Friday, 6/8/01 - Leaving Bozeman
In the morning, I drove into town one last time, parking at Heebs, the local grocery store, to meet with Corinne from Explore magazine, a small, local, monthly entertainment publication. She offered to include excerpts of RVGirl in the paper following an interview with me and including updates over the next month or so.
After she left, I grabbed my digital camera and set out to capture a few last glimpses of town, grabbing a hot dog on the way from Frank's hot dog stand, which turned out to be a popular Spring and Summer fixture on the streets of Bozeman.
I back-tracked on I-90, this time heading East over the pass between Bozeman and Livington, the schizophrenic terrain undecided between green, grassy hills with tufts of sagebrush, thick wooded areas with dark pine, craggy rocky mountains in earthtones and greys. Then we drove into Paradise Valley, a much larger expanse of land surrounded by mountains than Bozeman.
The Livingston/Paradise Valley KOA was situated near the base of mountains and out campsite was spacious and semi-private with a tangle of trees and bush on three sides. The Berts basked in the sun, enjoying their "yard."
On the way into the KOA office to register, I had picked up a brochure for whitewater rafting, something I decided I wanted to do, so I called to find out if I could reserve a space the following day, Saturday. "We don't operate on Saturdays or Sundays yet but if you come right now, we can fit you into the last run of the afternoon," I was told.
So I unhooked everything and got back into the RV, hoping to make the 31 mile drive in less than an hour when the last rafts were launching. The drive along Highway 89 South went through ranchland and farmland, winding into some hills and flanked by mountains. Part of the drive went directly into Gallatin National Forest, with turnoffs for fishing and camping along the way.
Gardiner, the Montana town where the whitewater rafting company was located, could be viewed in almost it's entirety from the elevated highway. As I entered the town, I noticed a rodeo setting up alongside the road. That would be fun to see!
After paying the fee, I pulled on rubber booties and hopped into a light blue van for the ride to the "put-in," the location where the rafts would be put into the water. At the put-in, I was given the option to wear raingear and decided to do so, pulling on a bright blue rain jacket and matching pants with elastic around the ankles. Over that, I was equipped with a lemon-yellow and blue lifejacket which the raft guide tightened around me like a corset, and I struggled to catch my breath. "It has to be tight," he said with a smile as I gasped for air.
I was joinging two families, a mother, father and son from Missouri and a mother, father and son from Austin. Also in the raft, in addition to the guide who looked like he could be your best friend from college, were two guys in shorts and lifejackets, muscular arms and legs red and tan from the sun, wearing dark sunglasses and copping attitude like bouncers at an exclusive club. They were also guides who were along for the ride because the season wasn't busy yet.
Somehow, I ended up volunteering to be a lead paddler along with the man from Austin, and it was our job to watch each other to paddle in unison, then set the pace for the rest of the paddlers behind us. I could feel the muscles in my arms, back and legs straining with effort as I dragged the oar through the water. Several times, we hit mild rapids which lifted the raft so I was paddling air, then dropping us back into the water with an enormous splash, mostly directed at me. By then, I was grateful for the blue raingear, pushing a smile through my grimace as the icy water drenched my head, face and body.
For the most part, the ride was serene, winding down the Yellowstone River past places such as La Duke Spring, a natural hotspring against mustard and red-colored rocks, and the Devil's Slide, a grooved mountain made of orange and fiery red streaked earthen rock called cinnabar.
"We're getting to a swimming hole," our guide announced, pointing to a calm area in the water, "Anyone up for swimming?" Everyone looked around at one another, waiting to see who would go first.
"I'll go in if one of you go in," I teased, referring to the guides.
"I'm in," said the brown-haired guide who had removed his sunglasses, revealing beautiful eyes set into a sun-browned face. He stood in the raft and jumped over the side. Now it was my turn.
"Okay," I said, stood up, held my nose between pinched fingers, and jumped. I had mentally prepared myself for a bracing shock of 45 degree cold water, but felt surprisingly invigorated as I rose to the surface, my blue raingear ballooning around me.
Earlier, the guide had demonstrated how to pull someone into the raft in case they fell into the water - grab them by the shoulders of their lifejacket and drag them in. I swam to the raft's edge, holding on to a thin plastic cord, and waited for someone to pull me in, but none of the passengers did. Then I started to feel the cold water seep into the suit and chill my skin and muscles, and finally the main guide came across the raft and lifted me.
I lay across the lip of the raft, half in, half out, as the guide began to talk to the other passengers. The raingear was filled with water and making movement impossible and the lower half of my body was still submerged.
"Hello!" I called out, "Any chance you can pull me all the way in?"
The guide laughed an apology and dragged me entirely into the raft where my raingear slowly drained of river water and I pulled myself back up to my perch on the bow of the raft. I was alive!
The last set of rapids was at Sleeping Giant and the foamy, choppy water jerked our raft around, up and down with a crash, a short wall of more water coming at us and again, directing mostly at me. "That was the photographer over there," our guide informed us once we made it through the rough waters, pointing to the river bank, "There will be photos of all of you when we get back to the office. We like to take them at Sleeping Giant because we get all kinds of good looks on your faces."
Great. I tried to think back at the faces I made as the last waves splashed me. Those will be attractive.
Back at the office, the digital photographs were rotating like a slideshow on the computer and I picked out a few shots to purchase. They were actually great photos and because I was a lead paddler, they were also good photos of me, most of them with my mouth wide open in a surprised and joyful smile. Or was I gasping for air? Either way, I liked them.
Back at the KOA, I made dinner and stretched my muscles, which were already stiffening and feeling hollow and sore. What a day!