Pure wonder is rare as an adult. Not much in the world of manufactured entertainment takes our breath away. So when I raised my face from a splash in the pristine water of the swimming hole at Mule Creek to find five sets of brown eyes contemplating me, I gasped. One by one, the deer turned and made their surefooted way out of the creek, leaving me dripping and smiling.
Some people (me!) visit spas for luxury water treatments. But no spa has ever delivered such pure bliss as reclining on a water-smoothed stone in that creek, water surging over the rocks to pummel my back and cascading from a log over my hair. I bathed in the serene pool, the only sounds running water and birdsong. Reluctant to leave my sanctuary, I plucked wild blackberries. But it was time for coffee, so I hiked back to Mule Creek camp. If this is camping, I thought, I don’t know what I’ve been waiting for.
Though stamps from across the globe fill my passport, I’m not a camper, nor an outdoor adventurer, preferring posh hotels. When I was invited to camp and raft the Rogue River for five days, my wanna-be adventurous side cheered while my high-maintenance side quaked at the thought. Could this city girl put up a tent? Sleep far from the comforts of home? Take on the whitewater rapids?
To my surprise and delight, yes.
I started off easy, relaxing on one of the gear rafts among the string of single and double kayaks. Doc, a long-time river guide, patiently answered my ceaseless questions about wildlife and rocks, trees and the river as he expertly rowed. After lunch where we left the last signs of civilization, I graduated to the paddle boat. We set out into a rapid and immediately launched a rescue, as a teenager behind us—his first time in a kayak—promptly capsized. We fought the powerful current back upstream. “Swim to me!” our guide shouted, then heaved the boy, dripping, into the raft.
Once at camp I pondered which guide to ask for help assembling my tent. I decided to try it myself first, though, and managed fine. I surveyed my little home; cushy sleeping pad on the tarp topped with a cozy sleeping bag and tiny pillow. Well satisfied I followed the scent of grilling meat down the hill to find a feast underway. All week the meals the crew conjured out of supplies stashed on the rafts astonished me. Enchiladas, stir fries, cobblers, eggs Benedict and French toast were just a few of our culinary treats along the Rogue.
Sipping cold drinks the campers lounged in chairs set in the translucent green river, swirling our feet in the cool water as fish darted about our ankles. Despite promises of a brilliant display of stars, I soon curled up in my tent, asleep before dark. I caught the last glimmer of stars before they faded though, as chattering birds woke me before dawn.
“Coffee’s brewing,” Doc promised. An abundant breakfast followed coffee, and with great efficiency the crew packed up. “Last call for the groover,” shouted a guide and we laughed—we all knew what that meant. Foremost on my mind before embarking on this adventure was the bathroom question. I tried to assuage my concerns, recalling unspeakable toilets in southeast Asia and Africa—surely it couldn’t be worse. In fact, this was preferable. A guide provided a guided tour of the “facilities” the first afternoon, casually addressing bodily functions. “Women pee in the bucket, men pee in the river.” Said bucket came complete with a small seat and lid. “I don’t want to see any turds or toilet paper,” she went on. “That goes in the groover.” A wooden screen offered privacy, and a distant location ensured no olfactory distress for others. (Outhouses a couple nights later were a little less wholesome, sending all of us to the river for number one.)
Groover business tended to, it was time to hit the Rogue. Today I’d navigate in my own kayak. I headed out, heart pounding at the prospect of tumbling into the seething cauldron of a rapid. I paddled madly through my first one and sailed out to find a bald eagle perched overhead, solemnly observing our escapades.
The rapids weren’t the only adventures, though. Afternoon hikes led us through fearsome trails that I’d never have broached without a trusty guide leading the way, often culminating in kids and adults alike flinging themselves off high rocks into swirling water, to the merriment of all. In a moment I’ll never forget, I joined a few intrepid souls at a natural water slide in the secret depths of the forest. We scrambled up a rope then plummeted into the clear, dark pool, where we popped up like otters, laughing our heads off. How great is it, I thought daily, that we are so gleeful just jumping off a rock and splashing around in water?
Further delight still came with evenings at camp where we gathered to munch on appetizers—toasted bruschetta with caprese salad anyone?—and swap tales. We’d recount the day’s adventures, laughing uproariously at the guide who dumped all her passengers and mooned the rest of us in the rescue. And as dark settled on the tall pines, we’d tear into a well-earned dinner. Evening entertainment often featured games; while the kids played cards, “Two Truths and a Lie” was popular among the adult set. A hotly contested Connect Four game might erupt between a teen and a guide at any moment.
With a final night’s game of Postcards, the trip leader instructed us to describe a favorite image from the trip, the caption, and who we’d deliver it to. I chose my dawn encounter with deer. But as I described it, I realized my postcard would go to this group. Strangers five days ago, the people around me felt like friends and family now, and that’s who I wanted to share my magical moment with.