It always seems slightly miraculous that we can make plans months and even years ahead of an event, and on the appointed day and window of time, with people vectoring in from far and wide, everyone shows up at a pinpoint spot, ready to take part. In this case the pinpoint was Sand Island boat launch on the San Juan River, just outside of Bluff, Utah. Within a couple of hours of each other, on the appointed day, nine of us vectored in from points as disparate as Germany, Texas, New England, Montana, Oregon and Colorado. And the following morning we retooled from cars to boats, met and paid our shuttle driver, packed boats, parked rigs, filled up water jugs, ferried gear, made sure we had spare car keys, and otherwise unplugged from society and slowed down to the pace of the river. Off we went, one raft and four inflatable canoes, on the somewhat tardy but long-awaited inauguration of the 70s iteration of our decade-themed group of friends.

It was my trip to plan and organize . . . so far so good. We had been sporadically corresponding about the details for months, but now we were on the river, for better or worse, and it felt like better. Along the way we’d had collective craven moments of weakness and doubt – what if the weather is shitty? What if my car isn’t up to the shuttle road? What if we need to pull out early if things aren’t going well? All of it was either ignored or placated and to everyone’s credit, once the die was cast, everyone showed up with an ‘all in’ attitude firmly in place.

The San Juan River has looped its way through my life. I first ran it back in the 70s in an aluminum canoe, before permits were required, before I’d developed much in the way of river skills. Since then I’ve been back many times, on various portions of the reach, as early as March and as late as November, at various water levels, in all sorts of weather and watercraft, noting the changing popularity of the float, the increased regulation, the evolution of ripple effects wrought on the river by Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell. In that time I’ve slowly gained knowledge – best camps, best runs on Government Rapid, when it’s best to portage or line Government Rapid, side hikes, little known gems of landscape.

For nine days we dawdled our way down the winding course of this magnificent desert tributary of the Colorado. It’s a trip you can complete in 5-6 days, but we adopted the retirement pace, taking side hikes to ruins, up old Mormon trails, up Chinle Creek, rimming out at the top of Honaker Trail. We relaxed in camps, played cards by headlamp, dipped in eddies, found pottery shards and granaries and petroglyphs, endured sand storms, rinsed off in pools, felt the presence of the indigenous people who once thrived there, told stories, listened to canyon wrens, spread a friend’s ashes from the exposed and dramatic platform of Horn Point, coasted through the deeply incised Goosenecks, slapped through rapids, wandered up side canyons.

I kept waiting for the shoe to drop, for the inevitable catastrophe that seems all trips contain at some point, but it never happened. Things kept falling into place. The poop bucket didn’t overfill. We were able to refill water at Mexican Hat. The weather stayed stable and benign. Everyone got along. No one blew it in the whitewater. Day on day the canyon held us in its spell as we beetled along under the dome of desert skies – this gaggle of old farts still finding adventure and camaraderie and health. Blessed with luck and verve and the wherewithal to pull off such exploits.

We aren’t lawn bowling yet!!

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