The expected 11-day, mid-October window with no work and no kids was an opportunity that demanded bold action. (While I’m a husband and father of two small children—my wild days seemingly behind me—every so often I act out foolishly.)
The advance plan was simply to put in on the Mississippi River near St. Paul, Minnesota, and see how far downriver I could get sailing, rowing and occasionally lowering the mast for low bridges.
The morning of expected launch, the forecast called for highs in the 30s, rain for the entire week and the river at flood stage. How does an 18-hour drive to Utah’s Lake Powell sound?
I picked up my pristine, avocado-green Wayfarer, SN 3481— last registered in the 1990s—earlier in the fall. I had only sailed it once prior to the trip, but everything seemed to be in order, if a bit crude in rigging and baggy in the sails. I quickly made a pair of 10-foot oars, stitched up a canvas boat tent and stowed all my backpacking gear aboard. The boat was packed and I merely made a right turn for Utah instead of driving the few miles to St. Paul.
Southwest Utah is a special place to me. The unexpected beauty, the isolation, the Mars-like terrain is in stark contrast to my home state’s boreal forest. I’ve spent considerable time there and I love it dearly. Like a bear trap grabbing your leg, the desert hides its majesty and adventure until you are right upon it.
I put in a day-and-a-half later to windless inky water and a perfect sunny sky. I like rowing, I told myself, and I was off. The first strokes on the water were the first I have ever put into the boat. New oars, new locks, new sockets…it all seemed pretty good.
Putting in at Bullfrog Marina, I was a bit concerned that every shore on the lake was a potential lee shore, adorned with sheer walls extending to the bottom hundreds of feet below. I guess that is what happens when you flood a slot canyon formed by the Colorado River. It hadn’t really dawned on me until the first day on the water that there was no escape hatch. No amount of rode would catch the bottom, even feet from the walls. If I flipped or became out of control—if the wind piped up or shifted—I might be battered to bits on the walls. No climbing out.
But never mind, it was windless and predicted to persist. If the wind came up as it can frightfully do in the desert, I had the time to wait it out, tucked away securely, I told myself.
Three days of solo rowing south down the lake would appear unpleasant to most, but I quite enjoyed it. Self-flagellation has its place in mental health, especially in my season. Unrivaled scenery, perfect sunny days and a constant gnawing desire to know what was around the next bend kept me happy in my new rowing life on the water.
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