From: fieldnotes.livingexposed.com/paddling-through-the-gila-box-national-conservation-area-arizona/

The Creation of a Monster

Four people, three inflatable boats, and food and equipment for three nights out = full load. To make matters worse, two out of the three boats were miserable candidates for carrying much more of anything than their paddler.

The only workable solution was to load all of the gear onto the one pontoon-style boat, leaving the kayaks free and light. Of course, the addition of that extra person – also on the tank – sank the thing so low in the water that it was starting to look that some of us were signing up for a very long, wet, walk.

Once on the water, the kayaks shot forward like thoroughbreds out of a starting gate, gamely skimming across the sandy shallows, dancing across the oh-so-modest rapids, casting their pilot into an immediate and glorious state of rapturous watery delight.

For the two unlucky souls stuck atop WaterPig, it was another story entirely.

Pull, Pull, Pull, Spin

The rudder is an amazing invention. We didn't have one. WaterPig – front-loaded and fickle – took full advantage of that fact. The more power put down, the more control conceded. The best thing you could do was gamely perch atop this beast, and make cool suggestions regarding choice of channel or routes through rapids.

Riding the nose of WaterPig was an experience of sublime variety. Not only did you surrender any trace of control, you also personally bore the full brunt of the river's creativity. Namely, this coincides with the appearance of five (apparently) interrelated elements:

a steepening of the gradient descended
a general narrowing of the riverbed
a noticeable rise in WaterPig's rate of movement
a more severe turn than typically encountered
over-enthusiastic, low-hanging, vegetation (aka branches)

So Close But Yet So Far

The final morning it happened. Abuzz with the overall success of our little expedition, Susie and I clamored aboard WaterPig for a final installment of fun. Out of the gate we chugged, and things were going far, far, far too well.

We “shot” a little rapid, deftly maneuvering our horrific bulk downstream (admitting that by this point we had, rather handily, eliminated a healthy 30 lbs of foodstuffs from the original gross weight). Like pilots on a flightpath we cagily stuck to the deepest part of the river, avoiding the disgrace of a dismount and subsequent pushfest with the listing pile of conspicuous consumption.

It was then that we happened upon a real-life rapid (the others elementary by comparison). The river served up a nasty narrow section, with a big old jagged boulder protruding right up in the middle, stinking things up royally for wide load.

Yet cheered on by false confidence we blazed in, promptly caught a pontoon on some submerged rocks at the lip of the churning descent, turned awkwardly sideways only in time to free ourselves, and shortly thereafter broadsided the boulder with certainly no lack of momentum.

It was a real neat little setup, and it almost immediately transformed WaterPig into a giant pack-laden mousetrap, ejecting its tenants and flipping totally upside down with real gusto. Facedown in the water, first thing in the morning, I staggered to my feet in the rushing rapids (oh yes, just a few feet deep, only adds to the achievement, really), and conceded that WaterPig was a wild beast not to be tamed.

The Glorious Gila

We drifted on downstream, found the sun, warmed up, and merrily battered on through more low-hanging brush with both aplomb and style (“Trees, trees!!!” see last scene of video). That afternoon, back at the car and out of the water, we faced north, east, south and west, in turn, tipping our hats to all the world's “greater” waterways even as we parted ways with our most recent host.

It's all there on the good old Gila.

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