The morning sun leaked through the windows of my van landed on the top of my head and melted through the thin blankets covering my road-wearied body. I felt it in the tips of my fingers. That sudden warmth. It had just risen and that was my cue. It was time for me to begin the day.
At this moment, I happened to be in Dodge City, Kansas. That old dusty town full of western plains heroes and myths from long ago. Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and the rest of the gang at one time wandered through the thin streets, sipped whiskey, and tried to conjure ideas that would make them rich beyond their wildest dreams.
The quiet solitude of camping always revived my life energies to the point of feeling born anew each morning. The great void of my soul filled with hope for the coming day as I had complete control of when and where I decided to go.
My hands seized the glass bottle of water at my feet and I took a full drink. Mornings were always my favorite. It had to do with a feeling of hope. At least I think. You know, that idea of starting again. That on this day, it would be when everything changed. I would acquire the discipline to act in the manner I saw myself as, I would understand the meaning of this wandering soul that had been placed in my body, and I would find that place, that one place where I could settle in peace instead of wondering what happened to be over that next mountain, down that next river.
That day may come.
And it also may not.
In the meantime, I decided I would enjoy my plight. Embrace that unquenchable adventure that lurked somewhere in my solar plexus, and go see what was over that next mountain.
And down that next river.
On this trip, which happened to be my third across the country, I decided early on that under the circumstances the world found itself in, I would be avoiding large cities and crowds. That meant, more time in nature. More time for exploration in the wild. And more time on a SUP- an activity that melded itself into my being.
It fit so well. The open-air, the freedom of the water, and the ability to cover large distances while exploring uncharted territory. Uncharted to me, at least.
And just recently, while searching the internet for options, I landed on an app designed to provide clarity in my search for the ultimate SUP addition to my already meandering adventure.
Taking out my phone in the still early morning hours was an activity I was always trying to avoid, but never quite seemed to master. This time, instead of scrolling Twitter and feeling dismayed by the day’s news, I clicked on Perfect Paddles. My search began.
I was looking for a place in Colorado. I wanted to see mountains after running along the flat plains for a few days. And I wanted options.
Typing in my search and taking a look at the interactive map, I found what I was looking for: Whitewater Tubing and Recreation.
The outfitter’s name was a little misleading but from their information on Perfect Paddles, it looked like they offered rentals, and better yet, multiple locations to take a board.
That settled it.
My destination: Boulder.
Back on the Road
With my hand feeling the push of the oncoming wind, I pulled onto the two-lane highway headed north. The plains of Kansas gave way to view-blocking reeds of corn, strong in the sun and green for miles and miles.
The road was lonely. Broken up only by a few passing Chevy’s where older men with beards and plaid shirts gave placid waves to any fellow companion who happened to find themselves in this forgotten part of the country.
What happened out here? I wondered.
Where did people go for entertainment, excitement, fun?
The few farmhouses stood solitary on the opened part of the fields like guards tending a flock of sheep- though this particular stock never moved. The corn was planted, it grew, it was harvested and the cycle returned again in a few months.
It was a simple way of life. And that is what I was missing. The life and feeling of love in simplicity.
The minds of farmers are always quieter. Less afraid. And certain. Always so certain. They knew the cycles of the Earth. They knew when and where they would water the crops, produce the harvest, and sell it to the highest bidder. And they knew they loved their wives, would raise strong children, and those children would return the cycle and work the farm just like the corn. It just so happened the farmer’s cycle took more time than the corn’s. But they were in it together.
However beautiful, or sacred, the farmer’s life seemed to be on the inside, it did not wholly appeal to me on the outside. And only recently, did I come to the realization that it was ok. They did not trifle over my vagabond spirit as evidenced by their willingness to wave, let me into their towns, and enjoy a night. Nor should I try to understand the simple nature of what it meant to be connected to the land in which one was raised, and where their children would live and most likely theirs as well.
It is a task to not criticize someone else’s way of life when I’ve never lived it. But it was something I decided I needed to work on.
Making a left onto another side street, I saw the sun crack through the clouds and illuminate the road painting it a brilliant grey color. It seemed to go on forever. Straight into the sky.
That’s where I was headed anyway, I thought. Straight up.
On the road to Boulder
The steady climb into the sky didn’t feel much like an ascent. It came gradually. When I found myself on the outskirts of Denver, I didn’t even realize I had climbed into the beginning of the Rocky Mountains.
But the sky seemed a crisper shade of blue. And the sun’s streaks pierced through the glass windshield of my van and warmed my knuckles as they gripped the wheel.
I had about thirty minutes before hitting Boulder and listening to Jack Kerouac’s book On the Road gleefully explain the joys of limitless possibilities of discovery with a life pressed on the pavement made my heart lighter with excitement. He was always going on about Denver in the beginning chapters. He proclaimed wistfully of old friends and new ones, the parties he had attended, the alcohol consumed till dawn, the songs they howled at the moon like coyotes in celebration. He carried with him only the youthful spring of a life with no burdens or boundaries of which would serve as the sails that would get him there.
I was feeling that now.
What would I find in Boulder? What new places and people?
My enthusiasm continued to grow as I careened off the exit towards the college city bouncing along merrily to the enthusiastic voice on the speakers.
My first choice when entering a city after a long day of driving is always a public park. I find they have bathrooms and plenty of space to stretch my cramped legs. Plus, in a place such as Colorado, the chance for some aerial views should never be passed up.
I pulled into Boulder Ridge Park and shut off the engine. Muffled chatter of visitors penetrated the glass and metal partition. I had made it to my destination. At least at the present moment. And now it was time to explore.
