By Peta Owens-Liston
This past summer on the Yampa River, I was both inspired and humbled. Not just by the forces of the water coursing through Mother Nature’s veins during this record high water year, but by another woman. Roswitha arrived solo. Nobody knew her age, but the more we witnessed her golden attitude (“mosquitoes are small problems”) and her can-do stamina (‘”you bet I’m going on this hike”), the more we wondered just how many years of wisdom had this woman racked up.
I gleaned clues from her stories. She emigrated to America alone at 19, outlived two husbands, now spends months each year at an African orphanage, which she helps support with three part-time jobs. Roswitha almost giggles, when she reminisces about her first time sky-diving at 60, then at 73 and plans to free fall yet again at 80. As the river rustled by, keeping reflections of the towering red cliffs afloat, I took note that this woman was milking life into her twilight years and fully expected it to remain ripe and full for years to come.
“Physically, I find subways in New York City more challenging than Holiday’s river trips.”
As the elder of our newly-formed tribe on the Yampa, Roswitha provided a healthy balance and perspective to our group, quietly modeling a good way to live and appreciate life for all the generations among us, including a gaggle of girls and boys—children and teens. Plus those of us caught up in the web of overly busy lives—now momentarily slowed to the river’s pace, opening up time to watch and listen.
I’ve since learned that Holiday River Expeditions has hosted quite a few guests that would qualify as elders. They come first and foremost for the scenic beauty and nature. Some are experienced campers and hikers, others, like Roswitha, had never camped before. All exercise to stay fit, remaining active on a daily basis. Inevitably, these elders—often grandparents—get their children and grandchildren on the river with them, creating a “trip to treasure for all filled with quality time,” according to one grandparent.
Below are excerpts from conversations with “elders” who’ve been on the water with Holiday River Expeditions.
Richard Klinck (84), he and his wife, Lois (80), recently rafted Westwater Canyon:
We’ve been rafting for 30 years, since shortly after we were married. We’ve gotten old doing the rivers. We’re not intimidated being outdoors—we’re respectful of the river but we don’t fear it. I tell people to expect the chance of a lifetime on a river trip with Holiday but it is all relative to what you like. I wouldn’t recommend starting your first outdoor experience with rafting…
…Being outdoors in nature and on the river gives us a bigger connection and allows us to be in touch with the essence of life— It is something that touches us deep inside, beyond just the thrill of being in on the water. You can’t really explain this to someone unless they have an affinity for nature.
People come up to me on the river and ask me how old I am.
To me age doesn’t have that much to do with it. Age is not limiting unless you want it to be.
Physically, I find subways in New York City more challenging than Holiday’s river trips. These river trips are geared for all levels and the guides know how to accommodate the amount of effort you want to or can put into being on the river. For example, they can help you pitch your tent, your camp site can be the one nearest the raft and kitchen, and they can help you get in and out of the raft. If you’ve ever done camping on your own, this is easier—you’re sitting in chairs around a campfire while the guides cook for you.
…We’ve rafted the Grand Canyon twice, first time in 1967, and used to do a lot of backpacking on our own. Now we’re too old for this so we use a wrangler to take us in and out. It’s hard to explain the beauty you get out of these river trips to someone who has never done it. But I will say, I recently spent a month in Australia traveling y and compared to what I’ve seen in the American West on these river trips, the scenery can’t be beat.
…We’ve seen tremendous improvement in the level of service over the years from river trip outfitters. It is a competitive business now and they understand what they need to do to make people feel good. Most importantly though what they provide is a way to break away from all the demands of life for a while. It really disconnects you from the distractions and you start thinking about the basics—what really matters…We have met people over the years on these trips that we still keep in contact with.
If you have not done a river trip and you are a senior citizen? “Well, It’s about time you do one.”
Roswitha Browne (78) floated the Yampa River:
I never camped before in my life prior to taking Holiday River trips. At first, I didn’t know that you only get a thin sleeping pad. That was a bit hard on the back, so the next time I brought an air mattress and the rest is history.
I don’t feel my years when I’m out there in God’s nature—I love the river…I had never made a river trip happen when I was younger, so a few years back I did a few short river trips in the Carolinas and Alaska. Then I decided I was ready for a multi-day trip and did a six-day trip on Cataract Canyon with Holiday. I was hooked and have gone each year since.
…This year I went alone; all I needed help with was my bag and my tent. The guides were there to help me with whatever I needed. For me it is a chance to enjoy the peace and quiet of nature and the camaraderie of the group…This past river trip made me feel like I belonged more than at any point during all my years here in the United States. Everyone was so kind and made me feel like I was part of the experience.
…I know my limits and I try not to over do it;
this is not always easy to come to terms with. But I work out to keep up my stamina. My attitude toward the things in life I want to experience is—I never say I can’t do something, instead I say, I’ll try it. Unless you try, you just don’t know.
Peta Owens-Liston is a writer and editor with extensive experience in magazine writing and marketing communications writing. Publications she has written for: TIME Magazine, Sports Illustrated for Women, Organic Style, Paddler, Redbook, Via, KUER/NPR affiliate (radio essays), Park City Magazine, Salt Lake City Magazine, The Salt Lake Tribune to mention a few.