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iding a lawnmower, one lapses into a state of mindfulness. The earmuffs dampen the drone of the Briggs and Stratton engine and slowly there is a separation of body and mind. My foot maintains steady pressure on the hydrostatic pedal and my hands turn the steering wheel in increasingly tighter circles. Meanwhile, my mind drifts to my overflowing bucket list of rivers. Freedom, I remember, came in bursts between school and seasonal jobs. It came at Christmas holidays and spring break—the large chunks of time before something else important began, time when I used to plan my expeditions and go on road trips to far away places. Freedom meant crossing new rivers off my list. Those large chunks of time are gone.

I’ve wanted to paddle a western canyon river for a long time. I’d heard the Green River in Utah could be run in four days. I reasoned that I had time enough to paddle but not plan. I could travel, but it had to be on my schedule—I couldn’t leave at the drop of a hat, after a phone call from a buddy with an open spot on a permit. I had only a narrow six-day window in August. O.A.R.S. has been providing guided whitewater rafting trips for more than 40 years. They’ve won a myriad of travel and tourism awards and are voted best of something by somebody important almost every year. I recognized them from the role they played in the breathtaking IMAX film, Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk. They offered to carry our gear in the rafts, allowing us to paddle our own boats. Most importantly, they had a trip down the Green River through the Gates of Lodore leaving their base camp in Vernal, Utah, on just the right day.

• • • O

.A.R.S. regular clientele, Steve Markle the director of sales and marketing tells me, are everyday folks. They are people with real jobs and busy lives who probably left home with dirty dishes in the sink. O.A.R.S. has taken their share of celebrities down the river, but Markle says most are groups very much like ours. Busy lives aside, Dan and I are the exception. Both of us are raft guides. I was push- ing rubber and flipping rafts when Russell Schubert, our trip leader, was still in grade school. I’d given his pre-trip safety briefing hundreds of times, almost word for word, albeit on a river 2,000 miles away. He didn’t know this of course and I would have been leery about a journalist and his camera man parachuting into one of my trips. Bruce Lavoie is the group’s logistics guy based in Vernal. When I confirmed my booking, he called me up to feel us out. It felt like we were playing a game of go fish. “Have you paddled the Green?” he asked. Go fish. “Have you paddled any canyon runs?” Go fish. “Are you likely to swim?” Now there’s a loaded question. On summer trips down the Green, O.A.R.S. doesn’t run safety kayakers to pick up rafting clients or open boating magazine editors.

• • • I

t is a three-hour drive from Vernal to our put-in at a ranger station above the Gates of Lodore. Out the dusty windows of our minibus is ranch country. Junipers, pinion pines and dry grasses look for moisture in the rocky terrain. It is a landscape once loved by outlaws and then western screenwriters. It was a sort of no man’s land straddling the Wyoming, Colorado and Utah state lines. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid would only need to cross the nearest border to escape pursuing lawmen. Just after we crossed from Utah into Colorado, we stopped at Christie’s Liquor. It was only 8:30 a.m. and Christie didn’t open until 11 on Sundays, except for busloads of whitewater rafters on their way to hideout for a few days on the Green River.


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