Section 9: Presidio to Rio Grande Village
0 hiking miles, 370 driving miles
No official miles today but our team of five had a ton to accomplish. Our first task was to get a spot in the Rio Grande Village Campground for that night. The spots are first come first served and competition is FIERCE. We committed to an early morning wake up (extra terrible due to stupid Daylight Savings) and were able to swoop in right as someone was leaving and snag their spot. First task - check! We unloaded the car and set up tents, staking out our territory as best as possible in the busy national park. We also ran into Zak(!!!!!), our friend who had joined us back in New Mexico, who was boating Boquillas Canyon with friends. He would be joining us along the river in a couple days.
Next step, picking up our river permits. We were so on top of it we arrived before the Visitor’s Center opened, an actual first for us. Fred used the opportunity to make coffee in the parking lot in between ferocious gusts of wind. Our hiker trash ways are contagious!
Is it open yet, is it open yet?
A park employee came outside to take down the flag and Kim pounced on him, thinking they were open. It would have been an irrevocable error for anyone else in the world to try and talk to a government employee before they were officially on duty, but Kim can charm her way into anyone’s good graces. Before long we had the ranger’s life story, his wife’s (also a ranger), and an account of the weather in Arkansas vs. Big Bend. Also we had our river permits. Go Kim!
Our main priority for the day was running a shuttle 160 miles to the east in order to drop off Nikki’s car so that she could exit the river in eight days to catch her plane back to Colorado. When Nikki left us, we would be joined by Claire’s mom, Sarah, as well as Zak and Corey. WE ARE SO LUCKY! After parking Nikki’s car in Dryden, Fred would drive us all back to Rio Grande Village.
This plan has been over a month in the making and it was not easy. Let’s rewind. Over a month ago, outside El Paso, we realized that our initial plan to hike above the rim of the “Lower Canyons” (the 100 mile section of river just east of Big Bend) was not possible due to difficult terrain and a maze of private property. Our options were to move 20 miles north to the highway, or hike in the river and along its banks where the public has right of way. Hiking the river - our preferred method - would mean hiking on the banks while pulling a raft with our gear behind us so that we could hop in the boat when the canyon walls closed in too tightly. Nikki had been planning to join us right before this section but we asked her to change her plans to join us for the river section, thinking it would be more fun and also more convenient with our schedule. Without knowing exactly what she was getting into, she changed her tickets and work schedule to join us for the Lower Canyons.
At this point, Tenny called Kim and Fred to try and rope them into this crazy plan. Although we tried to sell it as a vacation, Fred and Kim were wise enough to call us on our bullshit and ask us to do some more research. Good thing they did. After calling several river guide companies, Tenny discovered that everyone’s boats and gear had been booked for months by the spring break crowd. Crap. We called Kim and Fred again, this time with a more contrite tone, begging for help.
Please, please will you support us through the Lower Canyons?
Thank god they know their way around a river and are friends with people who own the necessary gear. Namely some dear old friends, Russ and Renee, who readily agreed to let us borrow their inflatable rafts. Except there's one hitch, they’re living in Mexico for the winter months and communication about the boats had to be through Facebook. Come on! With enormous generosity, Fred and Kim agreed to round up the gear and meet us a month later, ready to aid us from the river while we hiked on the banks.
Right around this stage of the planning we entered the Forgotten Reach and virtually disappeared off the face of the earth, leaving all the planning to those with cell service. In the space of a few weeks, Fred and Kim had to figure out the many permits and regulations, the schedules, shuttles and gear for all involved, the food, and get the boats! Fortunately, Russ and Renee returned from Mexico right around this time and they generously handed off the boats for maintenance and repair. We’ll proudly have a little piece of Russ-n-Renee with us on the river!! Kim had everyone in the Big Bend area on the phone, while Fred had a carful of gear strewn throughout the house, painstakingly checking for leaks and other problems. All this while managing their own work and chores. When we finally resurfaced in Presidio, we did our best to participate in the planning, but Kim and Fred had the lion’s share and are basically the absolute best.
As our schedules became more pinned down, it became clear that we’d still be on the river when Claire’s mom Sarah flew in, and that we’d have to ask her to change her plans as well. Plus Zak and Corey had gotten some funding to film us for a short video, and would be joining us during the same time frame. Also, we would be out of cell service for long enough that we had to ask Tenny’s cousin Jules to help us post our blog. Lots of people involved, all of whom we asked a lot of, all of whom we love dearly. We wanted to make sure we acknowledge the insane amount of support we had received to make this river plan possible.
Okay so that's almost up to speed. Back to today. We left Kim at the campsite to get some chores done and started what we hoped would be a 7-8 hour shuttle to and from Dryden, TX. On the way we stopped at the other Visitor’s Center, and learned that our permit from earlier in the day had not been done correctly.
Fortunately, remember Ranger Jeanette, our permit issuer from a couple days back? She was there to help!
Corrected permit in hand we drove our two cars to Dryden, then turned south along the long, private dirt road to the river. Lots of sheep, goats, cows, and...lambs! The property owner, who runs a business for boaters wanting to put in and take out on his property, had a good sense of humor with his signage along the road. Unfortunately, the shuttle did not take 7 hours but over 10. By the time we got back to the campsite it was almost midnight and all of our other chores would have to wait for the morning. Off to bed!