Tag Archives: Rafting

Adventure with Richard Bangs: The Search for the Sublime

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Adventure travel pioneer Richard Bangs

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Richard Bangs has been called the “father of modern adventure travel.” Having spent decades as an explorer, leading first descents of 35 rivers around the world, including the Yangtze in China and the Zambezi in Southern Africa, this man has lead an exciting life.

Richard Bangs is Indiana Jones, if Indy could string together long and flowery prose about his travels.

Bangs defines adventure as the search for the sublime. This perspective on travel might seem almost quaint in the light of quick YouTube uploads and Facebook status updates.

Until Richard starts telling stories, that is.

Whether dodging crocodiles in Ethiopian rivers or saving an unmanned raft full of camera equipment from going over a waterfall by getting an airdrop from a helicopter and swimming it to shore, Richard Bangs is the real deal. This man truly knows the difference between true adventure and the more sanitized and packaged trips sometimes offered today.

The man also has a way with words.

Richard has published more than 1000 magazine articles, 19 books, a score of documentaries, several CD-ROMs, and all manner of digital media. He has lectured at the Smithsonian, the National Geographic Society, the Explorers Club and many other notable venues. He writes a semi-regular feature for HuffingtonPost.com, occasionally freelances for other print and online publications, and produces and hosts “Richard Bangs’ Adventures with Purpose,” as seen on national public television.

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What, exactly, is adventure and why is it so necessary to the human spirit? This week on The Edge Radio, I interview adventure travel pioneer Richard Bangs as he talks about first descents, dodging crocodiles in Africa, and whether heading out into the “unknown” can provide a deeper sense of what it means to be human. You won’t want to miss this one.

Share the word. Please let your friends know about this upcoming interview with this very special guest.

Go With the Flow: A week on the Salmon River

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Salmon River, Idaho

Last week I was reminded how much I love river trips. Winter snows melt into runoff, seep into creeks and become tributaries to large rivers like the Salmon in Idaho. After a few months of rehabbing nagging injuries and dodging summer rains in the PNW, a week of warm weather, good people and splashy whitewater was just the ticket.

The Salmon River is the second deepest river canyon in the Lower 48 and lies within the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. We floated the Main Salmon from Corn Creek to Carey Creek, a little over 80 miles of Class III water, beautiful sandy beaches and high canyon walls.

At medium flow, its important to keep the boat in the main current. Since the river is not dammed and river levels fluctuate wildly, the channels are narrow, creating swirly eddies and little ribbons of downriver current. Stay in those and you’ll be fine. Eddy out and you’ll have to pull hard to get back in.

Christina–raft guide, ski patroller and all-around awesome woman

This is my new motto: stay in the current. Or put another way, go with the flow. Thanks to Christina, a fellow ski patroller and guide on this trip, I learned how to row a dory. It is heavier than it looks and rides the waves like a coffin. But you feel the river more intimately. The hydraulics and swirly eddies suck at the edges of the chine, and waves crash against the bow. Face the waves, take them on the chin and you’ll sail through the rapids. But be sure to avoid the rocks. When the river drops away–the horizon line disrupted only by shots of spray and foam–trust your line, point yourself right at it and row like hell.

Of course, we’re only dealing with Class III rapids here, and that makes all the difference. I recently wrote a post about risk taking, and the dance we do around it. Risk makes us feel alive, but can also kill us. It is a strange dichotomy. On my last river trip, I kayaked the Grand Canyon. After swimming through Lava, the biggest rapid on the river, I stepped back from that risk and reevaluated it. Then my husband got sick and my kayak got stolen and I decided I was okay with that.

A girl in her element

The Salmon taught me something else. I don’t have to risk quite so much for an endeavor to be valid. An easier river can bring just as much joy as the most difficult one. I tell beginners skiers this all the time: you don’t have to ski black diamonds to have fun. It’s easier to give this advice than to adhere to it. But I’ll declare it again: I don’t have to take big risks to have a big adventure.

This was also my first time ever being a client on a guided trip. I decided it wasn’t so bad, especially since two of the guides were friends and the whole group came together much like a private trip. Besides that, the food was excellent and I didn’t have to shop or plan for any of it. Nor did I have to clean the gear once the trip ended.

On day 3 of the trip, Evelyn, my ten-year-old step-daughter told me she wished she could stay on the river forever. “No faucets, no showers, and sleeping outside,” were her favorite parts. “I never want to return to civilization.”

Whether on the river or in the frontcountry, there’s always a way to find the main current and simply go with the flow.

Adventure Post: The Udisco’s Last Dance

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Beth Revis, author of the upcoming book Across the Universe, is running an adventure blog contest. She’s giving away an ARC (advanced reader copy) of her novel to the best adventure post. Below is a post describing my first raft trip down the Grand Canyon.

I never really felt confident in the Udisco with its flimsy rubber disintegrating before our eyes as I prayed each day that it would make it one more day down the Grand Canyon. Each rapid filled the raft with water. When I leaned down to bail, I could hear another leak bubbling in the water.

