The River Green
Dinosaur National Monument, Utah
It is your first month as a seasonal National Park Service Ranger and you have been looking forward to meeting Park Service Boys. It’s why you applied for the job. There are other reasons why you applied for the job, like career changes and that sort of thing, but your vision of partying the entire summer with twenty-something boys (although you left the twenty-something bracket a year or two ago) was decidedly a job perk.
However, in your remote location and small division, you realize your pickings are slim. In fact, there are no pickings in a thirty mile radius (Unless you’re Mormon. Which you’re not.) You persevere, in hopes of meeting Park Service boys in other divisions of your park. If need be, you’re determined to visit all National Parks and Monuments within a day’s drive.
After a few weeks, you begin to hear rumors; rumors that all rangers will have the opportunity for a river trip. It’s so that you could see the entire park, better answer visitor questions and assist with weed control. The guides for these expeditions are also park employees, whose job it is to ensure domestic tranquility amongst our nations’ waterways, by ridding them of invasive plants. You met them once at pre-season training. Mark and Mike. They are also cute, and twenty-something. You can hardly believe this may be true – the opportunity you as a single female (when your days as a twenty-something was not so long ago) have been waiting for.
River Green, Dinosaur National Monument
A short time later, your supervisor receives a phone call and asks if you want to go on a river trip, leaving tomorrow. Yesyesyesyesyes! You are on cloud nine! Images flash through your overactive imaginationï¿½you, Mark and Mike, for three days, floating lazily down the Green, sunning yourself on the bow of the raft, kicking back with beers in the evening, and gosh, both boys vying for your woman-of-experience attention. What will you do? Remember, your supervisor says, interrupting your reverie, you will be working.
In your excitement you set your clock for 6 p.m. instead of 6 a.m. You awaken with twenty minutes to spare, gulping coffee along the way to the boat launch. You meet up with Mark, trying to be as cheery as possible in the pre-dawn hours, wanting to help but having no clue how to hook up gear onto a raft. You hope that your cute smile makes up for your lack of gear-hooking knowledge. Other park employees who know what they’re doing seem to have the system under control, so you look around hopefully for Mike, the other river guide.
Turns out, Mike is not going on this trip, another ranger tells you. Just you and Mark? For three days? How cozy, just the two of you, floating lazily down the Green, sunning yourself on the bow of the raft, kicking back with beers in the evening, and then…
From around the 4×4 truck that the raft is hitched to, pops out a dreadlocked girl. She is obviously flirting with Mark, tossing him dry bags with a wink and a giggle. You think violently, who the hell is this girl, encroaching on your Park Service Boy territory? She is not in park service uniform. She is wearing trendy cargo pants, Chaco’s and spaghetti strap tank shirt. She is skinny.
You are suddenly conscious of your non-flattering uniform, which until one minute ago, you wore with pride; green knee-length shorts, gray be-patched and badged shirt. And even if you were skinny, the uniform would hide that fact completely.
The girl catches your eye (and probably your malevolent glare) and introduces herself. Magda is a volunteer. From Boulder. That explains the dreads. (You personally don’t understand dreadlocks. You think it’s gross that non-Rastafarian people would go around with dirty hair on purpose. Whatever the political statement – because it’s certainly not fashion or religion – that dreads are supposed to impart are lost on you).
Magda giggles again and you see her tossing a carabineer to Mark. He smiles back at Magda. You watch this little interplay with a sinking heart, as Magda whispers to you conspiratorially that Mark is her boyfriend. I see, you mumble and then frantically look again for Mike, who is not going on the trip. You desperately ask your co-workers who are helping gear up the raft, if they are going. Anyone? Nope. It’s just the three of you. You, Mark and the “volunteer.”
You take a deep breath. It’s not that you wanted Mark, specifically. You wanted someone to relieve the monotony of your isolated location. Some summer fun. So you grab an extra six-pack that had been rolling around in the back of your truck, throwing it into your dry bag. Drinking this will not make you skinny, but at this point, who cares? You are the third wheel.
Gear fastened, raft loaded, the three of you set off and you are determined to make the best of it. Perhaps the freak drop in temperature that caused snow to fall the day before in higher elevations should have tipped you off. As you hop in (ok, ungracefully scramble over the side) hail begins to fall. You and the honeymooners pull on your rain gear, trying to turn your backs to the pelting bullets from above. It’s the desert, in June, you wonder. Can it get any worse?
