Monday, August 31, 2009

Labor Day 1995 - Boquillas Canyon part 1

I just knew that when we got back to the city today that at least one of our deposits would have come while we were lazing away in the country.  Ah, not so.  Damn people, I’m good but it’s been quite a while since I worked a friggin’ miracle!  Fortunately only one of the jobs has an actual deadline but the art consultant has not replied to any of my persistent emails and phone calls.  I know it’s just because he is busy tying up his previous job, but I still need the time to fabricate his work.

I’ve done nothing but moan and groan about the lack of work and the lack of rain this summer so while I prepare for this business/family gathering/recreation trip, for which I am woefully unprepared mentally, I thought I would entertain you with one of the trip reports from my river guide days.  It’s kind of long so I’m breaking it up into two parts.

General background:  I worked for an outfitter out of Houston TX.  These were three day trips to Big Bend National Park over long holidays, leaving at 7PM on a Friday night and getting back by 5 AM Tuesday morning in time for them to make it to work. The guests would ride a big air-conditioned bus with toilet as it was a long 12 hour straight through drive to the park and put-in while the guides would ride in vans towing trailers with the canoes/rafts and gear.  The outfitter usually ran two trips, a canoe trip and a raft trip in different canyons of the park.  The canoe trip put in earlier and took out later.  Because the raft trip was shorter, those guests got to have showers while waiting for the canoe trip to get to take out.  Then it was pack the trailer, load the bus and head back to Houston with half the guests having come straight off the river and in the same clothes.  Boquillas Canyon, the canyon I was on staff for, was a 33 mile paddle in three days.  Our target hour for take-out on the third day was 2 PM.  Often we didn’t get there til 4 PM.   

This particular trip, I had my 16 year old son with me.

Labor Day - 1995                


Aaron and I got to Don's (the outfitter) a little before six.  We had a fairly small trip so all the guides got to go.  13 boats.  Guide staff was Charles and Renee, me, Dee, Darlene, John, and helpers Jeanne Anne and David.  Darlene and I and Aaron rode the bus to do the meet and greet, intending to get on the van in San Antonio.  We had a different van that Gerald had been working on for weeks to get it ready.  Turns out it wasn't quite ready.  The engine died at the toll booth on the Beltway and they had to jump it with the other van after towing it out of the way by Dave (shuttle driver) who was bringing his truck because he was going on to his land in Terlingua after the trip.  The bus had been at Knox (truck stop) for our usual length of time when the vans finally got there, so after a few minutes, we took off for Petro (another truck stop) in San Antonio.  But not before the engine on our van died again.  They were preparing to jump it, again, when we left.  We got to Petro; 30 minutes, no vans.  45 minutes, no vans.  One hour, no vans.  (Darlene and I are the only WE personnel on board.)  One hour 15 minutes, no vans.  An hour and a half after we got there, the vans finally pulled in.  Our van had run out of gas, then the starter went out.  So there they are on the side of the road, about 12 miles out.  Dave went into San Antonio to get the part for Gerald, took it back to him, and then he came to tell us what had happened.  They finally rolled in.  So off we go again.  Darlene and I decided at some point to just ride the bus all the way.  We were considerably behind at that point and ended up having breakfast outside Sanderson (about 50 miles out from Marathon) at a roadside park.  We got on the van then.  Got to put in, unloaded, packed the canoes.  Had lunch there and then I did the canoe talk and we were off.  Renee was lead, Dee was sweep. 


First day was fairly uneventful after we got on the water, although Aaron, who paddled with Jeanne Anne as I figured that, much as he loved his mom, he would have a better time not paddling with his mom, lost his hat almost immediately, a strainer snatched it off his head, so I had to open my duffel there on the water and get out my spare hat.  We found an appropriate sandbar and made camp a little later than usual, but we had dinner and cleaned up before dark (always a plus).  After everyone went to bed, Aaron and I were sitting on our pallets (we were sleeping out under the stars which are incredible out there) and talking when he looked up and there was a horse standing right in front of us.  All we could see was it's head and neck since we were up on the rise and it was standing below.  It wandered downstream a little then climbed up the rise and then went on downstream.  One of our clients, Connie, was so tired she slept right through dinner.  When I discovered that, I talked to her about it, encouraged her to eat.  Next morning she didn't eat breakfast either, so I expressed my concern a little more strongly, told her to let me know if she wanted something to eat before we stopped for lunch.  But her partner/fiancee was a doctor so I wasn't too concerned, thinking surely, as a doctor, he would see to it that she didn't stress herself too far...wrong-o.  At lunch I told her to be sure and eat, but did not see her do so.

part 2 tomorrow


  1. hi ellen, i read this last night but was unable to respond. i still feel i should wait but i wanted to tell you how much i admire your writing. it's very real and human - which maks esne but so many people step away from their own voice. this is mesmerizing and intriguing writing. my brother used to raft in ohio. he'd drive for a day and then put in alongside the guides with their raft loads and listen and watch the shenanigans!!! i think i'm really looking forward to the next installment - with some trepidation. steven

  2. Willow - trouble was ever always around the corner.

    steven - thank you. It's so familiar to me that I wasn't sure if it would be interesting or not.


I opened my big mouth, now it's your turn.