4 life lessons I learned on the river

I had another amazing rafting adventure in June through the Gates of Lodore in Dinosaur National Monument. It’s not an exaggeration when I say these trips are life-changing. I booked the trip in late 2021, and could not have imagined all of the changes that would take place during that time. I started a new job, moved to Denver, bought a small condo and lost my mother unexpectedly at the beginning of April. The latter has been a heavy experience, once that I’ll explore in another post.

This was my third rafting trip with OARS, so I knew what to expect (all good things!) and also had experienced the effects of being immersed in nature and off the grid for several days. It was what my soul and body needed, as a re-set.

Beauty surrounds us on the river

Along the way, I jotted down several life lessons that brought me joy or sparked positivity. I hope to continue to tap into these concepts in the months to come. These lessons include reminders to:

  • Take in the beauty around you, on the river and in your neighborhood. As I left Denver and headed West on my way to Vernal, Utah, the views of the Rocky Mountains were awe-inspiring. The mountains provided me with peace and a sense that I’m in the right place geographically in Colorado, where the surroundings often appear other-worldly. The river and canyon views in Dinosaur National Monument provided inspiration and wonder on a daily basis. On one early evening in our camp, a fellow rafter spotted something white moving high up on the canyon wall across from our site and the river. Carrie grabbed her binoculars and we saw that there were three or four mountain goats WAY up on the canyon wall. Of course these animals are used to the heights and rocky surroundings. I might have said once or twice or more, to myself: please don’t fall. One of the goats, perhaps an elder, stayed behind the others inside a cave but he or she eventually made her way out of sight. The sky was filled with stars on most nights; I was excited to peek outside one evening and find one of the dippers directly above our campsite. On past trips, I would often forget to re-emerge at night to see the stars. On my last day, when I visited the dinosaur quarry before I left the area, I hiked to the small museum and saw a handful of lizards as they crossed the sandy path. Even in spots where I didn’t see a lizard, I could see the swoop of its tail and footprints in the sand marking its crossing.
  • Be helpful. Alex, who was 10, was an inspiration on the trip. From the first day, he jumped in to wash dishes and his dad told me that he likes to be helpful. On a river trip, it’s optional to help and the guides make sure you know that you are on vacation, and it’s not a requirement to help with chores. But it also felt nice to jump in and help Alex and my fellow rafters. The guides work so hard and they’re up at the crack of dawn to get coffee and breakfast started. They then row us down the river, make lunches and dinners… and don’t often get a break. We all felt inspired by Alex on this trip, I do believe. Let’s all be more like Alex.
  • Appreciate humor and being around people who make you laugh. I’ve been through some serious life changes of late, with losing my mother and dealing with grief and reconnecting with some family members (the latter with some mixed results, but it’s mostly been good). Alex and our guides and my fellow rafters often brought a smile to my face. It’s hard to make me laugh, and people don’t always understand that about me. I am not a super serious person, to be clear. I love Seinfeld and most types of humor, but you’re not typically going to get a laugh out of me by telling a joke. I appreciate silliness more than a formulated joke. (Not that there’s anything wrong with a formulated joke.) On one of the first nights at our campsite, our lead guide, Zach, asked us to share where we are from, where we now live and our nicknames. Alex introduced himself and said: you can call me “can man,” a nod to his already-formed dedication to smash aluminum cans with a heavy mallet to help with recycling. This was an unfiltered, original joke and everyone loved the spontaneity, including his parents. And, yes, I LOL’d at Alex’s joke.
  • Remember that there are good people in the world. These past few years of political turmoil and the continued COVID-19 pandemic have taken a toll on all of us. We regularly see uncivil behavior in the news or on social media. This year, we’ve had horrific mass shootings in the U.S., including the massacre in Uvalde, Texas, which left 19 children and two teachers dead. New details continue to emerge about a cover-up by local police and government officials in Texas. Transgender and women’s rights are under attack and a large group of white supremacists was detained and charged with a plan to riot at a Pride event in Idaho. Wildfires are still a threat and the testimony from the Jan. 6 insurrection hearings has been more than disturbing… and that’s not even the extent of all the bad news we’ve seen in this first half of 2022. But being on this rafting trip restored my faith in humanity. Our guides charmed us by reading thoughtful and moving poetry, bringing me to tears on most days. And during another “get to know each other” session at camp, our assignment was to share what superpower we would have, if we could wish for anything. Someone said they’d like to fly while another person said they’d like the ability to tell if someone was being truthful. I borrowed another Mary’s wish to understand and talk with animals, since my dog, Sam, is quite talkative and I’d love to know what he is saying. But a few people mentioned things like having peace in the world and wishing we could all co-exist more peacefully. I was struck by the loftiness but also the unselfish responses at a time when we really need more of this type of an attitude. And of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with flying or being able to understand animals, because of course they bring us peace and happiness, and spread their joy among others.

I haven’t yet planned my next trip with OARS, but I know that this one won’t be my last. I’m grateful to have taken this third trek and to have met more remarkable people on the river. Here’s to our paths crossing again and being reminded of life lessons that positively impact our lives.


  1. Thanks Mary – well stated! These are definitely lessons I should take to heart … everyday.

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