Section 10: Rio Grande Village to Langtry
Last night Claire, Tenny and Nikki decided to sleep on the rafts. We flipped the inflatable boats over and voila a perfect, squishy bed. Early this morning we woke up to rain and couldn’t muster the energy to do much about it. Needless to say we got a little wet.
Did we say yesterday was hard going?
Because we should amend that. Today it was more than hard, it wasn’t possible in places. Simply bending over to move forward through the vegetation was no longer enough, only a full-on army crawl worked. Or it worked enough to get you above the tangled mess of thick cane (the cane is back and in full force) only to realize that you had been cliffed out 15 minutes ago and needed to backtrack. At one point we were so trapped that we had to chimney climb down a 15-ft crack with our feet braced against a leaning tree. The boaters watched from below, shouting out “helpful” advice about what was to come. (More cane). Some of the hiking went through stretches of blackened land where the cane had been burned in wide swathes. There must be a conservation team working to wipe out the invasive, which was already reintroducing itself.
With both the hikers and boaters switching between the US and Mexico side dozens of times a day it was easy to forget the banks represented different countries. The Mexican side has a few more signs of people but otherwise the banks look identical. We knew that the right side was Mexico and the left the US but it took conscious effort to remember each time. Technically it is illegal to switch between sides but we have heard from multiple river folk and park employees that custom allows boaters to camp on and use both banks. There is no practical way to use only your half of the river after all. The complex legalities, practicalities and hypotheticals of an international waterway is something that absolutely fascinates us.
Today we were facing the two largest rapids of the trip; Upper Madison and Lower Madison. The low water level meant that the rapids were bony with exposed rock. We lined the first part of Upper Madison. The rafts were too heavy to lift and we ended up unloading a lot of the heavier gear so we could manipulate them down and around the rocks. All five of us stood thigh deep in water and braced against the fierce current as we “one-two-three” shoved the duckies downstream. We were relieved to reach the calm waters below until we realized there was a second part of the rapid. It got worse. Time to strip down the boats of all our gear and portage everything a quarter mile below. All in all it took almost three hours to get down Upper Madison and our following lunch break was certainly well deserved!
We didn’t have to completely unload the boats at Lower Madison but it still ate up another chunk of time. The current did it’s best to suck us down with it and we had to brace against every rock possible to avoid going under. This boating stuff can be hard work!
Our campsites so far have been gorgeous pull offs on smooth rocky ledges or grassy fields. This evening it got later and later without any sign of a campsite, not even a patch of grass. Instead we floated endlessly through an impenetrable corridor of cane. At around 8pm we settled for a tiny gravel bar that had somehow resisted total colonization. We beat back the cane just enough to make space for the boats and a tent, although Fred and Kim had a groove as big as the Grand Canyon running straight down the middle of their spot.
We were approaching the date of our rendezvous with Sarah, Zak and Corey and had finally accepted the reality that we weren’t gonna make it on time. Instead of meeting them on the night of the 20th we would have to push back to midday the 21st. We also needed to send Sarah a grocery list of items to bring in with her to restock our supplies. With the GPS as our only means of communication with the outside world, Claire painstakingly arrowed over to each letter on the tiny keyboard to spell out the multiple messages. She’ll never take texting on a phone for granted again!