May 11 was National River Cleanup 2013. One of the participating parties here was Quiet Waters Paddling, an outfitter from Bernalillo which provided canoes and shuttle to anyone wanting to take part. Any reason to spend a day on the river is a good one, and helping to clean up is an especially good one.
The Quiet Waters group is a small one, five of us and three canoes. A sixth person from Albuquerque Open Space meets us at the put-in somewhere around 8:30. I can’t say for sure since I’ve deliberately dispensed with all timekeeping devices for the day.
I step into the cool mud to give the second canoe out a push-off. It’s a rough start. One of the paddlers overshoots on the initial attempt at sitting on the small webbed seat in the boat’s stern and goes ass over teakettle into the rear compartment while her paddle goes flying into the river. I go wading after it and retrieve the paddle, nearly going ass over teakettle myself trying to navigate through all the submerged and slippery roots and rocks.
“Whew,” hoping that will be all the drama for one day. It won’t be.
We’re preparing to drag the third and final boat, ours, to the water when my boat mate asks me a question you never want a boat mate to ask you.
“Do you have another paddle?”
I stare back blankly. That would be a ”no.”
Our van driver has just left, but she’s got his number and gets him on the blower. No, there is no extra paddle on the van. Screw it, we decide. We can trade off taking the stern. There’s a current working with us and we can get down the river just fine with one paddle. As it turns out, there’s another person from Open Space who’s going to paddle solo in a kayak and he has an extra kayak paddle. Snafu #2 averted. Our kayaker friend gives us an extra breakdown paddle to keep on board for good measure and we’re soon clear of the tree tangles and moving with the current and dipping paddles and all is right with the world.
I had my doubts about the water level for this trip, but there is still good flow on the river. Things also have greened up considerably since my last time on the Rio Grande. The cottonwoods, just beginning to grow their leaves then, are now leafed out and shimmering in the breeze. And the willows, taking more time than any to come out of their winter dormancy, are finally showing tender shoots.
We zigzag and ping-pong between the left bank and the islands in the middle of the river, beaching the canoe and walking along shoreline with two bags, for recyclable and non-recyclable garbage. I’m glad to report there was less trash than I thought there would be, but then again there are others in front of us on this sweep, plus it hasn’t rained in quite some time, which would flush all kinds of debris downstream. There’s plenty of the usual suspects still: primarily plastic bottles and Styrofoam. Lots and lots of Styrofoam.
“A tight trip is a safe trip,” goes the whitewater maxim. It’s a good thing we’re not in whitewater because we’re anything but tight. We won’t see the other two boats in our party once along the five miles of river we’re covering. In fact, one of the boats is still AWOL an hour after we rendezvous at the arranged take-out area, leaving four of us speculating and scratching our heads as to their whereabouts.