By Derek Farr

We called him Mouse.  He was a rugged old raft guide who had logged enough river miles to circumnavigate the earth. Every morning, as we prepared our rafts, he slathered himself with a special “tanning oil” made from a secret mix of greasy elixirs that smelled like coconut gone bad. When he was done, his skin shimmered in the rising sun. Mouse took great pleasure in being the most tanned raft guide. That prompted him to invent his “tanning” oil that he claimed was SPF -2. But looking at him, it appeared more like cooking oil. His skin looked exhausted like a piece of old leather.  He wasn’t bronze, he was mahogany. We joked that his skin had absorbed enough ultraviolet rays from the sun to power a small city.

I didn’t follow Mouse’s lead, although in my younger years I used sunblock far too infrequently. My approach was less sun, more shade.

On our Main Salmon and Idaho Canyons river trips, the sun is a serious issue. During the summer, a bubble of high pressure builds up over the Pacific Ocean which means we can go days without seeing a single cloud. That translates into wondrously warm temperatures for rafting, but also a lot of sun.

There are two main approaches to dealing with the sun. The first is the young person’s method: apply a bunch of sunscreen. This approach works well, even after getting drenched by river waves, as long as the person remembers to dry off and reapply regularly. Using this method, young people can protect themselves from the sun while simultaneously showing off their slender physiques.

Knowing that our physiques are neither slender nor much to show off, there’s the old person’s method: cover up. Devotees to this approach wear quick-dry, long-sleeve shirts, full-length pants and wide-brimmed hats. This is the method I like to use. Who cares if I look like I’m crossing the Sahara.  My Lawrence-of-Arabia attire is SPF 10,000.

I’ve noticed the threshold for both approaches is somewhere around 40. Those younger than 40 spend more time with skin exposed and those older than 40 spend more time with skin concealed. I’m not going to get into details, but I’m concealing more skin every year.

Regardless of approach, the most important thing is to keep from getting burned. A sunburn is no fun on a six-day raft trip.

For that matter, a sunburned person isn’t very fun on a six-day raft trip either.


Derek started guiding rivers in 1996. He lives in Idaho where he and his wife use every opportunity to experience the natural wonders of that great state.