Guadalupe River

Location: Guadalupe River, north of San Antonio, TX

During my sophomore year of high school, my English teacher, Mrs Andrews, required us on select days to write for 5 minutes in our journal on a topic of her choice, displayed prominently on the overhead projector screen at the front of the windowless classroom. Sometimes we were even forced to read our entries aloud, a sort of quality-control check. During the year, each student amassed dozens of one-page essays, most of them worthy of nothing but the wastepaper basket, which is probaby what happened to 99% of those journals in June the following year when the class was over with. I happened to hold on to the other 1%, and squirrel it away like I do everything in this life of unrequited packrattiness. For 15 years the journal sat quietly in a box while I went on to college, discovered Colorado and the west, and made hiking in the wilds my overarching life theme. Then, 9 years after I began this website, I came across the journal and was amused to find in its pages my very first wilderness trip report, penned at the youthful age of 14. I have no recollection of what the writing prompt was, but the essay describes a rafting trip I took with my cousin Trevor. Trevor is a year older than I, and we grew up living close together and was the closest thing to a brother I ever had. So, this is the story, verbatim from my 10th grade English journal.


 I remember a trip down the Guadalupe River that my cousin, Trevor, and I made around 1990. That was a fine year where I was old enough, at 12, to enjoy myself independently but young enough to be free of the world’s cares. Grandad rented a 2-man raft for us. We drove it to the river and plopped it into the swift moving ice-water of the Guadalupe River.  We jumped in it and quickly we were off down the river. Right away we went under a very low bridge, so low that it was necessary to completely flatten ourselves in the raft to keep from getting knocked out. We rode smoothly for about 15 minutes. Then the current picked up and we had to struggle around countless rocks and logs protruding from the water surface.  We stopped for a swim in an especially large and deep portion of the river. We downed a Coke and a hunk of jerky each before moving on. 

Not long after we had stopped, we approached Dog Run Rapids. The guy who rented us the raft told us to beware, and steer hard to the right of the cypress tree in the middle of the river.  We tried, and failed. The current was just too strong for our weakling arms. We hit the enormous tree's buttress roots with the impact of a wrecking ball. The current was split on both sides of us.  The water flowed with such force that it started to pour into the back of the raft. Since the front was soundly lodged in the tree's roots, the boat just sank down and flattened onto the roots underwater. Trevor fell into the water and looked almost panicked. He tried to swim to the front of the raft where I was, but didn't make it. He gave up in the current and allowed himself to be swept downstream. Meanwhile, I hopped out of the submerging raft and onto the tree's roots. I watched the Cokes and jerky sink helplessly to the bottom. The two inner tubes in the raft were flushed away violently. So there I stood alone in the river with a submerged raft in rapids, contemplating the problem at hand.

At that moment, a girl slammed into the tree riding an inner tube. She went under and her inner tube stuck to the roots. I pulled it off and when she came up 20 ft downstream, I threw it to her. I began to wonder if anyone ever got by this tree cleanly. I sat down on the edge of the root-platform and began kicking the raft. It finally broke loose after about a dozen good boots to the stern and floated, inverted, down the river. I jumped in and swam to the opposite bank.

At the bank I was greeted by three stoner-hippy guys. One of them said, "We've seen 20 people wipe out there, but you handled it the best!" He threw out his hand and I hit it in a clean high five. I trotted down the riverbank about 100 feet where the water was calm. I saw Trevor on the other side, under a canopy of immense cypress trees. He had gathered everything out of the water except for the raft which was totally filled with the cold stuff. We bailed water out with our hands, more like splashed it out. Slowly, the water level dropped in the raft to the point where we could tip it over to drain it fully. We flipped it over again and put the inner tubes back in and then hopped in ourselves. We were on our way again.  The only other excitement was going off a medium height dam. We were both very exhausted after the 4 hour trek and we gladly greeted the balance of the day spent sleeping the sleep of manly explorers.

