San Juan Jitters click here to read or make an observation about this  article
By Joe Leinweber - Fredericksburg, Texas - USA

Wide eyes, sweaty palms, and uneasy ankles. Symptoms of everyday life for many people, just measured in different degrees. When a diver climbs step after step up to the top it is almost certain that every one of those steps is accompanied by a deep breath. With his foot on the last step looking down to pull himself up to the very top the diver is overcome with a warm sense of tranquility. This tranquility is soon struck in half by fear of the height he is at when the diver’s eyes focus on what is presented in front of him now. The diver tries to numb the senses by relating the situation to something humorous such as walking the plank in a pirate movie. This only works for a few seconds because every ounce of concentration is needed. Poise counts for points so even less energy can be focused on keeping calm as the diver takes slow yet graceful steps toward the end of the board. One last deep breath and that is it as the initial jump is taken to provide bounce for the board. There is a certain amount of skill that goes into a sport such as this but the calming of senses and nurtured breathing are practiced amongst everyone everywhere.

Let’s say that this diver and I were standing next to each other when I was staring down in awe at the San Juan River at Goosenecks State Park in Utah. Even if we were completely different people from obscure walks of life we could most likely both relate to each other on similar situations.

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As the sun set and the canyon walls shaded the river, a sense of uneasiness came over me.

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As the sun set and the canyon walls shaded the river, a sense of uneasiness came over me. Yeah, I was scared and never had I done anything like this before. I knew that it would only be a short time before I had to suck it up and face the fears that had been presented before me. As I turned my back on the overwhelming yet beautiful sight I realized that I was what seemed like a million miles from home and I had no shoulder to lean on.

My legs were shaky, I couldn’t hold a bowl of cereal in my hands

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The next morning came quick and it came with cold weather for June. We all know how great cold weather is for facing a challenge. Yeah right, My legs were shaky, I couldn’t hold a bowl of cereal in my hands and it was still eight hours until we were to put the boats in the water. A fleece jacket and a cup of coffee later I was not as cold but still overcoming my anxiety attack from the night before.

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We camped at the Sand Island put in for the San Juan river.

We camped at the Sand Island put in for the San Juan river. It was not even where we were to put the boats in so I guess it was a sneak preview to the feature presentation. The river flow was smooth but swift. Guidebooks for the river preached not to be fooled by the easiness of the river at Sand Island and I wasn’t…..I was intimidated.

At this point I knew there was no more delaying the inevitable and that it was time to get to work.

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A short drive to the town of Mexican Hat brought us to our primary destination for the boating trip. The vessels were unloaded along with necessary gear for completing the 6 day trip and most of the cars were driven to Clay Hills Crossing which was to be the final destination point for the trip down the river. It was only a matter of time now as we all sat around waiting for one truck to come back with all the drivers. It seemed as though that truck coming back was a sigh of relief for the other 14 people alongside me on the trip but I felt a little differently. Waiting for the truck was not hard because I knew they would be gone for a good 4 hours but as soon as it rolled down the dusty road that feeling of anxiousness filled throughout my entire body leaving me more uneasy than I had felt the entire trip. At this point I knew there was no more delaying the inevitable and that it was time to get to work.

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I felt a hint of reassurance as I remembered that I was in one of the wooden boats with what seemed like good stability

Everyone quickly jumped up and started carrying boats over to the riverside. What were these people doing, I thought. They were actually hurrying to get into the rushing river. I always try to face up to whatever is ailing me so there was nothing to do except follow the rest. It was hard not to when they were all asking me to help them anyway. The boats were halfway in the water and I knew it was time so everyone gave one last nod of approval to each other and we set forth in tandem canoes, single canoes, and two wooden homemade boats. I felt a hint of reassurance as I remembered that I was in one of the wooden boats with what seemed like good stability but it was soon shot down when a father son duo in our group turned sideways in their canoe and ran into the back of my Dad and I. Next, the duo’s canoe capsized and shortly afterwards the first rapid on the river followed and everyone was a little shaken up after the first 15 minutes of being on the river. Seeing boater’s frantically bailing water out of their boats and a soaked father son duo made me see the same uncertainty in all my fellow river runners and soon the head count was at 13.

A select few capsized their canoes and one or two had to jump out in order to deal with the problem.

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After a little excitement everyone cast off once again, cutting their losses and realizing that there was more to this than just floating the river. The first day went by without any more mishaps and we woke the next day feeling a bit more certain of our ability to maintain. The next few days were filled with lots of sun and water. By the third day anyone wearing sandals full time on the river had strap lines plastered across their feet. A select few capsized their canoes and one or two had to jump out in order to deal with the problem. Dirt under our fingernails mixed with sand left a gritty taste to every bit of food we ate but all the paddling and carrying gear made the food taste just fine. After many rapids, large and small, we only carried boats around one whitewater frenzy. The rubber rafts of boaters not in our group had no trouble bouncing off rocks and plowing over standing waves but we were a little more cautious. After several small rapids after our portage around Government rapid the water seemed to slow down and grow shallow. Paddling in such a large, swift river, it is quite a sigh of relief to be touching the riverbed with your paddle. As the river calmed down, so did everyone’s emotions. After the impending danger was presumably over, everyone in the group laughed and joked a little more.

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The river on one side, a pool on the other and another canyon to hike and explore behind the campsite.

We camped at nice spot on the fourth night with a great canyon hike. The entire group knew that the end was near and calm waters were all that lay ahead. The fifth day we paddled for about 8 miles and stopped at the most scenic campsite yet. The river on one side, a pool on the other and another canyon to hike and explore behind the campsite. Several in the group used their boats to paddle across the pool to get to the canyon hike which made the campsite worthwhile as far as I was concerned. Everyone ate dinner, had their coffee and sat around and talked until the sun went down. Some even forget to put their tents up until it was almost completely dark.

The challenge was behind us and the road to showers, ice cold drinks, and restaurant food lay ahead. Oh yeah, and the road to indoor plumbing.

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The sixth and final day of our trip we awoke at first light and got everything packed up for the last time. The challenge was behind us and the road to showers, ice cold drinks, and restaurant food lay ahead. Oh yeah, and the road to indoor plumbing. We paddled nearly eight miles in the calm shallow water taking in every last bit of the beautiful canyon scenery. As the canyon slowly declined over the miles, we reached an open spot on either side with only a red mesa in front of us. Soon after there was a sign alerting the group of the takeout point and another sign warning of a dangerous waterfall ahead. Even if anyone wanted to go further, it was completely out of the question.

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Everyone pulled their vessels out of the water with a smile on their face and a sense of accomplishment.

Everyone pulled their vessels out of the water with a smile on their face and a sense of accomplishment. It was an unforgettable experience and a great time that I think everyone who doesn’t have aquaphobia should do. Although the last day and a half was very subtle, the crew finally felt safe once the boats were loaded and everyone was in their cars on the way home. The diver and I can now discuss how we overcame our fears and about challenges to come.