Sunday, June 16, 2013

rafting with toddlers

Whew.  Finally, it's here.
:: Rafting, in a shell (a big shell):
     *4 days floating the San Juan river in southern Utah (between Sand Island and Mexican Hat)
     *4 kids aged 4 and under (Owen 4, Juniper 3, Sam 2, Hazel 1)
     *4 parents
     *3 boats
     *2 grandparents
     *1 duck, Senior Pato (He's a Happy Meal toy from 20 years ago and is my dad's traveling partner.  Don't ask.)  
^We are in the blue raft: Juniper, Hazel, me, my man.  Also, see those Ancient Pueblo steps carved into the rock?^
^Grey raft with cowboy hats: My sister-in-law, Owen, Sam (not shown; probably asleep on the floor), my husband's brother.^
^Grey raft with sunhats: My step-mom and my dad.^
This was our first "backcountry" type experience with both kids (when Juniper was a baby we did a short backpacking trip).  I have three lists in my journal from this trip.  The first is titled "Juniperisms" (some of those coming soon), the last is "Creatures We Saw" and in between, "Things that Went Wrong."  It's the longest list.  

1) There was my aunt's bad dream, "Involving Hazel and water".  Which, though appreciated, sent me spinning into a vortex of anxiety and internal arguments pin-balling back and forth between protecting our kids and living life, for god's sake.  (In the end, we decided on life with a life-vest and six sets of watchful, adult eyes.)
2) My dad's camper-trailer got a flat as we pulled in to the launch campground.  His spare also had a flat.  Next day, my dad drove to Durango to pick up the rental raft and get his tires fixed.
3) His truck died in Durango.
4) On launch-day, we were late to catch our shuttle.
5) On launch-day, after all vehicles and extra camp gear were gone (shuttled down the road) and I was left alone to tend the children and boats while we waited, Juniper crapped her pants in the only appropriate swimwear we brought.  I couldn't clean her up for half an hour as I was keeping the other kids out of the water and the road and other people's boats.  And by the time I could clean her up, it was the worst poop-mess I've dealt with as a parent (partly due to circumstances: there was an outhouse and a waterpump and a BLM volunteer pacing around who would be none-to-thrilled to see me wash down my poopy kid where everyone else was filling their potable water jugs).
6) My kids had picked up a tiny sniffle the day we left home.  The night before we launched, Hazel turned that "tiny sniffle" into a 100 degree fever and coughed until she puked.
7) In the end, all of us in the blue boat were sick in one form or another.  
8) The first day, my husband's back locked-up.  He was good to row, hold Hazel, and cook.
9) The first day, Juniper crapped her pants two more times while hiking to some ruins.  When we asked her what was going on she said, "I fink I have a spooky ghost in my belly."
10) I barely slept.  Hazel coughed and puked 2 out of 3 nights.  Typically, we were in the boat at naptime and she hated that.  She would cry and cry until she fell asleep in my arms.  On the worst day, she cried until she puked.  That was also the day we couldn't get her to eat or drink.  She was nursing, but puking-up every ounce of milk she drank.
11) Hazel was walking a fine line of hydration which, in the dry, hot, windy, moisture-sucking desert, can turn from okay to emergency in no time.
By the close of the second day, we realized my aunt's bad dream "involving Hazel and water" had nothing to do with that full, muddy river, but the water in her own body.  We took it seriously, watched her carefully, and judged how fast we could get out of there if needed.  By the third day, her puking slowed, she cheered up, and over the course of a morning, my husband got a good handful of blueberries down her gullet and some juice too.
As for Juniper's "spooky ghost": Hazel was going through so few diapers that I was able to put one on Juniper to help keep that spooky ghost under wraps.  (Funny side-note: Juniper is a very imaginative kid and Owen is very literal.  So every time Juniper talked about the spooky ghost in her belly, it would incite an argument from Owen who insisted there was absolutely not a ghost in her belly.  I never knew a bout of diarrhea could be so entertaining.)

