This is going to be a long one, and I am having trouble getting my thoughts down so I am going to send this out in installments.
I left Lawrence on August 31st on a 6:15 flight to Boise. It was a long day, and the start to a great adventure.
Wed Aug 31
Had to get up at 3:30 am to make it to airport for an early flight. My wonderful cousin Greg gave me a round trip ticket on Delta to Boise and from there I was picked up by Mary B. Mary is a board member of River Discovery. We had a wonderful time visiting. She was my kind of gal and conversation was easy and pleasant as we drove from Boise through the mountains to Salmon, ID.
Her car was filled with fresh peaches -what a fragrant trip! We also stopped at a fruit stand and grabbed some fresh fruit and veggies and stopped in Stanley for a picturesque lunch. These are beautiful mountains and the scenery was incredible. Mary and I talked about love, marriage, knitting, children, life, cancer and of course, River Discovery. We arrived in Salmon around 5pm and I was wiped out, I ate a snack and then slept for about 12 hours.
Thurs Sept 1
Woke up Thursday with good energy and had a relaxing morning, enjoying ‘modern’ amenities like hot water and flush toilets for the ‘last’ time for a week! I had a room at a hotel right along the Salmon River in Salmon and I do admit to watching the water flow at a rather speedy current and thinking, “Oh, my goodness, what have I gotten myself into?”
I was picked up by Mary W., the exec director of River Discovery. She already had three passengers in the car and they had just flown in from Boise and were participants in the river trip. We drove out to Morgan Bar (every campground, ranch, historic settlement, etc. along the river is called a bar because most are sandbars!) This was a lovely spot with an area for eating and camping. We ate a nice lunch and then had lessons on putting up our tents. More participants arrived throughout the day and by the end of the afternoon a small, cozy crowd of campers, guides, board members and friends had gathered for a send off dinner.
It was clear to me that our group of survivors was meshing well. This was an amazing group of women. We had 15 members ranging in age from 21 to 69. We had some women who had been cancer free for years and others who were still in treatment. Most had breast cancer and a few of us were battling other cancers. Most importantly, you could hear laughter coming from various areas and see friendships forming as the afternoon passed into the evening. I had a great feeling about the trip that night and the arrival of Cousin Ellen really made me heave that great sigh of relief that comes when you feel good things falling into place.
After dinner, our lead guide, Amy, gathered everyone around to give us a bit of information regarding what the schedule was for the next day. It all sounded so wonderful, and scary, but I was ready. Wonderful Ellen had brought her tent and offered it to me and needing the privacy, I gladly accepted it. I shared a tent for the first two nights with lovely Rachel. She celebrated her 21st birthday that day. After that, I took Ellen up on the tent offer and it was nice to have a place of my own, a place for a nap and some quiet time.
We were given a diary for the trip and ended the night with a bit of conversation around the campfire.
Fri Sept 2
The next morning dawned bright and clear, but very cool. It was our first full day on the river. We had breakfast, struck camp and loaded up on the bus for about an hour's drive to the load in area. That first day on the river was a little cool. We started out with sun, but the wind was blowing through the canyon and it quickly got chilly when we got wet. We had one boat that overturned in a rapid and had some shocked campers at that point. I was exhausted, cold and tired and let myself kind of fall apart that early evening. I thought for sure that this had been a mistake for me and I was not going to be able to continue at the same pace. Then I realized that I needed to pick myself up and keep moving. After a quick rest, I joined the group. I wasn't going anywhere but down the river.
We arrived at our evening stop called Lance Bar. As a team we unloaded the boats, put up camp, changed into dry clothes and gathered for our first night on the river. Once I had had a chance to rest and cry a bit, get over the stress, I settled in for a good evening. We had a delicious dinner of salmon and spinach salad.
We closed the evening by telling a bit about ourselves and what we hoped our experience would bring to us. It was wonderful to hear other's comments and a great way to get to know people. I went to sleep with a bit of apprehension for the next day. We wouldn't be leaving any rapids or the cold water behind and I quickly needed to get used that idea!
