Put-in at Cottonwood, Rio Grande

The red circles are where we put in. The flow is in the opposite direction of the arrow. The arrow was a mistake.
The red circles are where we put in. The flow is in the opposite direction of the arrow. The arrow was a mistake. The blue squiggly line is the river and the border between the US and Mexico.

There’s this saying about notoriously muddy rivers: Too thick to drink, too thin to plow. And here’s the only thing I had the energy to write during our trip down the Rio Grande: No water in sight. We float a ribbon of mud. There’s no keeping anything clean. Energy spent avoiding mud is energy wasted.

That was Day 3. On Day 1, put-in day, it was drizzling and the river was muddy from a storm the previous few days. The previous day’s stormwater had washed out the usual put-in road and we could not use its boat ramp. Instead we went to a place called Cottonwood and our gear was dropped off 100 yards from the river. Between the trailer and the shore was a gauntlet of cane and mesquite and a tube of shin deep mud. The weather was predicted to clear and we hoped the mud would dry out as we floated downstream but meanwhile we carried our boats and supplies over a slippery thorny landscape and got to work rigging it all together.

Our intrepid and muddy crew was comprised of Margaret, Mark, Burt and me. M and M drove a 13′ raft of an unknown but elderly age. The Gypsy Carpenters managed a 15′ cataraft born in the late 80s. Both boats and crew had seen many river miles. It had been ten years since I had rigged my dear Stella for a lengthy expedition but I’d done it so often it wasn’t too difficult to put her back in working order, rigged to flip. Burt and I only had a few skirmishes over rigging protocols. The captain is always right (me) even when she’s wrong. It’s part of my plan to over throw the patriarchy. I’m starting with my boat. Do as I say even when it’s stupid. My mantra of recent weeks is, “I am done seeking equality. I want domination and retribution.” Burt humors me on the boat.

We rejoiced at noonish that the boats were built and loaded and no ankles were twisted or backs misaligned. We had 10 days of food, 40+ gallons of water, spare oars, a kitchen, tents, camping gear, a bathroom system and beer on ice all stowed.

A bathroom system? What’s that? On most wilderness rivers in the US you are required to pack it in/pack it out. That means poop, too. So boaters have to carry a receptacle to carry the poop. We call it the groover. The groover is so named because typically you poop into an ammo can and when you sit on it it leaves grooves in your back end. The old days were much rougher than now. These days, and for as long as I have been boating, people are smart enough to put a toilet seat on the ammo can and add comfort while eliminating grooves. Yet the name and its lore stick. The word has stuck so well that grooving is now code for making a bowel movement in most circles of boaters. I have to groove. Did you groove, yet? The groover rode on my boat. I almost always take the groover. It’s the best response I have if someone complains that my boat is too light. I non-chalantly say, “But I have the groover.” No response. Nobody wants to risk a trade. Works every time.

And so we set off onto a ribbon of dirt. The silt was so fine you could eat it and not grind your teeth. It was so fine you couldn’t claim you were exfoliating. It was so fine your private parts were unmolested when you sat in it. It was as soft as flour and made just as effective a glue.

We had 100 miles ahead of us and 9 days to get it done. The river was up and we floated along without effort. Our guess was we were making 5 miles per hour. After the arduous put-in and drives down we made an early day and hit camp around 3.

Far Flung Outfitters did our shuttle.
Far Flung Outfitters did our shuttle.
Last mud free moment for 9 days.
Last mud free moment for 9 days.
This was the last bit of terrain we had to carry our gear through.
This was the last bit of terrain we had to carry our gear through. Grass was a salvation.
Too thick to drink, too thin to plow. It's not funny.
Too thick to drink, too thin to plow. It’s not funny.
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