Warning: Side Effects of Rafting May Include…
Life after rafting: Reminiscing on a trip through Hells Canyon
It’s been several days since I stepped off the eighteen feet of yellow rubber that transported me through the deepest gorge in the United States, but I’ve spent the majority of those days plotting and scheming about how to get back in a raft on a river. Any river. I have begun to think there should be a disclaimer attached to your trip brief warning you of the life altering change you’re about to undergo. “Side effects of rafting may include: loss of desire to do anything but raft, strong desire to become a river guide, chronic daydreaming about life on a river.”
I remember the butterflies I had the night before our trip was slated to take off. I always get a little angsty before a big backcountry trip. The fear of the unknown is equal parts inspiring and unnerving, at least for me. Those butterflies swirled around in the background quietly until we eddied out just above the biggest rapid of the trip, a burly class IV called Wild Sheep.
Just like a roller coaster lethargically clicking up a forty-five degree incline before its first big drop, I knew exactly what was in store. I gripped a nine foot NRS tie down like a boa constrictor as we dropped into the line our guide plotted just minutes before. Butterflies quickly metamorphosed into a flurry of dopamine as we dipped below the crest of what my minds eye remembers to be a fifteen foot tidal wave straight off our bow. Channeling the spirit of old Walt Whitman, we sounded our barbaric yawp over the roofs of the canyon as we charged head on through the heart of the wave and within my mind, a metamorphosis began as well.
Over the course of the next five days the enchanting walls of Hells Canyon cast their mesmerizing spell on me. Its history is riddled with similar tales from the Nez Perce, miners, settlers, and cattleman surviving on pure grit and the life force the untamed Snake River provided. Signs and symbols from their time there are found all along the 80-mile stretch from Hells Canyon Dam to Heller Bar and beyond. They too were spellbound by this place so much so that they carved out a life here in a time where doing so must have seemed akin to settling on the moon. Seeing the remnants of that existence with my own eyes flooded my imagination with visions of a time when true discovery was capable for anyone willing to put forth the risk to achieve it. I wonder if I could have made it in a place like this. I’d like to think I would certainly try.
Looking back on my time in Hells Canyon, I’ve come to understand that’s what rafting stirred up in me. A chance to strike out and discover a place for the first time, to experience the spirit of the West in a tangible way. Long after all the hilltops, rapids and sights have been named there’s still a sense that you can be a pioneer in contemporary times. It’s with that sentiment that I find myself constantly dreaming about what else is out there and being immersed in it all through the friendly confines of a raft.
Is there life after rafting? There just might be, but it’s probably best spent planning the next adventure.
Hells Canyon through the Lense of Andrew Miller…
To see more of Andrew’s work visit andrewmillerstudios.com.