The Ramblings of a Colorado River Guide, By Joe Ballent
It is May of 2008, and I walk out of the Salt Lake airport to meet the Holiday Driver known only as Bossi. Bossi is a man shrouded in mystery, and bears a reputation to be feared. In a voice that can only be heard, not described, Bossi introduces himself to me as a ‘fifth year rookie,’ and we begin our drive through a full-blown blizzard to arrive in Green River. My first experience as a Holiday employee is having blocks of bacon thrown at me by our boss and ‘summer dad,’ Tim Gaylord. So begins a journey of epic proportions.
It is a pitch black night, probably in June, and I am driving back from Moab with Leland around midnight. A relentless lightning storm is tearing apart the sky like paper, illuminating the landscape with each brilliant flash. Jagged spears of light and energy sparkle and crack the night violently, only to disappear in a flash of a second, and I find myself thinking maybe the natives had it right all along; somewhere up there in the strata, the Thunderbirds are beating otherworldly demons back down into the depths of the desert, their triumphant cries manifested in bone-shaking thunder that rattles the ground with each echoing boom.
It is June, it is July, it doesn’t matter. It is river time, and the current rocks my boat gently down stream to camp, which is more of a mindset than a place. Boatmen and guests alike trade stories, laughs, and horseshoes. Utter serenity envelopes me as I drift to sleep under the blanket of the milky way, a perfect solitude interrupted only momentarily by the brilliant flash of a shooting star.
It is afternoon later in the summer and our trip returns. A grin sneaks across my face as my friend Kyle, Holiday’s hardest-working and best-looking guide, emerges from the shuttle. I know all kinds of adventures await us, be it camping, freelining, rock climbing, biking to the radio tower, burning quesadillas, warehouse pull-ups, or just tormenting Tim. We work relentlessly, a well-oiled machine, to unpack the trip, compost organic waste, and park boats and trailers. Later we go to Ray’s Tavern, where I discuss life with Noel to the beat of my favorite jukebox tunes. Night finds everyone back at the bunkhouse, swapping trip stories and enjoying each other’s company. Brian plucks the guitar masterfully, a gentle tune the backdrop to a blazing sunset.
It is late and time for bed. Have to be ready for that pack and trip tomorrow; as I lay down, laughter and singing waft through the bunkhouse like a lullaby. I think about how lucky I am to have this spectacular desert as my home, and the chance to share the canyon rivers with others. In the distance thunder rumbles gently. Drifting off to sleep, I smile.
It’s raining on Tavaputs again.