By Riverman

Copyright © 2002, Riverman. No part of this page may be reproduced, linked, or copied without the express written permission of Riverman

Drifter (RealDriftr on rbp) and I were freelancing in Flagstaff a few years ago, and managed to be the two head guides on a trip together. Drifter is one of the quintessential 'mainstream' Canyon Guides, recognizable by every outfitter in town and wanted by most. I was making a shaky name for myself as a jack-of-all-trades boatman, willing to do anything for a paycheck. I like working with Drifter, as he has a history with the Arizona rivers and the river scene that almost goes back to Wesley Powell, and just being seen with him is good for future jobs. That, and he's generally an alright guy and great fun to do trips with.

But I really needed the positive association. Previously with this particular company, I had volunteered to oversee the purchase of snacks for a bunch of businessmen doing a 2-hour float on the Salt River in Phoenix. With the mindset of feeding Gorp to cold clients on day long trips on Maine rivers, I purchased enough raisins, peanuts and Chex cereal to feed each of the 45 men about 1/4 pound...considerably too much, as it turned out that they had just come from breakfast, and it was 100 degrees and no one wanted to eat. The company was still handing out baggies of Gorp as Christmas Presents, 2 years later.

This particular trip we got was taking a bunch of HS kids for 5-days on the Lower Verde River from Verde Hot Springs to Sheep Bridge, in duckies. There were about 20 little boats on the trip, so we were going to head to the river early on put-in morning and pump up the boats by hand to speed up the put-in time. The Verde was flooded, as it had been raining for a few days, and we expected the kids to be challenged and spend a lot of time being wet and cold, so we wanted to get a good start.

The road to the put-in winds through the steep canyons of central Arizona. Many times, the road is a one-lane 'Beetle Bailey' road with a wall on one side and a precipitous 200 foot drop on the other. To make matters worse, the road is through a hard clay layer in the sediments, and when it is rainy, the clay coats your tires and makes a frictionless surface. Often, Upper trips are stranded at the Hot Springs waiting for the road to dry so they can egress, rather than risk their lives on the slick clay. Fortunately for people taking out at Hot Springs, the worst part is right at the river, so they get it over with quickly. We didn't have that luck.

The owner of this company had no intentions of delaying the put-in, knowing that Drifter was a legend and able to manage any put-in, and knowing that I owed him big-time for spending $200 on Gorp in previous years, so Drifter and I loaded up the boats, pump, throwropes and gear, and with Jake (the owner of a local nightclub) driving, we set out to the put-in. For the first part, we were all pretty jovial, swapping tales with Jake (I worked as a doorman at a local bar), and generally enjoying the feeling of Going to Put-in. The rain had abated, and Jake was managing to keep the van out of the ruts in the road, so the cascade of gear down on Drifter's and my head was minimal. Also, the rolled-up boats in the trailer were avoiding most of the mud-slinging, so they were staying pretty clean.

However, about 2 miles from the end, right where the road gets into Beetle Bailey Land, it started to rain. Jake soon started participating less and less in the story-swapping, and Drifter and I started fidgeting with the gear in the back seat, restuffing a throwbag, gathering biners that had wandered around...

At one point, Jake swore sharply and I looked up to see the van narrowly avoid some big rocks that had fallen into the road. A little later, Jake had determined that the road conditions were so bad that he had slowed to a crawl and was gingerly working his way through the deepening mud and rain. We could hear the mud on the tires scraping the wheelwells, so we got out and scraped off the tires as much as we could. It was so slick and gooey that we both had about 10-pound shoes when we went to get back in. Not fun.

Then, we arrived at the Last Bit. For the last 500 yards, the road takes several steep switchbacks as it drops down to the river valley at the Hot Springs. Jake was moving at about 1 mph at the top of the steep section, and Drifter and I were crammed up to the dashboard peering anxiously down at the river to see how bad it was flooded. The van crept slowly closer to the outside of the precipitous corner, and Drifter said "Uh Jake, arent you coming a bit close to the cliff..?"

"Yeah", I said. "Maybe we better stop and look over the scenario.."

Jake cursed, and said "Uh guys, I'd love to stop...I've got it in neutral, my foot is flat on the brake, and the emergency brake's on. We just aren't stopping!"

Drifter and I looked at each other. "Shit!" said Drifter. "What can we do?"

"Well, for one", said Jake, "get ready to jump".

Well, I tell you, I LIVE for these moments. I dunno, I really enjoy bizarre situations and emergencies. I grabbed a throwbag, opened the back door and hopped out. "Lets go!" I told Drifter. "Tie this end around the trailer hitch!"

Drifter threw a bowline on the trailer hitch, and I ran the throwline out and around a nearby tree. The van and trailer crept slowly towards the cliff, the rope tensioned, Jake stood on the doorjamb ready to jump, and the whole rig slowly ground to a stop. We had belayed the Van, trailer and boats to a stop, right at the edge of the cliff!

"Well, that's nice" said Drifter (ever underspoken.). "Now what?"

I took another throw rope, tied it to the back of the trailer, and around another tree farther uphill from the first belay point. Then, with poor Jake steering, Drifter let off the tension on the first rope and I held tension on the back rope, and we pendulumed the van rig another 20 feet down the slick road. Using this method, we eventually got the whole rig all the way down to the river, where we enjoyed a well-deserved handful of Gorp.

To this day, with hundreds of put-ins all over the world, that still remains the one hairiest put-in shuttle I ever had. I think Drifter agrees... and Jake bought the next round after the trip.