Thursday, June 20, 2013

On Aliens and Spaceships

Disclaimer: This is a literary post, if you just want to see people hucking their meat and where they did so, just scroll through the photos and read the captions.
Chris Peck, hucking his meat. Knife's Edge, Bottom Moose, NY.
We are aliens. Our boats are our spaceships. 
Dramatic? Yes, but no less true. 

In the strictest sense, our boats transport us through space and time. That they travel only linearly and with roughly the same velocity as most other things through time will do nothing to discourage me from calling them time travel devices. Even the shape of a kayak is similar to the rockets we often envision time machines taking on.
Nate Merrill, blasting off. Split Falls, Salmon River Canyon, OR
And if we loosen those restrictions to account for the perceived shift in the space time continuum, you might just start seeing what I'm getting at. It's said that time flies when you're having fun, and quite often I end long river trips wondering where exactly the last 6 hours have gone. Mental playback of the day happens at high speed, skipping by at a blur.
Crystal, Bottom Moose, NY with an unfortunately foggy lens
When things go wrong, or get committing, time slows down. We plan our strokes in slow motion, gentle smooth strokes fill our minds eye when we know our paddle blades will be spinning like a windmill. When we watch a friend getting beatdown the seconds stretch out and settle in, like unwelcome guests oblivious to their transgressions. When you're the one in the hole, it's twice, three times as bad. A minute feels like an hour.
I imagine Jacob Cruser experienced a bit of time dilation here. Final Falls, Salmon River Canyon, OR
And then there are the golden moments. They happen most often at the horizon line, when the world you know is suddenly expanded, abruptly made real. Those instants stay with me, paused, or running loops over and over again. Groundhog Day with no opportunity to make right the wrongs, just plenty of time to observe, acknowledge, and accept. And improve the next time. It happens in the slow moving pools, too. When the light bounces down the canyon wall, or the massive bull moose steps across the river like it's a small stream.
Cruser's golden stroke.
Frustration Falls, Salmon River Canyon, OR
And how many times do we find ourselves in the heart of a foreign wilderness, feeling just as at home as our local backyard run? Or on that backyard run and feeling as out of place as we would on the moon? Even roadside runs can feel committing and remote. No matter what our physical proximity to town or even the next person is, the river can sweep us away into another world.
Chris Peck and Danny Mongno at Agers Falls, Bottom Moose, NY
So there you have it, our boats are our spaceships. And what does that make us?

We could call ourselves astronauts, or simply travelers. But I prefer to think of myself as an alien. Alien, at least, to "those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators" that Ed Abbey struggles so hard to tolerate.
Tony Gianfagna making the move at Fowlersville, Bottom Moose, NY
We wear our specialized space suits, our harnesses and safety equipment. We probe, discover, document. We choose to live in a different world. As we leave the remote river, it feels less like coming home and more like immersing ourselves in a strange, sometimes hostile planet. And when the humans reaching out, making contact with our world in their own ways, encounter us, it's usually with surprise, even shock. They wave from shore, staring, wondering how we got there. They rarely speak, as if they believe we speak another language. And we do. Our lingo may as well be gobbledigook, and we read the river like a book.
The Space Suit
Jarred Jackman on Vanishing Falls
Salmon River Canyon, OR

So you can keep searching out there in the void if you'd like. Maybe you'll even find something. But I think I'll keep my focus on these aliens that call themselves "Normal." There's plenty of them around, and they're pretty easy to observe. Not much travel involved. And as long as I can make it back to my planet every once in a while, I think things will work out.
Dave Gardner stomping Fowlersville, Bottom Moose, NY

Will Crimmins with the Steeze on Knife's Edge, Bottom Moose, NY

Dave Gardner and Tony Gianfagna finishing up Agers Falls, Bottom Moose, NY

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Idaho: A Place Between Places

What is there to say about Idaho that hasn't already been said?


But it's a place that seems to actively defy description. It's a place between two places, sandwiched somewhere between the ragged mountains of Western Montana and the high desert of eastern Washington and Oregon.
Middle Fork Camping
The rivers are likewise unsure of their identities. They flood, dry up, and flood again. I've only been on a handful; the Lochsa, the Payette, the Middle and Main Salmon. But I've read about them, watched them in videos, and heard about them. My first impressions have always been glazed with the excitement of new friends and adventure, but the rivers are always at the core. 
Katie Chapman in the core of Lochsa Falls
They are true rivers, flowing with the combined rush of many mountain streams. Somehow, they constrain their volume into narrow, boulder choked riverbeds. An ocean in a streambed.
Michael Jorgenson in Dagger Falls, M.F. Salmon
Even the rocks can't seem to hold still. I'm no geologist, but I know someone who is, and if I had a dollar for every time she said "woah, these rocks are so WEIRD" or just stared at the canyon walls slackjawed on the Salmon, I might just come out of this trip breaking even.
The canyon walls were worth the staring. Adam Michel early on the Main.
What I saw was admittedly just a jumble of rocks, but a jumble of rocks that shifted in hue and texture , until one day on the Main, there was no more jumble, just a big blank face of dark rock.
Bedrock on the Main Salmon
In Idaho, you drift, or the world drifts around you. Time stops, or passes by too quickly. Alpine meadows, burn zones, and austere high desert. Wildflowers, sage, and ponderosa.
Myself finishing out Boulder Creek
Katie Chapman Photo

It's a place to be surrounded... by people and canyon walls.

By waves and nothingness.

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I am a freelance writer and photographer, collector of experiences, adventure lover, and outdoor goer.