Farewell to hypalon

I was head over heels the moment that rubber girl appeared. Granted, she was a little bulbous around the middle and sported a stretch mark or two (too much time in storage), but for me, it was love at first pump. She was, after all, a newer model, especially durable and capable of withstanding all the drops, bumps and scrapes I could dish out. One swipe of the card was all it took to consummate the relationship, and through the last three years we ventured – me seated in her lap – on many a moonlit cruise down the Southwest’s various streams and tributaries.

I’m sure some of the other gents (and ladies) in the audience can relate to my passionate affair. River rafts, and especially nice rafts, can really tug on the heartstrings. Those hypalon beauties can force the lovestruck on ludicrous journeys, into odd weather and through desperate situations with only lukewarm canned suds for security.

My wife, and first love, aptly tagged my disorder, calling it boat lust – not to be confused with bike fever or the more prolific disease, gear gorging. And her diagnosis had been spot on. Together, these ailments have crippled the family bankroll, squandering any potential savings/college fund/golden years parachute we might have had. But gear is god in this corner of the world, and I’ve never been afraid to worship at the altar. Once I’m laid to rest, my daughter Skyler will pedal and paddle off in high style.

But back to the rubber girl. That self-bailer was my second piece of rubber, replacing the Sands family’s first barge – an old bucket boat – a dated, giant floater and my first foray in the world of the raft. It had been a gift, sporting the patches and what I’ll politely call “age spots” of a hand-me-down. Many a passerby oohed, aahed and then chuckled under his breath as he feasted his eyes the relic. But I knew better. That “old gray mare” had survived more than one trip through Lava Falls and was gifted a name as a reward.

The raft’s previous owner christened the boat “Chinook” and took his love affair everywhere from the wild drops of Idaho to the big waters of the Big Ditch. In honor of his vessel, he welded the name in dark black letters onto her bow, a move that made me eternally grateful (that spot, and that spot alone, was virtually immune to puncture). Through dry, wet and in-between seasons, I rowed the ageless Chinook all around the Southwest. And on those trips something (other than the errant sticky patch) stuck.

The moment we picked up our shiny blue boat, the Sands family immediately embarked on a search for a name. Always the romantics, my girls picked nature names for the raft, asking that we baptize the boat Blue Sky, Blue Crane or River Mystic. I had a slightly more practical view of the river trip and of the self-bailer. Doing my best curmudgeon, I tossed out Blue Beard and Blue Balls as offers. With

all the options on the table, we went the rounds, playing the name game and vying for honors over the course of several town runs. Eventually we stalemated and settled on not settling. The new boat attained orphan status, mainly going nameless, though she was called Oprah on more than one occasion.

Name or no name, Blue Oprah took us to some pretty remarkable places during the last three river seasons, opening the door to many forgotten corners of the Colorado Plateau. Aboard the vessel, we explored the lost sandstone meanders of the Dolores. The boat took us far from pavement and down through the stretches of the lower San Juan, where it periodically dropped us at slot canyons, rock pouroffs and the nether regions of Grand Gulch. The boat also facilitated such adventures as dumping three mothers into the maw of Corner Pocket on Mother’s Day. And she blew the opening whistle on some of the finest desert bocce and enabled many a tequila fueled bonfire far from law enforcement’s reach.

Alas, Sky Balls recently met her match far from the river in a different set of circumstances. A terminal drop (in automotive value) hit the family not long ago, forcing a little liquidation of the personal treasure trove. As it happened, my beloved blue, the object of all of that boat lust, became my personal stimulus plan.

And so it was that I parted with the raft, just as the pulse of the Animas was starting and the season had been announced on the Dolores. And I shed a muddy tear as I heeded the higher automotive call and sold the boat on down the river and into new hands.

Following that most desperate of moments, an old friend came calling and eased my river pain. Boat lust – being a seasonal epidemic – is never far off and especially virulent when the river is thumping.

Between you and me (please don’t tell my wife), I am currently courting a new craft. We’ve had a couple of “chance” encounters this rubber gal and me. As a teaser, I’ll say that she’s a bright yellow baby that’s beyond sea worthy and proven to be mother friendly.

And someday, if I play my cards right, Yellow Beard (or Bearded Oprah?) just might find her way into my boat barn. And we’ll saddle up that young mare and once again journey into the far flung corners of the West. Now if I can just find a buyer for the family truckster.

– Will Sands



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January 25, 2024
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January 26, 2024
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January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows