Last month my wife and I flew out to Idaho to join some friends on a seven-day trip on the Main Salmon River (not to be confused with the Middle Fork or the South Fork). The river runs through the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, the largest contiguous wilderness area in the United States (I have to say rowing the Salmon involved some of the most enjoyable river miles I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing. The whitewater was not terribly intense, the scenery was stunning and the wildlife abundant.
It felt good to get back behind the oars for a multi-day trip for the first time in eleven years, since we did a 16-day trip on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. Having guided for a number of years on the rivers of southern West Virginia, returning to the river felt good. It felt natural, reading the currents, feeling the movement and scouting the horizon lines.
The best part about multi-day trips is truly immersing in the condition of just being. Sure I thought about the dinner menu or wondering where we might stop for camp, but mostly I was in the moment, taking it all in, sharing it with my wife and maybe another member of our party who would be boat hopping throughout the day. It’s one of the few times in my life I’ve been able to truly disconnect and let everything else slip away.
We saw eagles and ospreys, big horn sheep and mountain goats, snakes and jumping fish. We ate ripe cherries from an old abandoned homestead and soaked in a primitive riverside hot springs. We watched the sun creep into the canyon in the mornings and slip behind the ridges in the evening. We saw the great bowl of stars overhead, more stars than many people get to see in their lives. That’s the beauty of a huge wilderness area.
As with most trips, I brought my journal and a book, Margaret Atwood’s Year of the Flood. Also as with most trips, I didn’t do much journaling, but read nearly every day. I enjoyed the juxtaposition of reading a dystopian story in a utopian setting. The contrast helped me enjoy both that much more.
At one point someone asked me about my writing and my current novel. In the middle of the conversation, they realized their phone, with which they’d been taking pictures, had fallen out of their vest–and into the river. And that was the end of the conversation. As I look back, that was probably the only time I really thought about my writing during that trip and I think I needed that.
I’ve been back for almost three weeks and finally have my feet under me as I work through key story elements in the beginning of the novel. You’d think that by draft number four I’d have this stuff nailed down, but here we are and it’s okay, just part of the process. I think I can thank the Idaho trip for the dollop of equanimity in the long journey of writing this novel.