Compared to the stiff yellow Sotar that our group had rented to carry most of the gear on our 18 day trip, the Udisco looked like a limp balloon left behind at a birthday party. The other vessels, a stiff cataraft, a fourteen foot Hyside and another fourteen foot Scout, stood erect like proud graduates of charm school. The Udisco, on the other hand, sat relaxed with an attitude of slinky confidence like a nightclub swinger.

I tried to adopt the same attitude. But really, I wondered if the Udisco could make it to Diamond Creek. I imagined floating to the take-out on a wooden raft ala` Huckleberry Finn as the Udisco’s rubber sank to the bottom of the river.

But I tried to respect the Udisco and its heritage, because whenever I lost faith in the faded gray boat, another leak sprang up.

I began to make small concessions that I hoped the boat would agree to. The first night camped at the put-in, I just asked that it get through Badger, the first rapid.

As I floated away from the beach the next morning, tightening the already taut straps, checking for lose equipment and snapping the latches on the dry box, I started to hum, “I Love the Nightlife”, by Alicia Bridges.

I hadn’t planned on discoing my way down the Grand Canyon. It just sort of happened. But once I made it through that first rapid safely, I realized what I had to do. I would take the boat’s name seriously.

‘You disco’.

I learned to speak to its language, choosing a different disco tune each morning, singing and dancing to it as I rode the glassy tongue into each rapid.

For the next week and a half, I sang songs like K.C & The Sunshine Band’s, “Get Down Tonight” in Sockdolager Rapid, Sister Sledge’s, “We Are Family” during Unkar and Gloria Gaynor’s, “I Will Survive” through Hance. I was a bit surprised by the sheer number of disco tunes I could remember. And when I was stumped for the words, I just sang the chorus over and over again.

The morning we planned to run Lava Falls, I should have known something was wrong as we shoved off from the beach. In my head was Diana Ross’s “Upside Down.” I hummed the words to myself, floating beneath the 2,000 foot cliffs lining the river. “Boy, you turn me, inside out. And round and round.”

I tried to banish the song from my mind. I wanted to make it through Lava right side up. Yet the disco gods had gotten me this far. Perhaps it was time to take matters into my own hands. Free will, I chanted to myself. Besides, there must be some kind of crossed wires in the connection. This was Lava. Certainly the Udisco’s patrons would not intentionally bring on that kind of energy.

I changed the song and began singing the BeeGee’s “Staying Alive.” This seemed more appropriate for the day ahead of us, even though I had used it through Crystal Rapid ten days earlier. But I imagined that by now I could pick and choose from the remaining songs in my repertoire. I convinced myself of the thin line between free will and divine intervention. Certainly today was not a day for Diana Ross. She would surely understand.

Anvil Rock, the core of the ancient volcano that had left the curving, black veins of lava we had seen the past few days, signals the approach of Lava Falls. Many boaters touch the Rock for safe passage through the rapid ahead. We circled it, touching each side, hoping for as much luck as we could glean. Others had left souvenirs, a wild-haired Barbie doll, a pooka shell necklace, a bottle of beer. I understood these gifts of supplication, and as we floated away, I wished I had a vinyl BeeGees album or maybe a vintage Donna Summer to leave behind.

I felt a bit uneasy, as if at the whim of some gold-chained Poseidon of the river. I worried that my brazen assumption to change the day’s song would offend these swinging deities. “Upside down, you’re turning me, you’re giving love instinctively,” Diana Ross crooned in my head. She was back, and she demanded compensation. “Round and round you’re turning me,” I let the words slip out, thinking that if I gave her her due now, I could slip in the BeeGees just above the rapid.

The kayaks went first and positioned themselves with throw ropes below the rapid. Joe and Brenda, twin captains of the perky fourteen foot Hyside went first. The Udisco was to follow them. I rubbed my sweaty hands on my shorts. Diana Ross twittered in my head, but I quickly banished her and focused on staying alive. The BeeGees took center stage. As I saw the blue Hyside slide across the horizon line, I was surprised to see the underside of the raft. A yellow oar shaft shot straight out of the froth. I stood up to get a better view. The raft slid out of the bottom of the rapid, followed by one swimmer.

The Udisco shoved off into the melee. I teetered between Diana and the BeeGees, not committing to either song. What came out was a sort of compromise, “staying alive upside down.” As I skirted the top ledge on the left, I looked into the maw of the beast that had swallowed Brenda, gnashing its teeth in triumph.

Once past that obstacle I concentrated on keeping my weight forward, prepared to high-side if I smashed into the boulder on the right. All the water in the Colorado seemed to slam into that dark mass, curling around its flanks. A twenty foot wall of water suddenly appeared in front of me, and I pointed my body into the curl, holding tightly to the rope in my hands. The wave crashed into me, nearly filling the boat. But it was this weight which kept me from flipping when the next wave hit us squarely on our right side.

I let go to bail and came to rest in a small eddy on the left.

When we assembled at the first sunny beach to dry out and warm up, I sat next to Brenda, offering her a thermos of hot tea. I should have trusted Diana’s song. It would have been like an actor’s invitation to “break a leg.” By inviting disaster to look you squarely in the eyes, you can admonish it. Hadn’t this been the credo of the disco era? Don’t think–just feel? Diana had been trying to tell me something. Take whatever song you feel in your heart and belt it out.

Like Sylvester sang, “you make me feel mighty real”.