not to mention, fresh fruit, bagels, oatmeal and coffee. And that’s just for breakfast, people. You won’t believe the spreads that get rolled out for lunch and dinner. Happy hour isn’t something that’s skimped on either. If you have a particular drink of choice you can’t live without. Bring it. That bottle of whiskey you’ve been saving for a special occasion? Bring it. And you’ll surely make some new friends if you share.
5) Speaking of making new friends….
If nightmare scenarios have played out in your head about the kinds of people you might get stuck with on a multi-day river trip, think about it. If your idea of a vacation looks the same as theirs, don’t you already have something in common? The people you’ll meet on the river may not be the normal folks you’d make friends with, but share a week of adventure, beach games, campfire stories and stargazing together, and there’s just no way around it. By the end of the trip, you’ll be asking each other which river trip you all should meet up on next year.
6) Flip-flops do not equal river shoes.
Don’t be the person who rolls up to the put-in with flip flops on. You’ll hit the first rapid and that flimsy little sandal you thought was a worthy river shoe will end up as fish bait. But beyond the right footwear, packing is a big deal. Outfitters don’t put together packing lists just for fun. They’ve been out in the elements for decades and know the do’s and the don’ts by now. So take their advice and follow the packing list, even if that means bringing a rain jacket when it’s supposed to be 90 degrees and sunny all week. River guides will share theirs, but they’d rather not. Trust me on that one.
7) Nobody cares what you look like when you’re on the river.
If there’s one thing that can be tossed aside when you’re on the river, it’s vanity. Nobody cares that you haven’t showered in four days, because they haven’t either. Nobody cares that you haven’t done your hair or make-up. Throw a hat on and a little face moisturizer and call it good. And if this freaks you out, know that you can “shower” whenever you like. There’s the river. Jump in. Deodorant is optional, but usually appreciated.
8) Going to the bathroom outside is part of the deal, but it’s not as bad as you think.
Sorry, there aren’t usually bathrooms conveniently scattered throughout the wilderness. The good news is that you’re not going to have to use the old “dig a hole and bury it” method when you’re on a river trip. Instead, outfitters will bring along a portable toilet affectionately referred to as the groover. Does it flush? No. But is it a discreet way to handle your business. Yup. And if you happen to get caught with your pants down as another group of rafts floats by, just wave and smile. Chances are, you’ll never see those people again anyway.
9) It’s not really sleeping on the ground if you practically have a mattress beneath you.
If you don’t camp, you shouldn’t rule out a river trip. Because if you did, you’d quite possibly be missing out on some of the best sleep you’ve ever had. How is this possible? It’s called a 3-inch foam pad on a sandy beach next to a rushing river. Pure bliss. And if you are a camper, don’t miss out on sleeping under the stars. It doesn’t get any better than seeing the Milky Way from one of the most remote and darkest areas of the country.
10) You can bring your phone, but there won’t be any service.
This used to be a no-brainer because you typically won’t find any cell service in a river canyon. These days though, our smartphones are our cameras. And you’re going to want to capture the moment. So if you bring your phone, protect it with a waterproof case. Just know if you can’t go a day without checking email and messages, then a river trip may not be for you. Or maybe it’s exactly what you need. Just sayin’.
Photos: Picture This, James Kaiser, Chaco, Jillian Lukiwski