Pilgrimage to Mecca
by dustin sturges
This is part one of the Pilgrimage
Oh yes my children I have seen the light! I have found the Promised Land and returned to tell you how to get there. I was shown the way by a firefighter named Greg. I know this sounds bad, but read on and you’ll find for yourself that firefighters really are true American heroes.
The pilgrimage started with the typical, late afternoon call. I was sitting with my wife, cooking dinner and minding my own business when the phone rang. It was a friend of mine from Bozeman. “Hi. I’m going to Westwater and there’s some space on the permit. Wanna come?”
“Where are you?” I asked.
“Tremonten, going south on 15.”
“When are you leaving?”
“Three hours”—his cell phone was starting to break up.
“Let me talk to the boss and get back to you.”
Negotiations with my wife were quick and to the point. She had to work, I didn’t. She had been to Aruba with some friends earlier this summer while I had to work. I kayak; she does not. The only negative point made was the standard complaint. “Why the hell can’t you people ever decide to do this sort of thing in advance. Jesus Christ! It’s always nine at night and fifteen minutes before you have to leave. That’s just dumb.” I had to agree, but still managed to give the standard lame excuse. “It makes it harder for the CIA to track us.”
Billy arrived in town at eight o-clock—par for the course. We tried to figure out the vehicle situation. As part of the marital negotiations, it was made clear to me that under no circumstances would I have use of our truck. Billy informed me that it was an overnight and I had an hour to pack, assuming we found me a ride. The rest of the passengers were a mystery, so we tried to talk another friend into going. Luckily, Lou wanted to go. She went up to Davanzas for a quick bite where she ran into another friend who agreed to drive. We ended up doing pretty well considering. I think we were on the road by 10 p.m.
It is a long drive from Park City, Utah to the Westwater put-in. In a late eighties four cylinder Land Cruiser, it takes forever. We finally arrived at the campground at three in the morning. There was the standard, late night campfire still burning with two completely drunk guys sitting around it. They had realized earlier in the night that they brought more beer than their raft could carry, so they were up at three in the morning still lightening the load. They had obviously put fourth a heroic effort because they couldn’t even sit without wobbling. We joined them at the fire for a little while and turned in so we didn’t have to watch them fall into the river on the way to their tents.
The next morning I woke to the sound of an SUV missing my head by three inches while parking. Ignoring the fact that I had just narrowly missed having my head squashed like a grape, I got up without speaking to anyone and made coffee. While drinking my morning coffee, I greeted the two people I knew, and began to meet the nine I did not. There were some people from Montana, some from Gunnison, and a few from Boise. A pretty well rounded group, I thought.
After a little while, we finally motivated to unload the vehicles and send the shuttle runners on their way. As they were leaving the parking lot, I went down to see what still needed to be loaded on the raft. It was then that I first saw it; one big beautiful J-rig sitting high in the water, the sunlight glinting off of the polished chrome sideboards and the twin outboard motors mounted on the back. As we loaded our stuff onto this wonderful craft, I began to realize that strange things were afoot under the cottonwoods at the Westwater put-in. Strange objects began to be loaded onto the boat. One fifty-gallon drum with hoses sticking out of it—check. Fifty feet of hose—check. One super quiet generator—check. One full cord of wood mostly consisting of two-by-fours—check. I pondered what this could all be for and came to the conclusion that I was not going to be able to figure it out on four hours of sleep and a decent hangover. I went to prepare my kayak.
Finally the shuttle runners returned, and we launched. There were only three people on the raft, so it motored slowly down the muddy Colorado, surrounded by a large swarm of kayakers. The sun was shining, the air was brisk and the water was frigid; the red rock buttes smiled down upon us and the golden cottonwood trees leaned over the river like a welcoming party, cheering us on our way.
Continued next issue