On laughing river – personal narrative on rafting the Colorado River in Utah – Brief Article
ON THIS EARLY OCTOBER MORNING, the sun rises to a red more commonly seen during the setting sun’s final moments on a hot summer day. We are in southeastern Utah–God’s country. The Colorado–a cool, magnificent river–cuts through the surrounding red rock, creating a canyon big enough to include the road on which we are traveling as fast as we can to join the river-rafting company Splore, which specializes in taking people of every stripe and color, including those with disabilities, on outdoor expeditions.
It is a little past seven. We are late.
We arrive to find everyone gathered under an enormous cottonwood tree–a motley bunch, replete with wheelchairs, walkers, and whatever. I listen impatiently to the crew’s instructions. I am more curious about how I am to get from my power chair into the inflated raft sitting on the river’s sandy shore 40 feet away.
I cannot take my eyes off the surrounding landscape and nearby river. It is stunning.
I think of Georgie White, the woman who helped found the river-trip outfitting industry on the Colorado River in the early 1960s. At that time, I was working in a San Francisco mountaineering store, hearing much about her adventures. Georgie was definitely part of the Colorado River’s history. But Splore makes comparable history. Witness our group.
I am handed a lifejacket with the name “Laughing River”. I feel the giggles within expanding. Splore’s crew begins with me, because my totally uncooperative body needs the most help. They fit a mesh band around my torso and slip long oars through the loops on the band. Then four crewmembers hoist the oars over their shoulders. I am safely snuggled in between. Aha!
Amid much bantering, they ooze through the shore-edge mud, and smoothly transfer me into a beach chair attached to a plywood platform that sits firmly in the center of the raft. Oh!
The crew’s skill and grace minimize my awkwardness. What remains is joy. Joyfulness; playfulness; happiness. I cannot ask for more.
The crew helps others. The process is understandably slow. Someone mounts a huge umbrella behind my chair, much appreciated as the sun is getting unbearably hot. At last, we shove off. The river is placid. Fine by me. The hot sun has done its MS number. I am melted butter and my balance is affected. My friend Susan, in between snapping away with the camera, steadies me. Like tripod to camera, she is a pillar of support.
The scenery continues to awe us all. We slip through a few gentle rapids. Then, suddenly, lunch. I am not ready to stop. But it is here that I receive the traditional river-dipping. Having been duly baptized, fed, and rehydrated, I feel stronger. Lots.
After lunch, clouds obscure the sun, and a welcome breeze cools the red rocks and me. We tumble over a few more rapids. Still gentle fun. Until …
Writer Edward Abbey put it this way: “Running the rapids is like sex: half the fun lies in the anticipation. Two-thirds of the thrill with the approach. The remainder is only ecstasy … or darkness.”
I’m ecstatic. This is so elemental, so right.
I am sure Splore’s crew has been witness to such joy before, giving them rewards for their immense efforts in making the inaccessible so accessible. I’ve had a genuine vacation. I wish it could have been endless.
For more information, visit or write to them at 880 East 3375 South, Salt Lake City, UT 84106. Other organizations also provide wilderness adventures for people with special needs. For example, the National Sports Center for the Disabled ( or call 970-726-1540) offers Colorado River rafting, fly-fishing, horseback riding, adapted cycling, and–of particular interest–Sea Legs, the only sailboat in Colorado that allows people with mobility impairments, including paraplegia, to sail on their own. “Specially rigged crew and captain’s chairs eliminate the need to move around so that anyone with good upper body strength and balance can sail the boat independently,” NSCD’s Kate Mullany said. Each summer, learn-to-sail sessions are held on Sea Legs on Lake Granby in Grand County. Avid sailors can join overnight trips that include camping and shore excursions.
Writer Karen Stone has been living with MS since the early 1980s; her friend Susan Harper took the photograph.
COPYRIGHT 2002 National Multiple Sclerosis Society
COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group