“What are you going to do with this one wild and precious life?”
Ever since reading this Mary Oliver quote a couple years ago it’s echoed in my head sort of like a ‘you only live once’ type mantra with a little more feels. I find the words inspire me the most when I’m with my three-year-old daughter. What is she going to do with her one wild and precious life, and how do I make sure she knows life is both wild and precious? For better or worse, she has a mom whose favorite place is outside, and so to me, one of the most important things I can do for her now is teach her the importance of living a life outdoors (wild), and how important our public lands are (precious). How big the sky is from the top of a mountain, and how narrow it is from the bottom of a canyon. How bright the stars are when there is no light, and how dark the night can be when you sleep in a tent. I want her to appreciate the calm, quiet silence of a flat-water float, and the adrenaline and excitement of splashy whitewater. From the parent perspective with a little one, camping and more specifically, multi-day river trips, are not “easy.” There’s your gear and your kid’s gear, there’s gear to put your gear in, there’s travel, shuttle, and safety logistics, ice, coolers, food, beer, kitchen boxes, dry boxes, dry bags, sleeping bags, the groover, the fire pan, etc., and it all has to fit on your boat with jigsaw-like precision (haha, only if you’re married to my husband). But anyone who participates in raft camping knows…it is a fabulous shit show and it is SO worth it!
My family headed to Southern Utah in April, with two other families with young children, to float a permitted section of the San Juan river–a beautiful, deep canyon above the confluence with Lake Powell. Wearing layers of fleece and rain gear we launched heavy, loaded-up boats around noon on a breezy, cool Tuesday between intermittent rain and dark western skies. The quick yet gentle current rocked my three-year-old to sleep under a blanket within the first five minutes. Beer me.
That first day, as we meandered into the winding goose-necks and lost cell service, the stresses of the digital world drifted up the steep canyon walls, and a sense of calm washed over the group. And then we were slammed with 40 mph wind gusts. We managed to keep the oars in the water and push through to be rewarded with sunny skies and warmer temps when we arrived to our camp, set below towering walls of red sandstone. Time for the kids to get naked and get sanded while we set up tents (don’t forget to guy out!), blew up pads (for real, the BA Pumphouse Ultra is an absolute breath and TIME saver), and unload boats. Give little ones sand, water, sun, and cookies and you’ve got the makings of a perfect late-afternoon happy hour for the parents. The kids explored and played in their imaginary worlds until dark, howling at the moon as it lit up our site. Lights out on some very tired river rats.
Day two started with strong coffee, the sun, and the promise of a great day on the river. And it did not disappoint. Our second camp was so rad we decided to stay an extra day and layover all day Thursday. We dodged some rain and winds that day but overall, we really lucked out. Having a day to chill and not pack up your gear and boat is huge on a multi-day trip. Relax, throw some shoes, go on treasure hunts, chase lizards, explore hiking trails, play bocce, make some memories with your kids. This. This is what it’s all about.
We pushed hard down the river on day four to make up the river miles we lost by staying put the day before. We had to get to our one reserved spot of the trip that night so even with some strong, sustained winds, we pushed on, taking turns at the oars and trying our best to follow the current. Our final day was 17 miles of flat water (remember, we’re flowing into Lake Powell here), and we opted for an early launch so we could float and enjoy the changes in geology and daydream about the hot shower we were only hours away from taking.
Rain or shine, splashy water or calm, sand in your underwear…taking a week to unplug in the beautiful, remote southwest desert is a must for every family now and again. Remind yourself how to be a little wild.
My BA gear picks:
Marketing Manager, Katie Hughes, grew up in the mountains of Colorado skiing, biking, rafting and being an all-around badass. Her three-year-old daughter, Ivy, has quickly become our Marketing mascot.