“All love stories are tales of beginnings. When we talk about falling in love, we go the beginning, to pinpoint the moment of freefall.” Meghan O’Rourke
With “needle-like” rock outcroppings in the distance, the perfect stranger and I continued our paddle down Topock Gorge. There were no other boaters or kayakers on the river. It was just us!
Imagine having a 17 mile stretch of the Colorado River all to yourself? Every secluded beach, isolated cove, and quite backwater marsh was ours to share and explore. Could this be anymore romantic? Was this simply two strangers bonding and reconnecting with themselves, or was this the ultimate form of romance? The word ‘romance,’ according to the dictionary, means excitement, adventure, and something extremely real. Without a doubt, this was real! What started as an eight day adventure trip had now evolved into the makings of a lifetime love affair.
With the United States Geological Survey Department’s gauging station in plain sight, we determined the nearby beach to be an ideal lunch spot.
Our beach side kitchen was one of simplicity; a backpackers cooking pot and two stainless steel mugs. Dehydrated Spanish rice was lunch of the day, and I couldn’t have been happier. After nine months of living in an uncomplicated way, I had never felt so inwardly rich. I no longer operated in a currency of money; instead, it was time.
How much time can you carry in your wallet? You can wear it on your wrist, you can see it on your phone; however, you can never buy time. Perhaps time is the one commodity we take for granted. I have always considered the tick tocking of a clock, as the symbolic pulse of time. Office wall clocks used to be triggering for me, perhaps they served as a reminder that I want to be somewhere else, like outside!
Without the distractions of modern consumerism, my life was now one of being and becoming. I had never made so little money, yet I had never been so content. It seemed all I needed; was some change in my pocket, a camera, outdoor gear, and good company. My life had become simple!
It seems my idea of rejecting consumerism and cashing in on simplicity is nothing new. The practice of voluntary simplicity has long been advocated in the teachings of Jesus, the early Christian Church, St. Paul, and St. Francis. Voluntary simplicity also has roots in Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, not to mention in the teachings of Gandhi, and even in the writings of Thoreau. So I guess the question beckons; if theological teachings are based on simplicity , how did we permit ourselves and encourage society to be so gluttonous? When did the focus become on having, as opposed to being and becoming? Is it humanly possible to live in the moment when our sense of self is fueled by consumption?
Our serene lunch time siesta was interrupted by employees of the United States Geological Survey Department. Yes, the U.S.G.S. fellas pulled into the gauging station to check the depth and flow of the river. As friendly as they were, the perfect stranger and I were happier once they headed downstream. We were both really tired and in desperate need of a nana nap. I started to wonder if we were both getting sick. Could our days and nights of endless conversation be wearing us down? Could I be coming down with strep? My throat was red raw, and I felt feverish. We still had twelve miles of paddling ahead of us, and another two days left of our maiden voyage. What greater way to get to know someone, than by being sick together on an adventure.
With the toss of a rainbow flag, we packed up our picnic, and headed back out onto the river. Even though the perfect stranger and I were feeling under the weather, the majestic sand dunes of Topock Gorge seemed to reinvigorate us.
On this trip, I had expected to see volcanic rocks rising into dramatic spires, however, I had not anticipated sand dunes. The sand dunes were surrounded by jagged rock cliffs that stood several hundred feet high. At their base, the dunes blended into the bright green reeds by the water’s edge. I wondered if Topock Gorge’s sand dunes sang like their neighboring relative, Kelso Dunes. There are over 30 locations around the world where sand dunes perform like musical instruments. Kelso Dunes have a musical range of E, F, and G. I was fortunate to spend the night on Kelso Dunes earlier in the year. And yes, I did hear them sing! https://remoteleigh.com/2014/05/03/mother-natures-sand-box/
With a current of 2 miles an hour, the perfect stranger decided it was time for a dip into the cold Colorado River. Remember, it’s December, it’s winter, and the water temperature is a bone chilling 48F. Fully dressed, and without a wetsuit, the perfect stranger revealed her love of the water.
With our kayaks tied together, the perfect stranger swam over to say “Hi”. Foolishly, I reminded her not to tip the kayaks, as my camera gear was on board. I feared losing my camera. I wasn’t prepared to give up our adventure photos. I guess it all comes down to trust. Trust is when you hold something of value in your heart, head or hands, and your friend honors it. The perfect stranger felt the same way: so I trusted her. My camera full of memories would not become a drowning statistic; instead it was honored, valued, and held in high regard.
Like a playful dolphin in the open ocean, the perfect stranger bear hugged the stern of my kayak. Irresistible; is when a high spirited, rollicking, living in the moment kind of woman, asks to hitch a ride on your kayak. Joy; is when you witness freedom in action. Perhaps her free spirited existence was the ultimate act of rebellion. The perfect stranger was undoubtedly a rebel with a cause; the cause of my happiness.
Our final beach stop permitted the perfect stranger to change into some dry clothes. Cold December winds blowing through wet gear is not pleasant, and there is no need to suffer. I would be miserable paddling in wet clothes. As someone who lives with Reynaud’s syndrome, I basically live in a constant state of cold. Beanie hats are my friend, even in summer. Wool socks aren’t just for hiking, they’re a necessity for me when sleeping. With that said, I still enjoy cold weather adventures. I simply dress 20 degrees warmer than the actual temperature.
With a spiking fever and a barking cough, reality was setting in. I wasn’t getting sick. I was sick! We still had two more cold camp nights ahead of us. I wondered how the perfect stranger would manage a sick playmate. Chances were, she would get it too. Consider it the ultimate souvenir; processing our emotional connection while sick over the holiday season. Would she ever forgive me? Who would take care of her?
Two hours before sunset, the perfect stranger and I had calculated that we were ten miles from our exit point, Castle Rock Bay. We would need to maintain a 5-6 mile an hour pace down the home stretch. It was doable; however it did limit our picture taking.
Our instructions were to turn left at the Castle Rock Bay sign. From there, we would push to the right, heading towards the reeds. Helen, from Desert River Kayaks , told us to keep a watchful eye out for a small channel opening on the left. This was our route into Castle Rock Bay.
A little before 5pm, the perfect stranger and I found ourselves bushwhacking with our paddles. I have bushwhacked through the Everglades on foot, but never in a kayak. This was a first!
Castle Rock Bay was now in clear view. Even though I was sick, I felt very sad leaving Topock Gorge.
Extracted from the solitude and silence of our paddle, left me keenly aware of pandemonium in my heart. With only two days left of our adventure, I wondered if we would ever get the chance to do this again. Jokingly, the perfect stranger suggested a National Guard kind of adventure plan; one weekend a month, two weeks a year. One weekend a month would not cut it in my book, so I suggested it would make more sense to marry her. Yes, I did say it!
Perhaps the wisdom for this situation comes from singer songwriter, Jay Nash. From his song, “Never Takes Too Long.”
True love never takes too long
True love shows up on time
So I’m gonna take mine
Gonna take my time
Gonna get it right
Gonna get it right