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A Million Little Pieces Of My Mind

2nd Annual Upper Salt Rafting Trip

By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 4/19/2021
Posted: 4/27/2009
Topics/Keywords: #Arizona #UpperSaltRiver #WhitewaterRafting Page Views: 470
Frank returns for another rafting trip.

It's been a year since my friend Frank and I went whitewater rafting on the Upper Salt River. It was his first time, and apparently established a tradition, as he called me a few weeks ago to arrange for a second trip. That's okay with me; the Upper Salt is awesome and I am always up for a bit of river time.

Frank's schedule is always less flexible than mine, in that he is a flight attendant and the airline has the final say in what days he has off. I, on the other hand, can take a Monday or Friday off now and then and make up the hours the rest of the week. Therefore we wound up rafting today, on Monday, after camping overnight on Sunday.

Years ago I read in Hints From Heloise that we should "Never throw one party; always throw two." The premise was that designing the menu and them was most of the work; why not give the same party (to different people) on two consecutive nights? I decided to apply this philosophy to camping trips, since I had had the last weekend in April planned for camping with Eddie and Carl at Verde Hot Spring since last October. So when I prepared my special shrimp dinner and my special scrambled eggs, I did it twice, refrigerating the Upper Salt ingredients and bringing the Verde Hot Spring ingredients with us. Then, all I had to do Sunday was put the Verde pans and bottles into the dishwasher and transfer the Upper Salt stuff from the fridge to the camp cooler.

Michael and I returned from Verde about 2:30 pm, and I quickly made the equipment/supplies transfer. Frank arrived about 4:30 pm in his Jeep, which he parked in our driveway, and threw his gear into my Expedition. Then, off we went!

Although I see Frank only rarely, we communicate via email often enough that we needed no "catching up" and were able to enjoy the tunes on my stereo (mostly ABBA, naturally) as we headed east on US 60, through Superior, Queen Creek Gorge, and Globe. We passed Jones Water Campground, where we stayed last year, having noted at least two additional campgrounds closer to our destination. But we wound up actually camping a few hundred feet from the river trip put-in.

Perhaps because it was a Sunday night, no one else was camped there so we had the place to ourselves. The sun was still up, which helped since Frank wanted to use his virgin tent for the first time, and it took both of us to figure out how to erect it. (You'd think two gay men would have mastered erections by now, but modern technology hath made fools of us all.)

Frank surveys our campsite. Primroses.

It was an ideal camping spot. There were a couple of sheltered picnic tables, a row of porta-potties, and plenty of flat, level spaces for the tent. We chose a spot guarded by a cluster of primroses. Although we could see the highway snaking down the side of the Salt River Canyon, and spot the occasional headlights following it, no man-made sound intruded. All we could hear was the rush of the river a hundred or so feet below us.

The Upper Salt River, the evening before.

The sun fell below the crest of the hills and, with it, the temperature. I had to resort to cooler weather gear, as did Frank shortly after. As had happened last year, Frank and I tacitly fell to chores best suited to us: I set up the kitchen gear and cooked, while Frank built a fire. The absolute best kind of camping companion: One who quietly picks something that needs to be done and does it, leaving you to do the same. The hallmark of competent, experienced campers is that no one need issue directives or instructions to anyone else.

With only the faintest glow remaining in the west, an exquisite near-New moon hovered above the hilltop, giving me an opportunity to test my digital camera's ability to work in low light conditions.

Frank at the tent beneath a setting, new moon.

To say it got cold that night would be an understatement; fortunately there were two of us to keep warm. And we slept pretty well, with Frank's cell phone acting as alarm clock to awaken us at 6:45 am. By then the sun was up revealing a crystal clear day.

Before striking it, I was able to get a photo of the camp.

Our camp.

I also caught a few pictures of our surroundings in the clear morning light.

The white riffle on the river is Kiss-And-Tell Rapid. The morning sun awakens the green in the vegetation.

