A surfing safari

We surveyed the contents of the truck: two chainsaws; rope; hand saws; three pairs of waders; booties; water; sunscreen; a cooler; and a phone, for photographic proof or to call 911.

“Does anyone want a beer?” The Instigator asked, reaching for the cooler.   (*Real names will not be used here to protect the innocent. And the guilty.)

Now, I’m no teetotaler or safety nazi, but the combination of chainsaws and the icy river seemed a dangerous enough mix without adding alcohol. “How about we save them for later,” I suggested as Accomplice No. 2 nodded in agreement. Thank god. See, there is an unspoken rule amongst this longstanding trio that the odd woman out automatically gets overruled. And the last thing I wanted to do on a Sunday morning was slam a beer before handling potentially jugular-severing power tools on slippery river rock.

With beers resting on ice for what would hopefully be our momentous return, we silently set out across the bridge and down to the river, trying not to look conspicuous. In these situations, it is best not to make eye contact and, when all else fails, lie one’s ass off. As a result, we decided lest anyone question our activities, that we were from the “Durango River Restoration” group – also known as “DRR.” In addition to not being entirely untrue, it had a nice, official ring. The chainsaws helped lend cred; who was going to argue with that?

And speaking of arguing, any attempt to do so with this crew, or otherwise try to weasel out of said activities with excuses about family, work or being too hungover, was completely out of the question. 

We all know the drill. Someone concocts a crazy, half-baked plan that may or may not involve loss of limb or life. Typically, the plan hatching occurs over cocktails, which only help grease the skids of poor judgement. Unfortunately, by the time one sobers up and that old friend, drinker’s remorse, sets in, it is too late. Resistance is futile and will only land you a ration of heckling and scorn.

As a result, you blindly follow along, hoping no one ends up in the police blotter or the E.R. And you pray you don’t run into anybody you know.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that we were doing anything bad, or even illegal for that matter. It’s just not the type of behavior you’d expect from most sensible, mature adults. But then again, this was our river recreation we were talking about. And in Durango, we take our fun very seriously.

In this case, erratic flooding had caused an inordinate amount of wood to stockpile in the eddy of our favorite surf wave. Though far from a secret, the wave attracted a sort of, shall we say, old school clientele. Far from the maw and peering, carnivorous eyes of the play park, it was a quiet spot where the less radical among us could loosen the white-knuckled death grip on our paddle and surf to our timid hearts’ content. There was seldom a waiting line in the eddy, and if there was, chances are it was made up of old paddling friends.

But now, that eddy was choked with a logjam of trees, fence posts and various river flotsam and jetsam. There was no way to get back up the wave without an inconvenient and potentially sketchy slog up and over the menacing strainer.

Yes, chances that one would actually swim into the strainer were slim – but if we can play the safety card here, too, so be it. Plus, there’s a reason kayakers are known as the barnacles of the river world. Most are, shall we say, a leisurely lot. The less effort we have to expend in the pursuit of fun, the better.

So, the goal was simple: spend a few hours removing the wood now or suffer an eternity stumbling up and over it.

Like a massive game of driftwood pick-up sticks, we set to work. Before long, we had devised a system whereby two precariously stood on the massive pile while the other, in waders, shepherded the freed wood back into the current.

There was just one small problem: a fly fisherman had set up camp directly below our quasi logging operation. At first, he seemed blissfully unawares of the steadily growing parade of debris. But as the pace began growing in frequency and size, we thought we detected a stink eye or two.

We tried working faster, but that only compounded the situation until we looked up to see him marching in our direction.

As the designated worrier and non-confrontationalist, I panicked.

That’s when Accomplice No. 2 – a well-seasoned veteran of dealing with middle schoolers – stepped in. “We’re with the Durango River Restoration group,” she informed him, with a smile and still-smoking Stihl.

By now, we were in the thick of it, taking turns making cuts on a massive cottonwood trunk. It was a two-foot wide beast with a forked end perfectly wedged between boulders – the root of all evil in that eddy quagmire.

As luck would have it, the angler was less concerned with our shenanigans than finding his happy place. He nodded, as if he vaguely recognized the name of our group, and moved on. With him at a safe distance, work resumed in earnest, as the sweet buzz of chainsaw and sawdust once again filled the air.

With a few strategic cuts and a herculean display of strength, at last we heaved the monster off its perch and into the flow, destined for its new home, likely at the bottom of Lake Powell.

It was four hours when everything was said and done – and no muscle went unused in the covert rescue operation.

And as we drank those cold victory beers, oblivious to the crippling pain we would feel the following morning, we couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride. Not just because no one was injured in the process, or that the whole thing went down with little incident. But rather, because it was good to know when it came to insurmountable obstacles in the river of life, there was nothing three chicks with chainsaws couldn’t overcome.

– Missy Votel