Leaping over a small bridge I climbed, up, up, up. The trail headed into the pine trees and I was fully alive with the scent of needles and dry, dusty ground. I came to a point where the mountain seemed to show its jagged brown bones and I looked across the skyline, open and full of wonder. The city stretched to where I could no longer see. I peered down to the road and noticed tiny vehicles soundlessly charging through the paved hills. The wind was light, still, and it was all very quiet.
This was the perfect place to decompress after a long drive and I reveled in the fresh mountain air, hung by the perfect combination of pine scent and baked woods in the dry heat.
The sun started to fall from the sky so I headed down to the van in search of a place to sleep. In search of rest, recovery, and a chance to start again, with a growling in my belly that would only be satisfied with more adventure.
Whitewater Tubing and Recreation
The next morning, I woke up and found South Side Walnut Cafe, a neat little place for a quick breakfast, and headed back to the van.
I looked up the Perfect Paddles app again and typed in the address for Whitewater Tubing and Recreation. I noticed I had to make reservations for their rentals, so I gave them a quick call and reserved an inflatable board that would be easy to pick up, place in the van, and head to my chosen destination.
Placed close to Natural Grocers, my go-to spot for snacks on the road, I followed COVID protocols, placed my mask on, and went in.
“How can we help you today?” a representative asked.
“I’m picking up an inflatable board for rent, my name is Daniel. I just called about reserving it.”
“Ok great!” he responded.
“We have you set up with this nrs 10’6’’ inflatable. Do you want any recommendations on where to go?”
“That would be great,” I responded.
“For SUP we always recommend Macintosh Lake in Longmont or Gross Reservoir if you want to stay in Boulder.”
“That sounds good. What if I want something a little more challenging?” I responded.
“Well, if you’re looking for a little whitewater, I would suggest nothing over class 2. But honestly, the lakes are your best options around here.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” I said.
He thought I meant the lakes, but I meant the part about class 2.
I signed a few waivers, grabbed the necessary gear, and loaded up my van, and looked up where to go.
I decided to do a quick search and found the safest place to paddle whitewater would be a spot called South Platte River near Deckers. It consisted of class 2 water as well as a great place to fish and hangout.
A bit of a drive out of Boulder I found myself back on that familiar road. Filled with brand new possibilities. Now I had a SUP board and a blank map to dump it into and paddle.
South Platte River
I pulled into the parking lot and could see this was a popular site for tourists and locals alike. It was a place for tubing, light fishing, drinking, and dipping your toes into the cool waters. To get to the water, it had easy access steps built out of stone on a patio next to public facilities and residential homes.
This would be a great place to explore.
I inflated my SUP board, shed my burdensome shoes, grabbed my paddle, secured my pfd around my waist, and headed to the shore.
It was a perfect day for SUP. And adventure. Hardly a cloud in the sky and just the gentle sounds of the river running along the bank.
South Platte River
Getting my bearings, I dumped the nrs board into the water and started to leisurely paddle the river. The current wasn’t particularly strong which pleased me as I thought the best way to return was backward against the current. It would be a workout, but it would be the easiest possible route. It was either that or hop out of the river and make my way back by foot.
I hurtled down the winding river picking up speed along with the currents. As time progressed, I felt the power of the paddle in my hands, the wind in my face, and freedom in my heart.
It was flowing now, and the rocks became obstacles to be avoided as I let the movement of the water dictate the speed and location of my paddle. It was fast and fun.
Before I knew it, I was constantly being challenged by staying on my feet. I used the paddle as a kickstand at times to propel my body forward, into the correct position, in order to stay upright while the trees ripped close by onshore.
I felt so alive. And couldn’t help but smile.
This was a bonafide adventure. Out here on the river, a place I had never been before, flowing with the current, bouncing off tiny rocks, staying upright, and soaking in the sun, I couldn’t help but feel excitement swell in my chest. I connected with the energy of the river and felt the sunbeam on my face. This is what life was about. Connection and discovery. These were the moments I had searched for on my drive across the country. And these were the moments I was intent on collecting.
The current soon leveled off and I found myself in calm waters, gently paddling towards the shore. I sat underneath the shade and took a big drink of cold water and let the mid-morning turn to early afternoon. I laid down on my board and clasped my hands behind my head. I laid there for a while and stared up through the trees. I found peace. And a restful nap.
Quiet laughter forced my eyes open and I could see a family having fun with inflatable tubes, lazily drifting down the river. It was a little past noon and I decided it was time to head back to the launch point.
The paddle against the current was a challenge. I took breaks on the way back to make sure I didn't experience dehydration. My smile turned to determination and my mind kept chirping, telling me to just walk, it would be easier, faster. But I did not listen. Making it around the last turn in the late afternoon I saw the steps I had launched from and paddled the last short distance furiously.
I made it and relaxed. I let my feet sink into the water after I pulled the board ashore. I nodded politely to a family of five and a couple who was kayaking the river.
“It's beautiful out today, isn’t it?” The couple asked.
“It sure is,” I replied with a smile across my face.
I picked up my board and headed back to the van where I rolled it up and placed it in the back. I still had the rental for a few more hours but I decided with the drive it would be best to bring it back today.
“All set,” I said to the representative.
“How did you do?” he asked.
“I had a great time,” I replied with a smile.
“Well, if you ever need anything else, just let us know.”
“I will definitely do that.”
Exiting the shop I made my way back to the van- my home for the road.
I sat awhile in the driver's seat. My body relaxed after the exertion of paddling upstream for that distance. It was time to feed my muscles and get some rest.
I unlocked the screen on my phone and saw the Perfect Paddles app still open. I smiled. And couldn’t help but say aloud as I typed in another destination…
“I hear Lake Tahoe is beautiful this time of year.”