Stand on the Rio Grande
By: Sam Mauldin
Lessons are learned the hard way when part of your plan is making it up as you go.
Before our "Stand On the Rio Grande" expedition through Big Bend National Park, the flow dropped dramatically in the months leading up to the trip, leaving us with a flow of only 15 CFS. Cussing, laughing and dragging our boards over dry riverbed for nearly 20 of the 100 miles we covered, fully loaded with gear for a week in 100-degree weather, we learned some things. Like, we had too much gear and that people are hilarious when delirious and exhausted.
After losing several sets of fins each, we decided to run without them. Six guys zig-zagging down the river, seemingly out of control while trying to act like pros had to be a funny sight, especially when the demon fish (alligator gar) jumped on our boards and scared us half to death. Considering the rest of Texas was underwater at that time due to flooding, we were actually praying for a flash flood and came prepared with PFDs, helmets and throw-lines.
We went through a lot in seven days: a near death while rock climbing, running out of drinking water, a broken foot, severe sickness, scorching heat during the day and near-freezing temps at night, getting lost and even over-shooting our takeout by two miles at three in the morning and, last but not least, waking up camped next to a Mexican town we hadn't seen the night before. The confused looks from the local who discovered us in the morning is something I'll never stop laughing about.
Yes, it was physically brutal, but it's one of my favorite trips to date. We experienced something no one else had while standing on—or walking through—water. We paddled through 1,500-foot tall canyons, washed our sins in magical hot springs and night-paddled with stars reflecting off the calm water so brightly that the horizon disappeared and we were just a bunch of river astronauts exploring a new universe.
More cautionary tales from the path less paddled: