The Things We Forget


In 2021, I predict that I will forget something very important for a rafting trip. I will probably forget a lot of other important stuff, too, but I will DEFINITELY forget some piece of gear or a crucial ingredient for a meal—or my pants—on a rafting trip at least once. Odds are good that you will forget something, too.

There’s the list, of course. That manuscript of itemized rafting gear which tells you absolutely everything you might need or want on a trip, be it one, three, or ten days long. It certainly helps. Maybe you printed it off last year. Maybe you’ve written your own. Maybe you’ve even laminated it.

Maybe you check it once, throw in the overlooked items and check again. Maybe you’re that one perfect boater who reads the list once and packs so methodically nothing is forgotten. Maybe you like the list because it lets you say things like, “See, babe, we DO need to buy a [fill in the blank].” But even perfection can be marred by last minute additions to the crew, menu substitutions, botched shuttle plans, and this disastrous thing called… life. (God help you if you tried to pack for the river in 2020).

Somehow, despite what that one guy on the rafting forum promised, the list didn’t solve all your packing problems. You’re an hour away from home when the image of your river hat sitting forlornly on the kitchen counter assaults your memory like a mental crotch kick. Dammit, you love that hat.

We could all stress about this reality. We could start to spend our emotional energy on worrying exactly how disappointed everyone will be with us if we forget [that thing]. We could picture the joy lost from the omission of a single can-opener. We could stay up well past our bedtimes re-sorting gear and memorizing that list. And let’s be honest, we’ll probably do that no matter what.

But there is a chance that forgetting stuff isn’t actually bad.

In fact, I would argue that forgetting stuff is an essential life skill. We thrive in spite of forgetting, or sometimes because of it, and we are infinitely durable, resourceful, adaptable and supportive of our community. If we did everything right all the time, if we remembered every single item, then we’d never have a chance to improvise, to fall back on the creative problem solving of the whole group, to beg for the generosity of complete strangers. To learn humility (over and over and over again). More importantly, if we didn’t make mistakes, we wouldn’t have stories! It may not have been funny then, but it sure as hell is now.

If you’ve really never forgotten anything important, you should make it your goal to do so at least once. Forgetting things teaches us far more than doing it all perfectly.

If forgetting stuff sounds like something you want to try this year, here is a list of some things I can personally recommend trying to forget at least one time in your boating career.

Sleeping Pads
These are a great starter item to forget because only your comfort is at stake. As a rafting community, we’re willing to spend a lot on the padding to go under our unconscious bodies, but every trip is still possible without them. Maybe it will force you to sleep on your raft like you’ve always said you’d do. Will you get a good night’s sleep the whole time? Probably not. Will you still get to spend all your time in the place you love the most? Yup. Go ahead and give it a try if you’re ready to forget something.

Bonus challenge: Pack your sleeping pads for the trip, but leave them under the seats of your vehicle after running shuttle.

Lighters or Matches
This is a sure-fire, no fire way to make a trip totally unique. Without a fire, each night allows for stargazing and earlier bedtimes. Without hot food, communal bonding looks a lot different. Dishes are easier, tempers are shorter. Guaranteed to make someone attempt to build a firebow which, with the growing popularity of shows like ‘Alone,’ will definitely help your street cred for future outdoor social gatherings. On the other hand, maybe your group will learn that you really can start a fire by striking two rocks against each other exactly 584 times next to really dry pine needles. Just don’t plan to forget this item during the rainy season.

Can Opener
Another low-consequence, high-frustration challenge item with a good opportunity for creative problem-solving, and this one comes with only a small potential for bodily harm. Less and less river meals involve cans these days, but it can still be a great way to really test yourself and group mates right at the time when blood sugars are the lowest. Lacking can openers opens the way to learning how to ‘cowboy up’ a little more. Have you ever tried to use a bowie knife to open that can for example? It can be done. It can also cost an occasional digit. Amputation aside, the worst that can happen is you serve Chili Beans sans beans or dish out some childhood nostalgia—butter noodles—ainstead of Spaghetti with Marinara.