As it happened, Andra and I were planning a visit to see relatives in Texas over spring break in March 2008, and would be passing over the Guadalupe River in our car on our way to and from San Antonio. I resolved to stop on the way and take a few photographs, for old time's sake. When we crossed the river on Hwy 281 north of San Antonio, I found that actually getting to it was pretty difficult. Andra pulled the car off into the grass next to the bridge, and I hopped out and forged my way down a steep slope to get this shot of the Guadalupe River, complete with floaters (of the innertube type, that is):

Guadalupe River at the Highway 281 bridge

After our trip south to San Antonio with Mike and Mandy, and the Gulf Coast, detailed elsewhere on this site, Andra and I returned to Fort Worth where Dad and Grandad still live. We stayed at Grandad's house for a couple of nights, and I enjoyed the way things have stayed pretty much the same there. Same aluminum awnings over the windows, same wrought iron porch rail, same collage frames of family photographs in the hallway, same formica tabletop. Of all things in life, Grandad's house is the only thing that has remained almost unchanged with time, and that is a very comforting thing. Of course, it's not been quite the same since Nana died in 2004, and her absence leaves a quiet void in the house that is palpable. While we stayed there, I found myself one sleepless night wandering amongst the photo albums in the back room that Nana meticulously kept updated. Each album had a typewriter-imprinted label on its spine, with something like, "Christmas" or "Vacations" or "Nance Family" on it. I thumbed through the "Vacations" album, seeing Nana and Grandad's smiling faces in front of Lake Mead or the Rio Grande River and imagining someone one day looking through photo albums of Andra and I at the Cape Perpetua, Washington DC or the White Mountains, smiling in much the same way and having that same care-free look in our eyes. The album was ordered chronologically, and towards the back, I started showing up in some of the pictures as I grew old enough to join them on some of their travels. The last trip I ever took with them both was to San Antonio, in 1988, along with my sister, Pam, two cousins, Trevor and Jaclyn, and Aunt Diane. There were photographs from this trip: the grandkids at Aquarena Springs; the grandkids at the Super8 swimming pool; Nana making everyone ham and cheese sandwiches at the motel; the grandkids riding one of the ferry boats on the San Antonio River through downtown along the Riverwalk. And, of course, a single photograph snapped moments before Trevor and I set off in the raft on the Gudalupe River. 
Sam, Trevor and Jaclyn, just before launching off into the Guadalupe River

I'm not even looking at the camera (no matter, I look pretty much the same now), but I recognize my shorts (they were pants at one time, but the knees went out and Mom converted them for me), and my Bass loafers (what else would you wear while rafting?). That's Trevor with the Texas Rangers hat and paddle, and Jaclyn with the stylish floral print capris, wishing she were going with us on our grand adventure, no doubt. Grandad took this photograph. As I write this, I am reminded that this picture was taken almost exactly 18 years ago. Note the fuel-efficient car on the bridge that went out of style and is now back in style. Looks kind of  like a Toyota Yaris, doesn't it? And, there's the bridge we thrilled at immediately floating under. In retrospect, I can't imagine why we didn't put in just downstream of the bridge. 

Digital cameras allow you to take hundreds of photographs a day with insignificant cost, but back in 1988 film and processing were pricey, and photographs were few. This is the only pic of that trip, since neither Trevor nor I took a camera along (good thing!), so my memory has to account for a lot. In a way, that makes this picture all the more special because of its uniqueness. Everything else from that day is only upstairs, and gradually getting shoved aside as new stuff, mosty worthless, pours in each day, demanding space. When I look at this picture, I can feel the fun of that trip again. I can hear the crunch of the gravel on the shore welling up from the depths of memory, and I recall trying to quickly figure out how we could get the boat into the water and ourselves into the boat without getting our shorts wet. I can smell the humidity of a south Texas morning, and hear the rustle of water sluicing by on the bank. 

As Edward Abbey mused back in 1982, 
"Shall we gather at the river? The beautiful, the beautiful river? Gather with the saints at the river, that flows by the throne of the Lord? Well...I guess so. One more time."

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Page created 7-9-08