Sat Sept 3
Today dawned beautifully. We had a delicious breakfast of pancakes, I tried to go the GF way with yogurt and fruit. Everything tastes different in the wilderness. I finished every morsel I put on my plate at every meal. I quickly threw out the gluten free strategy after that because I decided that to limit myself in this environment was a little looney. I was going to need all the food I could eat.
We spent the morning taking a short hike up the the Lance homestead. Amy was full of wonderful information about Mr. Lance who had settled the land. In those early days, he had to walk out 75 miles to get to the nearest town. He made quite a home for himself though and the valley was incredible. He had his own orchards, a fresh water source and the means to support himself and stay occupied. I have always romanticized this life, but it was so isolated. It would have been hard being so far away from others, yet that was part of the beauty of the land. It was overwhelming and awe inspiring and really inspired self reflection from me. I knew I was in a special place and was reminded by Ellen's urging that the river was a really healing place. A place of now, where you must be connected with your immediate surroundings. Only 24 hours in and I really started to enjoy the rhythm and peace of the day.
While on this trip we had to pack out everything we brought in except our urine which was released into the river. I had to deal with my colostomy on this trip and I was (very) concerned about how I would manage and am happy to report that I managed just fine. But how lovely to come back to flush toilets!! The first night or two was daunting, but eventually I fell into that rhythm I wrote about and it didn't take long for my body to follow .I was moving into this quiet and comtemplative place and could feel myself enjoying it. We did have lots of fun and made lots of noise, and drank some wine. So the next morning, like all following mornings, we struck camp and loaded the boats and left the previous day's camp. It was utterly simplistic and quietly serene.
I spent this second day with the same women and same guide. We were headed into an exciting day - depending on how you look at these things! Kyle (said guide) had told us much about the river. We learned out to listen (sometimes hard with all the talking), and how to look at the river’s horizon line to determine the change in the river. But we were also approaching a rapid that had changed over the course of the year. He had not gone through it yet and so the plan was to stop and scout the rapid before we went down the river. I agreed this was an excellent idea, further reinforcing my faith in the guides and their rational thinking!! This caused much anxiety on my part and others, but I believed it was inevitable, right? We had to go downriver, always forward, just like pushing through the cancer, we can't go back. It took until we were actually cruising through the rapid that I actually realized I was okay and I was always going to be okay. That in all these years the basic truth is still the same. I am okay and will always be okay. I followed total strangers (the nurses, the doctors) in to the cancer club and I was doing okay. They’d given me good advice and I have followed it and I am still alive. And I had followed these strangers, these guides into the wilderness and they had steered me clear and safely, always forward, never back.
The river really is a healing place.
It was another long day on the river, but because of the rapids we went through that day we covered more mileage and the weather was slowly getting warmer - a sign of the change in the elevation good fortune in weather!
That night's camp was established quickly. We were losing light and wanted to eat and then end the day as quickly as possible. I used pain killers as needed, mostly for my back and that really helped with the bouncing and constant movement. I was exhausted again, but feeling like I was keeping up with the group. I slept better that night, probably better than all the other nights. I wasn’t feeling an ache for home or for anything really. I was really in that time and place.
Tuesday, September 20
It has taken me over a week to pull myself together since the end of this trip. I came home on Thursday, September 9. Richie and Charlie met me at the airport and it was so, so good to see their faces. And then to walk in the door of our home and hug Madeline. I was complete. We had a lovely dinner on Thursday.
Friday morning we discovered I had a bacterial infection. It was likely my port that was the point of entry for the infection and so since Friday, September 10 I have had my port removed, a picc line inserted into my left arm, twelve IV infusions of vancomycin, and one infusion of doxil. So, forgive my tardiness, I have been re-entering the world.
I believe I was on my way to the wilderness before I actually got there. I realized that I have been on this healing journey since the day I was diagnosed. I have had to be on this road because there is no other. I was so lucky to have those moments and times with each woman and man that went into the river with me. But each one of you was represented in one of them. You have all been with me, always, all along the way.
I hope to have some more posted next week. I find that taking some time to digest has been a good thing. No reason to rush, the memories will be here next week and so will I.