Day 12: The Finish Line Cometh!
27 October 2017 | Boulder, Colorado
It seemed that no matter what we did, we could only make 30 miles on the Colorado River each day. Our early flat tires in eastern Colorado and slow transition to packrafting finally caught up with us. We would ultimately need an additional day to cover the last 24 miles of our Colorado traverse.
When I originally calculated our route and mileage, there were a lot of variables that I couldn't account for... weather, surface conditions, etc. Therefore, I added an 'optional' 12th day to our schedule. Luckily.
Once again, we woke in the dark and started a fire to melt away the early morning frost. We had camped just outside of Colorado National Monument along a high riverbank flanked by tall cottonwood tress. As the sun rose, a rich golden light filled the canyon to the west.
I remarked to Ben, 'to go home, we have to go travel farther away from home.' I was excited about the upcoming paddle - not only because the end was insight, but also because this was the section of the Colorado that I had actually been on previously.
22 years ago (how is it even possible that it was that long ago!?!), I lived in Colorado for a couple of summers and guided white water canoe trips for a company called Centennial Canoe Outfitters. I spent two seasons on many of the western slope rivers. The section of Colorado from Loma to Westwater, I had guided one or two times, but only had a few vague recollections of the route. I remembered 'black rock' where we camped - a river scoured section of exposed pre-cambrian era rocks dated back to 1.7 billion years ago.
Shoving off, we felt the familiar pull of the current on our Kokopelli Packrafts. It was cold, but the sun was rising fast as we paddled into the canyons. The current seemed to have picked up a bit from the day prior and we quickly ticked off seven miles in an hour according to my Garmin inReach.
While we wanted to finish, it was hard to not want to sit back and drift, the warm sun on our faces and a new panorama of rock floating by every minute. Still, we could feel the weight of the last 575 miles on our muscles and joints.
Trips like this at any given moment are not the most physically exhausting endeavor. However, it is the accumulative effect of each pedal stroke, step or paddle that very quickly adds up to a much larger burden and fatigue. We were tired.
A little past noon, the wind picked up and blew strong into our faces and we were forced to pull harder at our paddles to make any progress. At times, it felt like the force of the wind completely nullified the forward momentum of the current. Every paddle stroke was an effort. Still, the river was beautiful here. Red sandstone canyon walls framed golden yellow Cottonwood leaves.
Eventually, the inReach ticked down the last few miles. While we were tired, our efforts were buoyed by the approaching finish line. Then, we saw Ben's van and the the Alpenglow film crew, and finally, the boat ramp at Westwater. In the end, we traversed nearly 600 miles of colorado by bike, foot and packraft.
In no time we were packed up and driving back along I-70 covering the distance that took four days paddling, in less than two hours. I looked out the window at the Colorado River. No longer would I wonder what it would be like to paddle it.
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Image: Running the Colorado shot with the Garmin VIRB