In younger years, I was drawn to reckless adventuring. Climbing mountains, sailing oceans, rafting wild rivers, anything that took me to the edge and, often, beyond. One such trip was a float down the Snake River through the Hell’s canyon wilderness. this was a journey into the unknown long before outfitters offered guided versions complete with 5 star dinners.
There were a dozen of us, friends and acquaintances, guys lured by the appeal of an adrenalin packed escapade. None of us had done anything like this before, so we scouted the local bars for advice. One drunk curmudgeon said we’d all be killed, another offered we could do the trip on inner tubes. One thing was certain, Hell’s Canyon was more than a mile deep and isolated. We’d spend days without encountering other human beings. If something went sideways, getting help and getting out of there would not be easy.
Our research didn’t scare anyone off. Equipped by a local surplus store and comforted by some cautionary guide notes scribbled in a small notebook, the expedition was launched below Hell’s Canyon dam.
There’s a magical wonder in drifting down a wild river, pulled into an unknown world, with surprises around every corner. There are times of sublime peace and awe as you are carried silently past towering canyon walls, under forever blue skies with high circling, screeching hawks, past frozen deer staring at you wide eyed. Then, you hear the whisper of something different ahead. the whisper increases to throbbing echoes and then a pulsating roar.
Rapids. the biggest, ass stomping, wildest water any of us had ever seen. Not bothering to check the small notebook for advice, our little flotilla of rafts plunged straight into the middle of the maelstrom.
We got trashed. Spun around, sandwiched, catapulted, flipped, and finally spat out at the bottom in a quiet pool. Our quickly nailed together rowing frames had been broken like toothpicks. Our two week supply of breakfast granola was now mush. Still, all had survived, but we had a new reverence for the river.
Often, as I lay in bed waiting for sleep to carry me away, I recall the many moments of reckless abandon as I’ve floated the river of life, turning a corner and charging into another rapid of surprises without consulting the guidebook. I’m awed and grateful that having tempted fate so many times, good fortune has always smiled on me. But, there was a cost for all those thrills. I often used the allure of adventuring as an excuse to run away from commitment, avoiding the intimacy of truly loving relationships. I used adventuring as an excuse to run from my fear of love.
I’m on a different river now, floating down the canyon of deteriorating dementia with my wife. In the quiet water, things often seem normal, little changed, and it’s easy to deny that dementia is even here. But, then there are whispers, my wife will say something that makes no sense, and my mind is suddenly drowned by the rush of reality flooding my consciousness. Dementia is here and it’s not going away.
It happened today.
“Will you walk with me?” she asked.
“Sure,” I replied, “where are we going?”
“To visit my mom.”
In the process of putting on my coat, I stopped. My wife’s mom lives in Zacatecas, Mexico, 2000 miles away.
“Your mom doesn’t live here,” I shared.
“Yes, she does, right there,” my wife answered, pointing outside.
I smiled, trying to hide my disappointment that her mind had slipped again.
“Sure,” I said, helping her with her coat, “let’s walk.”
As I hold my wife close in the night’s darkness, I feel the peace and warmth that can only be found in the adventure of love.