Day 8. Becoming “Bronco”

Waking up in Kate and Bill’s (aka “Bronco”) beautiful house, I am feeling a deep calm. Ever since I have stepped into this house last night, I have begun to feel not only welcome, but “home” somehow. Kate and Bill are experienced and legendary river runners, whose contact I got through a mutual friend. They live in the sweet little town of Mesa, in western Colorado. When I called Kate a few days ago, to ask if I could meet them to talk about their river experiences, she immediately invited me to come and stay at their house. So last night, after my encounter with Mark at the gas station, Bill had picked me up and brought me here to their home, which they share with their dogs Emma and TR.

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I get a ride into Grand Junction with Kate in the morning. She is a professor at the University there and teaches English, one focus being ancient Greek literature. But she also teaches classes on the river and is a ski-instructor here on the weekends.

At the campus I meet Kyle, from the Grand Junction Tourism Agency. He has offered to take me up to Colorado National Monument, where we will do a hike into No Thoroughfare Canyon. Kyle seems shy at first, but throughout the day we get to know each other a little better and I am grateful to have him as a guide, while stepping into the unknown territory of these high desert lands for the first time.

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We reach the trailhead with perfect weather and start a moderate hike into the valley. The orange colors of the steep flattop mountains are impressive and looking at some of their surfaces my fingers start to itch for climbing.

The deeper we get into the Canyon, the quieter it seems. Even the colors, all sorts of light browns, beige, and many shades of pale off-green, seem quiet. We don’t talk much, we both really enjoy the silence. There is no one else out here, but us. A couple of miles into the Canyon we find a magic frozen waterfall, that drops a massive cliff. Climbing up the side of it we reach its top, with a spectacular view over the valley. Standing on the top of the frozen waterfall feels surreal somehow, as if I don’t belong here. It reminds me of standing on a peak. Lost somehow, yet feeling a strong connection to the earth below my feet.

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The trail is a faint, and we bushwhack a bit further, where some deer are scared away by out presence. I silently apologize, this is obviously their territory, not mine. I finally get an idea of wilderness in the desert and I am already beginning to like it.

Hiking here is very different from the Alps, obviously. The challenges lie mostly not within tackling large amounts of up- or downhill hiking, but more in the navigational skills needed and in the endurance for long long days. Although I do love the altitude, I am feeling that there is a chance I will fall for this kind of travel.

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After the hike Kyle takes me on a scenic drive (a common mode of travel here) through the National Monument. The street rides high up on the flat tops, granting incredible views down the sheer cliffs and into the abyss of the Canyons below. 

I receive a call full of good-news from Zach and Co at Kokopelli Packraft. They have decided to come down here for the weekend to join me on my first section on the river, below Grand Junction. It is great to know I won’t be spending my first boat days by myself, as I don’t feel so confident with regards to moving water just yet. But most of all, I look forward to reuniting with my Kokopelli crew for some days.

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When I get “home” to Mesa, I am greeted by the energetic young Labrador “T.R.” (for “trouble” or “tootsie roll” or whatever), and we play in TR style (wild), while Emma, the other dog and an old elegant lady, watches us as if we are crazy.

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At dinner, Bill and Kate tell me some of their stories of the river and after talking about how important it is to respect the river and how impossible or unnatural it would be, wanting to “conquer” any of it, I learn the story how Bill “Bronco” has received his river nickname.

Heading towards a massive rapid called Bronco on a commercial trip one day way back when, Bill told the three tough guys on his boat, that they might want to “hold on for this one”. They replied “we will ride this one like an e-ticket at Disneyland”. When Bill asked what they meant, they said “With our hands in the air!” and they stood up to high-five each other. You don’t say that to a boat man, especially as it shows no respect for the river. So Jeff aims right for the middle of the rapid and the Dorie (a wooden boat) stands up tall, ejecting the two rear guys back into the river and the frontman propelling straight up in the air. When Bill comes out of the rapid at the other end, his colleague points to him and yells “That IS Bronco!”

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