We were standing there in between sets at Red Butte Garden last Sunday waiting for Trombone Shorty to take the stage and reminiscing with a mutual friend who had recently flown in from the Big Apple for a week in "Utahpia," as she puts it, when Jim began his tale of a three-day canoe trip from his and my somewhat hedonistic past. The subject had been broached once an upcoming jaunt to the iconic Pete's Roc N Rye saloon in Evanston had been mentioned.
Although the canoe was still inverted and strapped atop my truck when we pulled in to Stan Taggart's watering hole on our way to the "put-in" at Flaming Gorge Dam on that day years ago, we always considered Pete's as the starting point of that particular adventure.
Recognizing well in advance what the main talking points of his chronicle would be, I settled in, yet one more time, to listen to his latest, somewhat embellished, version of our days floating the Green River from the dam to the Gates of Lodore. Having been there and done that, I drifted into a reverie that played out the entire trip in my mind with Jim's ongoing verbal drone as backdrop.
Below the dam, we encountered a dozen or so inflatable rafts full of what appeared to be Boy Scouts. Locating a sliver of free water between two of them, we launched our trusty craft, which, in the parlance of whitewater enthusiasts, had been "rigged to flip."
This preventive measure of strapping everything down precludes the loss of equipment once the canoe, for whatever reason, finds itself upside down, as this one did, of course, while floating the moderate rapids of the "A" section. But, save for a paddle floating off a short distance, the episode really had no downside, providing time to bring the craft to shore, right the ship, as it were, and cast a few bugs at the Green River's famous trout.
Soon we found ourselves in the "B" section and somewhat quickly located a camping spot for the night. The evening unfolded in idyllic fashion: shade under a huge pine tree, dinner in twilight, and whiskey and cigars around the campfire. Another hastily-assembled repast in the morning and we were once again off with the current.
This is where Jim's favorite part of the entire trip comes into play. As he ever-so-carefully recounts whenever the opportunity arises, when embarking from our campsite, I forgot to repack the "springbar" poles that went with my tent.
We wouldn't discover this slight lapse in focus, of course, until we arrived at our next campsite, which turned out to be in the Brown's Park National Wildlife Refuge, the mosquito capital of this particular spiral arm of the Milk Way galaxy.
Before reaching Brown's Park, however, Jim would acquire additional fodder for future tell-all tales like the one he was currently spinning for our friend. Following our carefully-plotted "lining" of Red Creek Rapid, which, obviously, we had deemed too rough to run in a canoe, we floated with visions of John Wesley Powell and Butch Cassidy into the historic expanse of Brown's Hole.
Soon we were performing ever-so-slow and beautifully choreographed 360-degree revolutions through the jaw-dropping setting of Swallow Canyon. With the speed of the river radically reduced through what Powell had named "Brown's Park," paddling, and the lack thereof, became an issue.
To hear Jim tell it, my paddle seldom met the water. His inference, of course, being that I wasn't pulling my share of the load. That's his story and he's stuck to it all these years, although, with each telling, there are subtle shifts in the narrative. Sometimes he has me holding the paddle by the wrong end.
Threading our way through all manner of migratory waterfowl including pelicans and geese, we finally arrived at mosquito central late in the day. That's when the absence of tent poles became apparent and its implication most horrifying. Suffice it to say, a satisfactory solution utilizing tree trunks and canoe straps in lieu of poles saved the day.
About noon the next day, the majestic walls of the Gates of Lodore loomed in the distance. Our trip was winding down. We would be met by a truck to haul us and the canoe back to the dam and our waterborne escapade would enter into mythology and folklore. I'm sure the future will hold more opportunities for Jim to spin his yarn, but that's OK. Our friendship is rigged to flip.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.