Wednesday was the eagerly anticipated “Taos Box” branch of the Rio Grande with the Los Rios River Runners. Jeff had done some rafting before, and Kristy had recently done a rafting tour of the Grand Canyon, but Audra and I hadn’t been rafting since 2006 when we rafted the Lehigh.
It was only a few miles from our hotel to the check-in spot. We signed the waiver that says we wouldn’t hold them responsible for any damages should we be injured or die on the river. After checking in, the guides loaded us into old school buses and we took a 40 minute drive back through Taos, up river, toward the drop-off point. Further and further out, we eventually came to the precarious narrow dirt road down to the water’s edge. Beautiful and slightly terrifying, reminiscent of our trolley car ride in Capri, but with more elbow room.
We were part of a fairly large group of rafters, maybe 80 in total, so it took a while for everyone to take one last bathroom break and then get their gear. The nice thing about rafting as a vacation activity is that it’s one of those things that levels the playing field for all people involved. You’re not there to look good, or show off (unless you are a band of out of control Boy Scouts). Everyone looks like an idiot with their orange/blue life preservers and ill-fitting helmets. But it’s about the moment, the scenery and the challenge of keeping yourself from drowning or having head trauma (or if you already have head trauma, preventing it from getting worse). Fun for all!
The Boy Scouts were hopped up on caffeine and testosterone, showing off and jumping around. Once we had our oars, one of them tried to engage me in a mock light saber battle, but I just ignored him. He was not a Jedi yet.
Obligatory safety speeches… final instructions about river rules… then the photo op. Southern Exposure Photo have found an ever-flowing market for photography – out-of-state rafting tourists! Normally I’d be taking pictures like crazy, but of course water and electronics don’t mix so none of us took our own cameras. Instead, all we have are a few (very good) shots of our team and one place where we went through the rapids.
We met our guide for the day, Joel, a rustic be-speckled man in his mid to late forties. Based on his tan, he was probably on the river all summer. All of the guides looked like people who were connected with the land to the point that you did not feel at all concerned trusting them with your life.
We were on the Rio Grande for several hours, with a break for lunch about midway. Lunch consisted of fresh pineapple and watermelon, and a large outlay of sandwich fixings which included fresh avocado.
The river itself was pleasant, not too rough. We easily fell into Joel’s easy-going method of coaching us to paddle. The scenery was as moving as you would expect on a trip like this, with longhorns and various other critters just as curious about us watching as we floated on by.
Joel told us funny stories to pass the time, explaining various features of the rocks and areas where daredevils had attempted to jump the gorge. The central character of these stories was Evil Rodriguez, who wasn’t quite right in the head. His attempts to conquer the gorge by motorcycle, car and plane were ill-fated. It was a well strung mythos that left us with some inside jokes for our own travels afterward.
About three quarters of the way through the trip, we were all still fairly dry and none of the rapids (class 4) presented a challenge that we couldn’t handle. We completed the toughest rapid and let our guard down just as we reached the final rapid known as “Enema” – notorious for cleaning boats out. As Audra tells it, I went in first. Then Kristy plowed into Jeff on her way out of the boat, taking Jeff with her. That left Audra and Joel to navigate and get us back in the raft.
There was no stopping going in. I expect that the prior ease of the trip left me off guard. I was also growing tired of being locked into position, so I think I eased up a bit more than I should. So out I went. My helmet protected me from a slight bump behind me as I came to the surface. Positive that I was still conscious, I became aware that I now had only one shoe. My paddle was also missing at that point, having been ripped out of my hand vigorously by the rapid. So much so that my middle finger of my right hand would not be the same for the next few months.
I made it back to the raft without too much trouble, and a little help from Joel. As Audra tried to get Jeff back in, I was able to focus on helping Kristy. Being an experienced rafter and nurse, I figured it would be a good idea if she didn’t drown. Joel had a good time watching us I am sure. In the scheme of things, it was a bit fun, and a bit refreshing. Earlier in the season it would have been much worse.
Rafting took most of the day, leaving us full of that energy that comes only from an intense outdoor experience. It was so refreshing to be away from computers – none in sight. Kristy, Jeff and I all work in healthcare IT to some degree. When we told Joel about this, he said, “Yep, the day they figure out a way to put a computer in my boat is the day I quit.” Amen.
While waiting for the other rafts to come to the end of the run, we watched some of the Boy Scouts and other folks dive from a nearby bridge from about 50 feet. We had our adventure for the day and did not join them, instead watching to see if/when head trauma would occur (none did).
Another long bus ride back to Los Rios headquarters, and we were already pretty wiped out. Many calories expended, we decided this would be the night to treat ourselves to a special dinner. We chose Joseph’s Table in downtown Taos, easily the most upscale of places we tried. On the way to dinner we saw multiple rainbows near our hotel, a result of a storm that blew in while we were rafting. This was the culinary high point in terms of a restaurant experience, easily one of our top 5 or 10, though I will leave the details to Audra. I had a tamale platter with a variety of mixed vegetable concoctions that didn’t look like much on the plate, but tasted uniquely like nothing I had previous (or since).
After dinner, Baby Taylor on hand, we settled in at Alley Cantina on Teresina Lane for margaritas and for the open mic, hosted by Cullen Winter. The ad in Tempo indicated that there was a cash prize for the act voted best by patrons on that evening. Like most open mics, this one didn’t start until later in the evening, and people trickled in rather unpredictably. So, even if you wowed the initial group of people watching you, with people coming and going it was hard to tell how judging remained consistent throughout the night.
I wrote my name on the signup sheet somewhere in the middle, hoping that would give folks a chance to fill in the chairs for my NM debut. Cullen warmly offered his full-size utility guitar, which had a pickup. So for this excursion the Baby Taylor did not see any action. Cullen opened things up and then I did a few of my staples, including some Tom Waits, Jethro Tull and original material. It wasn’t necessarily my best performance, but on a full stomach and after a margarita it wasn’t bad.
It’s bad etiquette to blow out right after your set, though I knew we likely would not be staying into the wee hours. We watched another songwriter do some political material, then an unassuming woman in her late 40s, wearing a red sweatshirt and blue baseball cap wiped the floor with all of us using her Stratocaster. It was clear she was the best player in the immediate vicinity. We eventually felt the long day catching up with us, so we retired before midnight.