After twenty minutes, the hail stops. You breathe a sigh of relief. Maybe you can at least get some sun, as it peeks out around the clouds. From your perch on the edge of the bow, you look for a place to stretch out. But Magda has already commandeered the extra space atop the cooler, lying out, bikini clad, eyes closed. Mark is rowing away, plainly enjoying his view. Maybe the hail was not so bad.
You begin to sense that your presence is not what they had planned either. Hey, this wasn’t my idea, you want to yell. No one told me about the “volunteer.” You would have gladly stayed home and allowed these two their own private trip. You balance yourself on the raft’s edge and roll up the edges of your government issued shorts. Enjoy the sun, you think to yourself. Concentrate on a tan.
Then the rain begins to fall.
You don’t know if God is on your side, or just playing a cruel joke (as if single, thirty-plus, in the isolated desert wasn’t enough. Ed Abbey you are not.) At least the rain required Magda to retrieve her raincoat and you could cover up your now hated green uniform. She actually scooted over, so that you too, could sit on the cooler. Misery enjoys company.
Your raft pulls over at its assigned stop; an afternoon project with an Iowan Outward Bound group. You wait in the rain for the group to arrive. And wait.
Magda and Mark start to bicker. You’re not quite sure why. You try to ignore it by looking at the beautiful canyon, even in the rain. Look at the beautiful canyon, you tell yourself, mantra-like. Ignore the rain. Ignore the mini-squabble.
Mark suggests you and Magda hike up the grotto while he checks on the whereabouts of the Iowans. You and Magda set off, and you really want to ask her about the dreadlocks. Do guys really dig them? Instead, she asks you about your graduate studies and career changes. Well, at least your-woman-of-experience persona isn’t going completely to waste. Magda shimmies up a crevice ahead of you into the grotto. Your hips get stuck in the same crevice. You turn sideways and pull yourself free as she waits up top. Clearly, the Freshman Fifteen did not affect her as it did you.
You two finish your hike and meet back with Mark, who has retrieved the rain-soaked Iowans. You feel bad for these poor folks, who obviously came a long way and paid a good bit of money to pull weeds in the rain, wearing water-soaked leather sneakers and boots. Apparently, Outward Bound and similar outfits do not allow their guests to wear Teva’s or Chaco’s, even on the river. Too many stubbed toes, you presume, but racking up blisters in wet tennis shoes doesn’t seem to make much sense either. In any case, the group is in good spirits and they complete the project with gusto. You respect their resilience.
After the group departs, Magda and Mark start to bicker again. Again, you’re not quite sure why. You go through your dry bag to find your wool sweater, and eye the beer. You can’t but overhear the two sides of their argument. Once again, you are amazed at Magda’s insistence (the younger generation!) and Mark’s willingness to listen.
You think back to your twenties, and the boys you dated. You didn’t bicker with them. Of course, back then, you didn’t have the confidence to say boo to a mouse. As annoying as the squabbling is, you have to admire Magda for standing her ground. She was going to make her point and would not back down until Mark heard her out. You quickly realize you spent way too much time with boys who told you “don’t make a scene” and “you should know when I’m joking.”
You are soon taken in by these two. You have to give Magda and Mark credit for not overindulging in PDA’s, otherwise you would jump into the nearest whitewater rapid. You break camp for the evening where Magda cooks an awesome dinner (because she volunteered to) while you and Mark drink beer (well, at least your expectations aren’t completely dashed) and once again your woman-of-experience persona is put to good use as they both ask about your careers, travels and meeting boyfriends’ parents. You begin to feel a bit like a woman of wisdom.
Nevertheless, as you set up camp, you make sure that your tent is on the opposite side of the beach. You are having a good time, but personal space is most definitely needed. No need to rub in the fact that it will only be you and your 6-pack of beer in your tent.
The next two days are similar to the first. The days alternated between freezing downpour and blazing sun, depending on the canyon curves on the Green. Gradually, the bickering of the young couple dies out with the rain. Or perhaps you realize that stating an opinion doesn’t mean it’s a fight or the demise of a relationship.
Your final day on the river is perfect; sun shining, you and Magda tanning on the bow of the raft, she bikini clad, you in park shorts and tank shirt while Mark rows along happily. Well, actually he’s probably pretty tired, but, hey, it’s his job. Someone other than you has to do it.
All in all, not a bad trip. Sure, two – thirds of it was filled with hail, rain and near – freezing temperatures. But you did run the rapids of the river Green, help rid it of invasive plants and witness some incredible canyon country. As you drift through the last stretch of the canyon, you think after three days of no-showering, your hair will be sufficiently dirty enough to dread.