:: And yet!  Despite my husband's back, and Juniper's bum and Hazel's body-water, and my sore throat...we had a good time.  It was *great* to be dirty and tent-camping, no roads or vehicles within the radius of our senses.
:: The canyon is littered with the ruins of Ancient Pueblos.  We didn't pack books, so bedtimes were filled with made-up stories about two sisters from ancient times who lived upstream from their cousins in the red-rock cliffs above a great river....
^River House Ruin^
:: We floated.  When the river rounded a bend in the tight canyon Juniper announced, "We're in a hula hoop!"
^Early on my step-mom, who has spent most of her life afraid of water, relaxed enough to sketch from her perch.^

:: We found the perfect place to duck out of a rainstorm.  
The third day we had several sections of small rapids.  The first one we hit hard, Juniper was at the bow and got drenched.  That was the second time I'd ever seen June Bug shiver.   She said, "Mama, my teeth are loose."  
:: We camped.  
^Best campsite EVER with early evening shade and an awesome beach.^

Sand play was endless.
There was beach yoga.
Our girl started feeling better.  
To limit use, the San Juan is a permitted river with a lottery draw.  Thanks to this system, we saw only two other groups of rafters with whom we leap-frogged throughout our trip.  I took note of the cafe umbrella for our next rafting vacation.

We ate well, drank well, and ended evenings with smores.  

I slept sandwiched between these two lovely (albeit dirty) creatures...
:: From lunchsites and campsites, we explored.  
On this evening, we bumped into a herd of wild burros on the Navajo side of the river. We watched them for a while and when they finally all lined up and headed out of the clearing Juniper said, "They're going to preschool!"  Which is what she says about anything that lines up.  
:: On the river, we saw wild turkeys, Canada geese and their fluffy yellow goslings, great blue herons, and the rare desert big horn sheep.
:: The last day, floating toward the aptly-named "Mexican Hat".  
:: Two more nights of trailer-camping and two days of driving and we were home.  We still haven't completely unpacked.
And, Happy Father's Day y'all!  I'm sure lucky to have a dad who goes raft-camping with his grandchildren, not to mention the amazing man with whom I share my life and kids.  Cheers to the dads.  

P.S. To 6512 and Growing Rachel: Yes, you have to crap in a weird device-thing.  (Unless you have a spooky ghost in your belly, in which case I would suggest diapers and doggie bags.)  What to bring: don't bring too much; remember you have to unload and load it all back up everyday.  (We had a gazillion camp chairs we probably didn't need.)  Pack somewhere between car-camping and backpacking, erring on the side of backpacking.  Fill your extra space with beer and fresh fruit and veggies instead.  If you're cooking at all (even with a camp stove) you're required to carry a fire-pan, so you may as well use it!  My in-laws roasted chicken-apple brats over the fire, served with slaw and beans.  But don't *count* on the fire, in the event of a really windy camp (our first night we could hardly stand up straight).  Oh, the volunteer BLM rangers really do check that you have all the required items, so double check that list otherwise you can't launch.  Have fun!  I'm curious to see how much lower the river will be when you go.            


  1. Beautiful pictures, and lovely words. Glad it turned out to be a good trip in the end. I hope to someday have a river adventure like that (mostly).

  2. Why? Why! do such things happen to our children when we attempt to do something epic in nature? ;)

    What extraordinary exposure you're providing for your kiddos though. Inspiring!

    My hubby and I did that trip with a few friends. Two days before leaving I found out I was pregnant with Theo. Between the beauty of the river, this itty-bitty new life inside of me, it was and always will be one of the best times of my life.

    1. Awww! What an incredible experience for you...that lovely river along ancient haunts and the brand new knowledge you held in your belly. How extraordinary. How different our experiences: you waxing poetic and me battling dehydration and the spooky ghost : )

  3. Looks amazing. The only time my daughter seems to get really sick is when we are away on a trip or overseas. Glad you all had a good time despite illness.

  4. The spooky ghost!
    Animals lining up for preschool!
    Your daughter has quite an inventive mind.

    This is the exact stretch we're slated to run in one month (flows permitting). Your post made me excited.

  5. Wow what a trip. Our kids always get sick when we travel, what is that? Sounds like despite the bumps in the road you had an awesome time :)

  6. You are so brave!! Traveling with kids is tough, but doing it on a RIVER? That is pretty impressive. It looks like it all worked out in the end, and what great memories. I can think back to a lot of times where pants-crapping has nearly ruined my day, or at least dirtied a special outfit. In fact, I read this yesterday morning and was going to comment then but my 19 month old came into the room, grunted, and crapped his diaper.

  7. Oh gosh. What a ride! Poor Juniper and that mean ghost (she is a hoot). Glad you made it out with a smile and a happy reflection. What an adventure parenthood is!! X


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