I spent last October rafting down the Rogue River in southern Oregon for four days and three nights with my boyfriend and a handful of his whitewater-loving friends. I had never been on a raft before the trip, and the experience was euphoric, tranquil, otherworldly. It was like a mission to the moon.
We were joined by Kyle and Tracy—my boyfriend Eric’s friends from a previous lifetime, when he worked and lived at a park in Northern Virginia—who have since gotten married and moved to Idaho, working for a rafting tour company in the Yellowstone area. Their friend Adam, who previously worked with Kyle as a raft guide, came along too and became the oarsman of the boat the Eric and I traveled in. Tracy and Kyle also brought their dog Zipper, complete with his own lifejacket (or personal floatation device, “PFD,” which I was told is the correct term for this now), bringing our total up to 6: five humans and one canine.
It was during this trip that I learned the perils of cotton and the virtues of all other materials—wool and synthetics—when it comes to staying warm outside in the fall, even when you get wet. I learned how to wrap all of the gear tightly into dry bags, folding their tops down over and over and snapping them shut, then clipping them into the boat.
Everything is tied to the boat. It is a whitewater maxim around which the beginning and end of each day revolves—starting in the morning when you pack up all your camping gear and haul it to the boats, handing it to someone in the boat to tie down, and ending in the evening, once the boats are tied up and you’ve found a place to camp, and the processing of untying the gear and hauling it to your camp site begins anew.
All of this is done in case of a flip, which was the stuff of my nightmares. Being the least experienced person on the trip by far, going through the first few rapids made me grip the sides of the boat so hard I gave myself bruises. But after the first day, I began to relax and also gain trust in our experienced and patient oarsman, and towards the end of the trip I was actually able to enjoy the sense of adventure and shot of adrenaline that navigating class III rapids induced.
The trip transported me not only downriver, but also out of the monotonous flow of daily life, which happens when you are forced to part from the conveniences of modern day, taking a breath of air from the intoxicatingly gratifying Internet to instead waste away the afternoons watching the clouds slink past overhead or the reflections of the changing leaves in the river swirling into impressionistic paintings. I spent a lot of time watching the water move around the boat, looking through the clear water to the smooth palm-sized red and blue and grey rocks in the riverbed.
I was afraid that the trip would be miserable, that I would be cold and wet the whole time—a real possibility during the rainy Northwest autumns. But instead I was overcome by the beauty of the changing seasons, the chilly water rushing beneath us, the merciful sun that emerged occasionally to dry our dew-soaked clothes and tents.
In the city, the incessant rains flood the gutters and dampen my spirits, but out here, the rain was something different entirely. It was the bearer of life, an indication of great abundance, an integral part of a thriving ecosystem of whose beauty I had the great privilege of witnessing for a few days, but which thrives regardless of onlookers, if only we slow down enough to see.