The Sandoval Signpost

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Steep canyon wall border the lower San Juan river where the current

Steep canyon wall border the lower San Juan river where the current
begins to slow as it approaches Lake Powell.

Back to the river

Ty Belknap

May 8—Springtime is river time. What river doesn’t matter. Okay, it’s the San Juan again. We’ve run it so many times that we know every little rapid and riffle by heart. In a year marked by the stress of building a new house, we weren’t looking for adventure, just a quiet, peaceful float and a chance to get back to the things that really matter. I finished the plumbing vents and scheduled the insulators and roofers for when we got back.

Theoretically, the river put-in is only four or five hours away, but we decided to leave early enough to have dinner at a brew pub in Farmington and still make camp near Bluff, Utah, by nightfall. Of course it took an extra couple hours to cram all the gear in our friend’s huge SUV that was supposed to have made things easy.

Just west of San Ysidro the truck conked out completely. An incomprehensible problem was hidden somewhere in electronic Neverland or maybe it was just bad gas. The factory-installed GPS OnStar didn’t work either. After sitting about twenty minutes, the engine started up again and we elected to head back to Bernalillo to resolve the problem.

At Parts Plus, the parts guy guaranteed that nothing in the promising array of gas treatment products would help our problem, and he called in a mobile mechanic. Most of us walked across the road to Milagro for dinner while the SUV owner and a guy named Jesus crawled underneath and struggled to fabricate the special tool needed to remove the fuel filter before sunset.

At 1:00 a.m. just outside of Shiprock, the engine died again ... and again. Guess it wasn’t the fuel filter. We limped into camp after 2:00 a.m. and rolled out sleeping bags under the stars, desperate to grab a few hours sleep before the ordeal of inflating rafts, packing, strapping, and shuttling vehicles for the eighty-four-mile ride downstream. Next morning, the SUV wouldn’t start.

It was well into the hot afternoon before the river finally took us away and everything changed for the better. Our party of thirteen floated away from our problems for six days in five inflatable rafts and two kayaks.

Every night we camp under clear skies beneath a kaleidoscope of cliffs and canyons, eat good meals, party, and play music. I’ve resolved to take it easy when I get back home, to keep things simple, and get back to the river as soon as possible.

It’s now the morning of the fifth day and I can’t remember what all the the stress was about. I had planned to take this time to reflect about my house-building project and maybe write something about it. Nothing comes to mind. Sometimes I wonder how life would have been different if I’d discovered river time earlier. All those years trying to make a living and see what was going on.

River groups come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes you see a group of twenty-somethings looking good in their muscles and bikinis, doing tricks in kayaks, and looking like a beer-commercial fantasy. Then there are energetic families in their thirties, carrying lots of happy little kids.

Mostly, though, groups are made up of middle-aged people like us with floppy hats over graying hair, and sporting baggy clothes over sagging midsections and big smiles on unshaven faces. We probably have a good ten years before we’ll need our kids to take us on their trips as passengers.

May 20—It’s interesting to read these sappy notes now that we’re back with noses to the grindstone. On the final day of the San Juan river trip, we bucked head winds that gusted to fifty miles per hour, blowing us upstream without a constant herculean effort at the oars. The river was so silted up above Lake Powell that navigable channels could only be found near the banks, which were overgrown with nonnative salt cedar and Russian olive. Sometimes we had to get out and push. After packing up at the take-out, some of the group stayed in a hotel, but we drove home with some Albuquerque friends who had to be at work the next day. We arrived at 3:00 a.m.

Now I’m worried that rain will destroy my insulation before the roofers finally show up. Building-material prices go up every day in this building boom. Subcontractors are so busy they won’t even return calls—at least to owner-builders like me. Our house is on the market. Stress reigns supreme. Barb has demanded that this article be written this morning so she can lay out the Signpost, but Old Man River just keeps rolling along.

 

 

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