A River Runner’s Pandemic RX


I got a sore throat Tuesday, by Wednesday I had a cough. Thursday, I decided to stay home. On Friday I went to the doctor. It probably wasn’t the Coronavirus, but our state didn’t have enough tests so…?

That afternoon, aptly on Friday the 13th my wife called, “The Governor closed all the schools for a week. Maybe longer. Please go get groceries!”

My wife and I both teach, so we were facing at least nine days at home with three hungry teenagers.

By the time I reached the grocery store, the parking lot was full, but shelves were starting to get empty. I’d heard jokes about toilet paper for a couple days. But—no joke—there was no toilet paper.

I’m not being flippant when I say my brain went into multi-day rafting mode. Time-wise this was Deso plus a Rogue. With a mental list taking shape in my brain, I pushed my cart down the aisle.

I suspect that most people who take multi-day river trips have a “worst-case-scenario” fantasy. This is not to say that any of us want to face a real “worst-case” situation, but many of us have probably considered what we would do if civilization as we know it crumbled. Who hasn’t stopped at Buck Skin Bill’s on the Main Salmon and thought, “Yeah, I could wait out the end of the world here…” (As long as the freezer held out with an unlimited supply of ice cream bars.)

Our rafts, rolled up in the garage or basement, serve as a final insurance policy. These crafts are uniquely capable of hauling people and gear into our country’s most inaccessible areas, canyons, valley and gorges all but shut off from other access. A large raft can carry well over a ton of people and gear and still run rapids and bounce off of rocks that would destroy another vessel.

Most of us have detailed maps (mental and actual) of various river canyons. We know where the best camps are, where to find an abandoned cabin, where to climb to a cave in the cliffs, where to get water at a sparkling stream that runs into the main river, where to catch fish, and where roads or trails can take us into or out of the canyon.

We also have the gear to let us live in a canyon for an extended time. Besides the boat to get us into the canyon, we have tarps, and tents for shelter and sleeping bags for warmth. For protection—from rapids…rain—we have drysuits and splash jackets, and we have warm camp clothes for comfort.

We have way too many containers for water, we have dry boxes and coolers for food, full kitchens for food prep, stoves, fire pans, and grills for cooking. Tables and chairs to make a homey camp. We have solar lights and solar chargers. We have toilet systems. And nobody, repeat nobody, knows how to make toilet paper last like river people.

We have comprehensive first aid kits for emergencies. Many of us have some medical training (just enough to be dangerous). And when the ice runs out, and the canned food runs low, we have fishing gear, and we have our river knives. A book of edible plants, a few seeds from the garden center and we are out of here…

My fantasy ended in the frozen food section. My freezer at home is only so large, and I wondered how many frozen pizzas I could fit. Fellow shoppers offered small slightly embarrassed smiles as we passed in the aisle. Most of them carried small baskets. They were not loading up large carts. Yes, the toilet paper was gone, but everything else was stocked—for now.

‘Relax,’ I told myself, civilization was not ending. The cooperation of the whole world in protecting our most vulnerable members reminded me of what I already know about the kindness of strangers. When you really need them, you can depend on them. Not surprisingly, I’ve learned this on river trips with strangers. People, even strangers, help each other.

Nonetheless, all that rafting gear and the knowledge for how to use it is not for naught. In many ways having rafting as a hobby makes you an unintended “prepper.” But not in the “bury-a- school-bus-full-of-Slim-Jims-in-your-back-yard-sort-of-way.”  It makes you a “prepper” in the “nobody-knows-what-might-happen-sort-of-way.” It gives you the mentality and the gear to thrive in adverse situations. After all, adversity and unpredictability are what you do for fun.

The kids are at home—at least—another week, and I’ve told them that we will be going about our lives on “river time.”  Good food and laughter will become the focus of the coming days. If the snow melts, we might even get out the Bocce Balls. I hope you and your family do the same.

So when we get through this together by being separate and the world goes back to normal, a case of Corona will once again be 24 beers and all the gear that you double-checked or recently bought will be ready to go for your regularly scheduled river trips. Consider the coming weeks as a series of layover days or a dry run for the rafting season.

But please…use the toilet paper sparingly.