The Rio Chama, the river I don’t care to see again.

2 06 2016

The Desert Monastery

I spent a recent weekend on the Rio Chama, a New Mexican River, a multi-day trip and it killed my sole over a long weekend.  It was memorial weekend 2016 and I was convinced that kayaking a 33 mile stretch of the Rio Chama was going to be a good time. With water flows at or near the 2500 CFS we had high spirits in the days before the trip. But as the launch date began to close in, a communication breakdown began to happen and death spiral ensued.


It was close to noon on Saturday the 28th of May 2016, when our group of 7 put on at El Vado Ranch. Nobody wanted to be there, let alone launch our kayaks, laden with an extra 25 pounds of gear, into the cold swift current. The goal was to kayak between 5 and 12 miles before finding a campsite and relaxing for the evening. We had a backup plan which if it had been executed would have taken us into sunny Colorado for two days of paddling the San Juan…It was just never executed.

Surprises; nobody likes them when you spent a lot of time and energy on a plan and begin to execute that idea, only to have the plan change multiple times. It is those people who can be the willow and go with the flow that make great trip leaders. I am pretty rigid, not as much as the long standing oak, but not as flexible as the willow.

It was seven days before the trip that the original plan was modified and the dates push back by a day; this was an easy adjustment. It made my additional holiday plans get canceled and other members of the team waste a paid day of vacation leave. The frustration began to set in, but people are flexible and began to adjust.

Eight short hours before go time, plans changed again, and one team member backed out. This was the team member that the original launch plan had been adjusted for, in the days leading up to the trip. It was not their fault, and the notification was early in the day, maybe we could adjust and still get on the water that night as originally planned.

Then a second team member contacted the trip leader and advised that they were still in Colorado, and by the time they traveled back to Albuquerque, they would not be able to join the team until early Saturday morning.  Fury began to set in, and the death spiral began to commence, as we realized that we could not get on the water until Saturday.

All members of the trip were notified of the adjustments, and went about preparing their boats and gear. We kept our time line and later met at the rendezvous time in a nearby city. It was there as we met back up and prepared to leave for the nights camp site that I realized our team members minds had gone sour, and me, well, I was right there with them.  We grabbed a 4 pack of Tecate and headed out of town pretending that nothing was bothering us. We all wanted to bag this trip and head to the San Juan.

It was close to 1630 hours when we arrived at Big Eddy, the take out for the run. The parking lot was packed with other vehicles. Some had play boats on the roof while others were attached to trailers loaded down with rafts. We began our search for a camp site, which as expected on a holiday weekend was not fun. All of the good spots were taken, and after an hour and a half we located a marginal camp location, which was more of a parking spot than anything else, prepared to settle in for the night.


“The Beatings will continue until the Moral Improves”

It was at this location that the group moral was obviously low. Everyone began to talk about our back up plan and wanted to leave A.S.A.P. for Pagosa Springs, Colorado.  It was clear this trip was no longer about having fun. This trip was going to be about going through the motions.  I set a dead line of 1000 hours on Saturday, as our default time to kick the backup plan into action.

Once this was set we began to settle into the evening, trying to joke around and laugh about the day. It was clearly obvious that everyone had checked out.


Camp Night 1, “Where is the bottle of Jim Beam?”


As dawn broke the air temperature was close to 37 degrees, and all of the team members were cold and began to questions whether or not they had packed correctly for the trip. We left the camping area and headed to the rendezvous point of Big Eddy to await our last team member. To our surprise he was there, looking like Cosmo Kramer, from Seinfeld.  We began to mill around getting breakfast of cold pizza and cold coffee, it was clear to him that we all had checked out. He began to question why our spirits were low and a group meeting was called.

Team members began to state why they were frustrated, cold, and just genuinely wanting to kayak on another stretch of river, or at least just hit the day run. This all mattered not to him, and he chugged forward with the plan.

It takes a special type of person to ignore all complaints and be unwilling to change. This had become less about running the river for the sake of it, and more about running the river so the commercial permits could be used for the first time in several years. It was about proving to himself that his plan was the righteous plan of action, not the plan of the trip leader. This team member was the sequoia, unable to adjust, or adapt, beyond his own ideas and thoughts.

Some would say I hold on to things a little too long when I get upset. I would agree with that, it can take me several days of working through the situation to figure it all out and let go of the frustration. It has been 3 days since our return from the river, and I am still frustrated. It is not so much that I; the trip leader had a bad plan, as much as it is the lack of my leadership that gets me hot. Had I known more about how our permits work, I could have launched on Friday like the original plan. This was the only part of the process that I did not have any information leading up to the launch date.

In the future, I will take care of every detail, and if people are late, or cannot make the rendezvous time, they need not come. I of all people hate to waste time, and other peoples time. My time is valuable and so I believe theirs is too.


MJ Running Argon Rapids in the XP10




After all was said and done we spent, two nights and three days on the trip, a trip that should have only taken two days. When we arrived at Big Eddy on Monday, after spending only 45 minutes on the water that day because we “had to camp” for a second night, I left. I left without saying good bye, I left frustrated, angry, and asking myself would I do this trip again. Deep down inside I think I will, but it will be on my own terms, with raft support, good food and way more beer.

There is not really a need to place blame on anyone person, because I could have chosen to accept the new plan and adapt. Instead I opted for resentment. So to the mighty Rio Chama, you were a fun river, but I am done with you for this season.








Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: