I pursue river time with zealous ferocity. I’m new to the area so not that many people know that about me. I’ve already enjoyed a three day solo trip in February that started out benign enough but turned into one of the most challenging of winter trips on the last day. I launched on a nine day trip on the San Juan March 29.

I enjoyed Casey Malon’s article about river permits that appeared a few weeks ago in the Winter Park Times. Getting a permit for almost anything is almost impossible these days. And as much as I appreciate NRS or Cascade, their shiny catalogs are not doing anything but making things worse. There are too many enthusiasts already. We need a moratorium on selling boats to gapers.

So this year I am doing the early season, because if trends continue, peak runoff will happen in early May. I’ve had to dig through the garage in the dark, finding the items necessary for a successful trip.

I’m sure I’m forgetting something, but the basic equipment needed to take a long river trip in the desert includes a boat, pump, frame, oars, spare oar, repair kit, ropes, throw bag, first-aid kit, straps, cooler, dry boxes, popup canopy, umbrellas, Cornish flag, pirate flag, hanging floors, fire pan, firewood, fire starters, ash bucket, recycling container, trash bags, trash receptacle, mobile toilet, hand washing setup, toilet paper, tarps, stove, gas, extra gas, lighters, pots and pans, silverware, cups, plates, bowls, dish-washing kit with soap and bleach, beer and wine opener, hot pads, tongs, press pot, dutch oven, charcoal, chairs, tables, tent, sleeping pad, dry bags, sleeping bag, pillow, light, rain gear, shorts, T-shirts, swimsuit, socks, shoes, booties, fleece, water bucket, squirt gun, PFD, helmet, sandals, sarong, hat, sunglasses, extra sunglasses, insect netting, insect repellent, sunscreen, lotion, lip balm, eye drops, block ice, crushed ice, dry ice, duct tape, beer, beer cozy, wine, limes, rum, water, coffee, sugar, cream, garlic, cereal, milk, tortillas, hot sauce, cheese, peanut butter, pancake mix, syrup, butter, salt, pepper, tinned fish, crackers, smoked salmon, paper towels, maps, books, journal, pens, guitar, mandolin, guitar dry bag, picks, strings, tuner, percussion, headlamp, horseshoes, kite, cribbage board, backgammon, scooper ball, gazing ball, video camera, digital camera, extra batteries.

Those are the things I must stock before departing on any multi-day rafting excursion. They are the bare minimum essentials to rafting in the desert canyons for days on end in the blazing, dry heat. If any one of those items is missing from my personal reach I feel naked and vulnerable. I know with certainty that no one else can be relied upon to select, procure or carry any of these items on my behalf.

My ship, so equipped, is prepared for anything, from a flip in a gigantic rapid, to a spontaneous outburst of music and partying aboard in the shade while the world roasts just outside. A desert rafting trip is a working vacation. Big, expensive, pampered trips with motorized rafts, uniform life jackets and guides who do everything for you except wipe your behind don’t count.

Heading out there for a week or more with your friends means a lot more work than a commercial trip. Anyone who crews on a private raft trip and feels pampered is not pulling their weight. Many intrepid raft enthusiasts have no idea what goes into making a voyage successful. And, believe it or not, some do not notice how much work it takes to maintain the fun along the way. Knowledge is earned through experience.

Life’s lessons are learned in many environments and often apply to life across the board. For example, on a long desert voyage, you have to be efficient. You don’t browse in the cooler or waste water. You eat all of your food and you savor every cold canister of beer. You protect the umbrellas from turning inside out, and, they are not allowed to blow away and sink into the river. You take care of your stuff or it gets wrecked. Everything has to be closed, waterproofed, strapped in and secured. That goes for your body, too.

The really good guides and crew members are highly motivated self-starters. If they see something that needs to be done, they do it. But it goes beyond that. They look for things that need to be done and then do them. This works very well when everyone participates but gets tiresome in a hurry when you have a crew of drunken lilly-dippers and lazy fun-seekers.

Telling other people to do stuff or get stuff does not count as helping. On the other hand, if you are a rookie, it is OK to ask how you can help.

It’s not appropriate to sip a boat drink numbly while others clear off the boats, set up the galley, assemble the barbecue and the bar, set up the bathroom and install the horseshoe pit. Take care of your own needs only when the basic needs of the group have all been covered.

It doesn’t do to scurry off to set up your tent in a prime location while others are toiling for the better of the group in the hot sun. As with all things, the joy is in the doing. The more you give the more you get. The voyage is the highlight, not the destination. Participating makes you strong, involved and invested. It’s an opportunity to create community perched on the edge of a savage environment, just like real life. The skills you bring home will help you through the darkest days still to come. People show what they are made of on a desert river trip and it’s not always pretty.

When I get on a river there’s a feeling that I have.

Steve Skinner reminds you to stay hydrated. Reach him at nigel@sopris.net.