Finally, having had my special-scrambled-eggs with a side order of Frank's Indian rice dish (who's name I can't pronounce) for breakfast, and our camp struck and gear stored, we walked to the river's edge for tooth-brushing and a splash of water in the face. Who could possibly ask for a more beautiful lavatory?

Frank on the beach.

Finally, goodbye to our primroses and into the Expedition to drive a hundred feet up the road to the raft guide shack.

The first thing we saw at the guide shack was one guide giving a haircut to another. That's the way it is with whitewater boatmen; they are an efficient, self-sufficient bunch. We soon learned that Brad, who was to be our river guide, was giving a Mohawk (or perhaps just a faux-hawk) to his best buddy A.J.

Brad giving a haircut to A.J. The work of art that is Laura's arm.

As passengers, Frank and I were quickly joined by Charlie and Laura, a couple from Alaska. It being Monday and not a "big" river day, we four were the only people who would be rafting. I suppose the company wasn't so happy about this, but we were delighted—it guaranteed us an uncrowded wilderness experience.

It was hard to ignore Laura's arm, which was a beautifully-tattooed canvas of varicolored flowers. In fact, it was the most beautiful tattoo I had ever seen; and I said so.

"Thank you!" said Charlie with pride. "I did that. Laura was my client; that's how I met her."

"You're a tattooist?" I asked. He was covered with tattoos, none as grand as Laura's however.

"That's me," he said. They lived near Eagle River, a suburb of Anchorage, and were on a road trip.

Brad Kingston, our river guide.

I left my camera safely in the Expedition, since Frank was bringing his waterproof video camera. I was a little hesitant, since Frank had still not gotten the pictures processed he took last year with his waterproof film camera. Still, I didn't want my camera damaged.

Brad ran through his safety lecture, knowing that this wasn't a first whitewater experience for any of us—in fact, Charlie and Laura owned their own raft and had been, on their own, on any number of remote Alaskan rivers. He had carefully honed his spiel, however, to be both funny and informative—something common to the best river guides. (After all, you don't want your passengers to doze off during this important delivery of information!) Paddle with T-grip. A sample: "The T-grip of your paddle is the single most dangerous piece of equipment we'll have with us. You don't want to let go of the T-grip! The result of letting a T-grip loose in the boat, is that someone will wind up with 'summer teeth.'" He paused, and when we all looked blank, he explained: "Summer in the river, summer in the boat, and summer still in your mouth." We laughed, but determined not to let go of our T-grips.

The Upper Salt River sports level II and III rapids. The last rapid on the trip, Mescal Falls, can measure a IV in higher water but would be a III today.

Because we were all seasoned rafters, Brad was able to have fun, too. He got us to "surf" standing waves, allowed the self-bailing boat to partially fill with water, and even stopped for a hike, after the excellent fajita lunch, to see a waterfall that was dripping its last before the dryer days of summer turned off the tap.

The river runs 10½ miles and took all day to run, including the stop for lunch and the hike. Brad offered to let us swim but the air was still cool enough for that not to be all that appealing.

Since there were only the four of us passengers, our return from the take-out was done by van instead of the jouncing old school bus we'd ridden last year. We posed for the obligatory group photo, exchanged email addresses, and reluctantly called it a day.

Laura, Charlie, Paul, Frank, Brad.

—But not before I got a picture of the back of Brad's hoodie, which was a terrific paean to river rafting and pretty much said it all.

Row, row, row your boat gently down a raging bone crushing life threatening class V stream, merrily merrily merrily merrily life is but a dream.

P.S. Shortly after I said goodbye to Frank, I received a text message from Frank: "I accidentally erased ALL the photos from my camera!"

I have got to get a waterproof housing for mine!

P.S. 2. Brad mentioned that next weekend will be the last his company will be rafting the Upper Salt this season. I promised to take Zachary here for his birthday. That means I will be back next week!