One Whole Meal
Do you shorten the trip? Or fast and take the chance to connect more deeply with nature? Consider carefully weighing into account any trip members who you know are prone to get hangry. Maybe you get creative and make two meals from one. I don’t know about your river trips, but we always have leftovers. Smorgasbord anyone?

This is an easy one to forget. It can be quite dangerous, but also exciting. You have the spectacular opportunity to feel as though you are the first one down this stretch of river. Channel your inner JWP (John Wesley Powell) as you peer cautiously around each bend. Take a chance on randomly picking a camp at the put-in if you must, knowing that you may have to adapt, or use it as an opportunity to strike up a conversation with new boating friends when you ask another group for a recommendation.

Pro tip: Without a map, it’s a good idea to stay center current as much as possible in order to react quickly to unforeseen challenges and be sure your ferry angle is rock solid for that hail-Mary lateral move.

I cannot recommend forgetting this one enough. The river is a different place sober. Suddenly, all those side hikes you’ve always meant to do seem a lot more doable. Cliff jumping becomes good, clean, fun, instead of a panicked near-drowning incident. There will be at least one person on your trip who will never forgive you for forgetting this, however, so be sure that you have a few expendable relationships.

Pro-tip: Humility can be a bonus side lesson from this particular forgotten item, as it allows for all members of the group to beg shamelessly from other river goers.

This is the item to plan to forget for the first-time forgetter because you can do it in part or whole. Let’s look at the benefits of each. Forgetting the whole tent is a ready-made, lifetime-level story, and any re-telling will always include heavily loaded pronouns. For example: “Hey, remember that time YOU forgot the tent when we did the Main?” You’ll find yourselves either blissfully remembering sleeping under the stars, or have an exact count of rainy nights and mosquito bites. Get ready to get in touch with your inner MacGyver as you try to transform the extra tarp and all three bowlines into a habitable experience every night with piles of rocks, convenient tree branches and plenty of swear words.

Forgetting only part of the tent is much like the full-tent-forget move but happens a great deal more often. SOMEONE (again, the pronoun here is crucial) forgot to properly repack the tent and there goes either the fly, the poles, the tent itself or perhaps just the stakes. It can be done after any river camp, so if you want to forget something mid-trip, you still can! Now you get a chance to make that memory with a bit less heavy lifting.

Forgetting your car keys gives you the bitter-sweet—literally—opportunity to sit in someone else’s car with far too many stinky people after a long trip while they convey you to the nearest town or spot for cell reception. Planning to forget your keys usually involves some extra savings as locksmiths are expensive and don’t usually like to be called out to the middle of nowhere. Beyond that, however, forgetting the keys is a great lesson in patience as the takeout day will be much, much longer than previously anticipated.

This one represents all those gateway items that will actively prevent you from launching. The benefits to forgetting something like the oars (or permit, or PFD, or boat or river toilet, etc), is that you get to start out with your biggest challenge right away, but it’s an advanced-level move. There in the sun with all the ramp stress and the urge to be on the way already, you’ll have to wrangle all your problem-solving prowess in front of a bunch of people you may not even know yet!

This kind of gateway item is a heavy hitter, and only the most resourceful and generous groups can afford to manage it. Someone is going to have to drive a long way, share a lot of space, get very lucky, or just go home. I do not recommend planning to forget one of these for your first time. In retrospect, I do not recommend forgetting these ever.

The World
This is the only must-forget item for every river trip. Planning to forget that the rest of the world exists while you float through canyons and have adventures with friends is the best way to gain a totally new perspective on the inevitable challenges of your off-river reality. If you don’t forget it, you’re missing the whole point.

To enter a new year, especially one with so much to make up for, it can be easy to set the bar impossibly high. Every trip has to be enough fun, enough adventure, and enough challenge to wash away the bitter taste of 2020. But what if we lowered the bar just a little. What if, as we plan our season of river adventures, we added just a little dash of ‘meh’ to every grand vision of how it ‘should’ go? Haven’t we learned how much we can cope with? Why not plan to forget something this year and see just how much you can do without?