Sometimes headlines are quite obvious, and other times they’re a bit tricky. One wants to pinpoint the essence of the story, represented in a few key words, that delivers the best interpretation of the overall experience. The headline for the 2015 Chrysalis Father/Daughter Upper Missouri canoe trip fits into the tricky category. Why? I’ll try to sort it out in the paragraphs below.
Here are the facts: The sky was mostly clear and blue. The temps were hot, hotter, and hottest by the final day on the river, pushing into triple digits. 14 dads and 14 daughters were willing, able, and even excited to spend five days together paddling down the most beautiful 50 mile stretch of the Upper Missouri River, made famous by the remarkable Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery expedition. Six Chrysalis staff hosted the event, each with great expectations about the journey. The river was lower and more clear, relatively speaking, than we had ever seen it before. The mosquitoes, sometimes bordering on cataclysmic during this trip, were almost nonexistent. There was a snake sighting or two, and some gnats and biting flies, but nature did it’s best to avoid irritating us outside of the heat. There was no cell service, no wi-fi, and therefore, we were “unplugged” in a most wonderful way. That’s a reasonable collection of facts, but there’s no obvious headline emerging yet.
The river launch was unremarkable; dads and daughters all pitched in with enthusiasm to help load the boats and move our herd away from the muddy ramp at Coal Banks. Spirits were high, laughter was frequent, and it appeared that the river was ready to do its usual magic as we began to float slowly downstream. We were all committed to the journey at hand, wide-eyed, expectant, and open to the discoveries that might develop along the way. As always, we knew we’d need to create moments of stillness in order to really hear and register the quiet natural messages that were all around us. All the things that might go wrong with a group of this size didn’t show up on that first river day, which felt like a stroke of good fortune. River trip launches aren’t always smooth. Nice storyline thus far, but still no apparent headline to grab the attention of the casual reader from ten feet away.
The time on the river was generally placid and pleasing. Dads and daughters floated along enjoying the sunshine, warmth, and blue skies. Our canoes were rarely tracking a straight path down the river, but that was never the goal. It wasn’t a race, and there was nothing to be gained by arriving first at the next destination. We hiked up an awesome little slot canyon to the top of a ridge that treated us to cool winds and beautiful views. It was hard to leave it behind when it was time to descend. We hiked and scrambled up into the famous Upper Missouri “Hole in the Wall”, so named by Lewis and Clark themselves. The small pitch of rock climbing in the middle section of the hike presented some healthy challenge, but everyone managed it with the encouragement and support of the group, and the reward on top, just beyond the scramble, was unanimously greeted with appropriate awe. We gathered in the evenings after a hearty meal to talk about our discoveries and memorable moments along the way each day. There were some happy tears juxtaposed with plenty of laughter, some heartfelt words followed by caring hugs, and ultimately, new connection, made stronger with each passing day on the river. There’s probably a headline beginning to emerge, but we haven’t quite captured the essence of the trip just yet.
The serious heat and an up-river wind on the last river day began to impact the group in ways that should be no surprise to anyone who has faced an outdoor adventure challenge of any kind in their past. Garden variety fatigue, due to the last hard push down the river, and uncomplicated sadness, about the approaching end of the trip, made its first appearance. Our arrival at Judith Landing signaled the end of the floating portion of our trip, and every father and daughter felt the inevitability of impending separation from a loved one It was definitely more difficult to dig down deep inside and find the same enthusiasm for tearing down the trip that we found on that first day as we were preparing to launch. We survived our brief moment of lethargy, and survived the hummus lunch that followed, and began to make our way back to Coal Banks for a last night together. That’s all good observation, I suppose, and useful information about the trip, to be sure, but still not really the crux of this latest iteration of the father-daughter trip.
Our last night on the river featured another fine meal, and afterward, the true joy of a gratitude circle in an air-conditioned room with no gnats or biting flies. When you’ve endured swarms of gnats flying into your ears, nose, and eyes for several hours, while bathed in uncharacteristic 106 degree temperatures, the simple pleasure of an air-conditioned space with no bugs begins to feel priceless. Our campground hostess who made this possible for us didn’t know it, but she could have named her price for this accommodation. As it was, the cool log room on the river was an unexpected serendipity, offered as an act of kindness, generosity, and consideration for our motley crew. Our circle that night was full of gratitude about the trip, about those who made it possible, and especially about the fathers and daughters who showed up to build a lifetime memory together. There were tears of happiness and crafted expressions of kindness, there was poetry, there were stories that entertained us all, and the mood was joyful. Most every statement was saturated with thoughtfulness. There was also much evidence of a strong basis for new or restored relationship among many in the group. This most fortunate group of paddlers had rediscovered themselves, and their beloved family member, as they found their way down this wonderful, historic river. Lewis and Clark would have been proud. There’s your headline.
Very best regards to you all, Kenny