“There’s nothing. . .absolutely nothing. . .half so much worth doing as simply messing around in boats.”
-Kenneth Grahme, The Wind in the Willows
Midsummer last season, I was guiding a family of four—mom, dad, son and daughter—down the Wild and Scenic section of the Rogue River in Southern Oregon when, after a fun and fast section of whitewater, I asked the two siblings (who I’d guess to have both been around 14 to 15 years old) if they were having a good time. The young girl yelled, “this is awesome!” to which her brother added, “yeah! It’s just like a video game!”
The comment gave me pause, and I was soon thinking about just how much I appreciate being on the river, unplugged, and even more, how good it felt to be able to show this young man how much better real life adventure is than playing out someone else’s virtual version of reality.
One of the beautiful things about being on the river is the condition of technological solitude it imposes. Modern forms of technology—from cell phones to computers, the Internet, social media, and virtual entertainment—are becoming more and more integrated into the average American’s everyday life and consciousness. But there is no cell service in the Lower Rogue River canyon. On the whole, electronics are useless or else unusable on a river trip. And when the fact of being unplugged sinks in, it can be a liberating feeling. It continues to be so for me, and I know it is for many if not most of the people I’ve taken down the river as guests. Some have told me how good they’d felt not being able to make, send or receive, calls, texts, and emails. Self-professed workaholics tell me they can’t remember the last time they’ve felt so relaxed or carefree. Parents especially seem to delight in the effect that the absence of technology has on their kids, not to mention on the quality of their time and interactions with their kids while on the river.
It all reminds me of the time I was floating next to a guest on the Lower Salmon River in Idaho, and as he looks out at what I call the “Gorilla Face Mountains” he sighs and says, “you know, a nuclear bomb could go off, and we’d have no idea out here—I like that.” While I—as I told him at the time—am not nearly as comforted by that specific scenario, I think most who’ve been on a river trip could relate.
The world seems bigger on the river, and its affairs more distant; life less hectic and a little simpler, where a little simpler makes a difference.