April 2nd, 2010 started with a gorgeous drive over to Missoula Montana. A quick trip into REI, and off on an 18-mile mountain bike ride. Followed up by a quick run up the “M” hill (about 1 ¼ miles) then off into the Lubrecht Experimental Forest outside of Missoula. It was dark when we arrived at the campsite, so donning our headlamps, we set up camp. Tents, Thermo-rests, sleeping bags, and campfire. I could hear the roar of the river just next to us, but the night sky in the middle of nowhere, Montana was so incredibly dark, you couldn’t see a foot ahead of you, let alone, down the riverbank. The four of us gathered around the campfire, started up our jet-boils, for a wonderful birthday dinner. On the menu for the evening, Chicken Polynesian for Greg, Forever Young Mac and Cheese for Dave, Leonardo de Fettuccine for Jeni, and Pasta Primavera for me. All ready in 8 minutes. On the dessert menu was the great Raspberry Crumble for four. And of course a round of hot cocoa’s with Buttershots. MMM!! We said “Cheers” and laughed about the falling snow, and wondered if there was a better way of ringing in the big 4-0?? No way!
Dave, Jeni & I
Morning broke, and it was cold. Not that typical, roll out of the sleeping bag cold of a camping trip, but COLD. It had snowed though the whole night, with a little hail at the end towards the early morning. I couldn’t wait to get out of the tent to see the river. But then, the thought quickly crossed my mind, that within an hour, I would be IN the river. White water kayaking. Something I had never done. I looked out at the water. Had it been any other day, this river would have looked so beautiful. And it was. Breathtaking. From the bank. I looked up and down, scanning what was lying before me. Huge boulders, white water, “sleeper” rocks just under the waters surface, that at any given instance could send me sailing right into it’s icy depths. It looked angry. I was nervous. We ate a quick breakfast, had some MUCH needed coffee (thank you Starbucks Via) and loaded the kayaks to the put in spot along the river, a few miles from camp. At this point I was starting to have that adrenaline rush through my body. Nervous, and jittery. Shaking from the cold, and the nerves, and really needing a “potty break” but wasn’t willing to climb out of the partial warmth of my wet suit.
YEP, that's me, freezing my watootzy off!
So, off we went. Jeni and I carried our kayak to the riverbank, while she gave me a little schooling. My mind was reeling. Thinking, if we flip, make sure I keep hold of the paddle, feet first and on my back. Don’t get stuck in a swirling “eddy” and if need be, hold my breath, sink under the water, and let the rushing current pull me out of drowning danger. The guys put in first, and just seeing Greg and Dave leaving into the water made my stomach flip-flop. Then we were off. Pushing off the shore into the Blackfoot River. Here I am, sitting in a kayak, and I was breathing as if I was at mile 25 of a marathon. Heavy, panting breaths. Heart pounding out of my chest. “Calm down, Paula” “Don’t think about the bad, enjoy the experience.” I tell you, the first part of curling, cold rapids that we hit, I thought I was going to pass out. All I could think about was flipping that kayak over into that cold water. I was in the front, and trying my hardest to see where we were heading, and what we were getting into, while water was rushing all around, and splashing into my face. Jeni was so good at calming me down, and things got a little less stressful after a few minutes. Still, though, I was just into surviving these few miles. It is amazing the force of water. It is fierce. You have to be on your toes, at all times. Watching, carefully what is up ahead of you. Not a lot of margin for error. That water can carry you anywhere it wants. And it was our job to not allow that to happen. Every time we would hit some calm water after the rapids, I would have to start my heart back up, and remind myself to start breathing again.
Put in for our kayaks on the Blackfoot River
We girls did great! And after a couple of miles I got the hang of things, and then was able to take in some scenery. The Blackfoot River is stunning. The riverbanks at this point still frozen with ice and snow were something out of a movie scene. We finished our paddle at about 3 miles and hiked the kayaks up the bank back to camp.
Jeni & I smiling at this point and singing, "Fat Bottomed Girls!"
My legs felt so wobbly. I was obviously holding them tight in the boat. I felt like I could barely walk or stand. I was happy to be ashore, but loved (eventually) the “rush “of the river. Definitely a wonderful thing for this adrenaline junkie. The thrill of going down that river was intense.
The rest of our day was spent mountain biking, trekking some fabulously steep mountain ranges, running, and navigation.
The weather was all over this day. And the saying of, “If you don’t like the weather in western Montana, wait five minutes” held true. We had sun, rain, snow, wind, and pounding hail with a head wind on the last part of the mountain bike. By the time we got back to camp, we were thoroughly spent. Bodies were worn. Greg and I broke camp that night and headed home, making a stop in Missoula for Easter goodies. I am sure we looked like zombie bikers, as we hunted for candy in Target.
That night I slept like a baby in my down comforter. Warm. The demanding workouts, plus the mental “fear factor” of being in that river all drained away from me. I woke up Easter morning feeling refreshed, happy and grateful for a healthy body, a strong beating heart, wonderful friends, an amazing family, the beautiful part of the country we live in, the endless adventure in my life, and laughing about a birthday I am sure I will never forget!!!