Sometimes it might not be best, when running a river, to camp beside a big set of rapids that have yet to be negotiated. As the night goes on, it gets louder, the rumble turning during the wee hours into a roar. When one shifts in the sleeping bag, it might not be just your imagination that the ground seems to shake.

So it was, encamped among the cobbles on river left beside Big Drop #2 in Cataract Canyon, mid-May, high water, many moons ago. The Old Man had already gone swimming in Mile-Long Rapid, catapulted in the late afternoon sun from his perch, silhouetted against the yellow canyon walls, arms windmilling like a cartoon figure.

At sunset, The River Buddha and I hiked downstream to have a look at Big Drop #3, which awaited below the swirling eddies at the foot of #2. There was a large volume of water behaving in crazy fashion, but it looked there was safe passage between a heinous rock garden on the left, which no one in their sane mind would want any part of, and an exploding hole on the right that was full of menace. Upon return to camp, to campmates curious about what to expect, The Buddhist widened his eyes and uttered his summation: “Jingus.”

That guy. Jingus McDingus, whatever.

In the morning, a bit of a nervous breakfast and off we went. The Old Man and Susan went first in their double rower rig, one person rowing in front of the other, oars dipping in unison — theoretically — like a Phoenician slave galley. One person rowing at a time is bad enough; despite the best of intentions, with big hydraulics it can sometimes be a wacky ride. With two rowers, there are a lot more variables, a lot more coordination involved, and many a relationship has ended up on the rocks with much less exacting challenge.

This day, though, smooth sailing, testament to their blind faith and teamwork, The Old Man’s spontaneous navigating notwithstanding. He had proclaimed, at the final scout, his intention of skirting an uninviting hole — which complicated the entrance to the desired central line — on the left. Maybe that way didn’t look exciting enough when they got out there, because they went right, above the Little Niagara ledge, rowed to the middle and scooted through with nary a care.

In the paddleboat, we went left, then middle and had a lovely, uneventful ride. Such was the adrenaline, joy and relief after making it through, that our entrance into #3 was maybe not optimum. The memory of the nightmare rock garden on the left had us cheating right and we slipped off the tongue – a real tongue lashing – and into the maw of a hole that was, in river parlance “snappin’ and poppin’.”

Down in the hole, our cute little sun-bleached baby blue rubber boat percolated like a Joe Namath Butter Up Popcorn Popper and was soon awash, not a crewmember left aboard, done in by crashing waves, but we didn’t flip, emerging downstream in various states of disrepair. It was the first of many pairs of spectacles sacrificed to the river for me, but at least I had an arm draped over the rear tube, and I didn’t lose my shorts, hooked as they were around my ankles.

Maybe it was a little jingus.

If you want to see a group of people acting ungracefully and not caring, watch them scramble back into a paddleboat after being ejected. The Old Man’s belly guffaw echoes to this day along the canyon walls.

There is something to be said for unconventional ideas, such as The Old Man’s insistence on rowing through the night, on a subsequent Cataract trip, this one in the fall, in order to be at the take-out in time for Susan to get home in time for work. This discussion took place across the river from the mouth of Dark Canyon during lunch.

Another group showed up, set up camp across the river and we noticed they had an outboard engine stowed on one of their boats.

The Old Man was consulted on the matter, and asked if he would be open to the idea of staying the night there — an outrageously beautiful and inspiring place, towering cliffs with faces in the rocks, corridors of giants, spirits floating by, whispering, on the wind — and hitching a ride out the next day with the new group. He said don’t ask me, ask the boss. Susan said sure.

Turns out the new arrivals were from Bozeman, a good ol’ duct tape town, and they said they’d be glad to tow us out in exchange for fifty bucks. Done. To their credit, they took the money, hooked up the motor, a couple of them jammed out to Hite Marina, bought a bunch of beer and headed back upriver. When they showed up hours later, though, their windfall had been consumed. We were impressed.

We had plenty to share and enjoyed a party around the campfire that night on the mud flats with our new Big Sky friends, and a mellow cruise out the next day, all well in the end. There’s something to be said for being open to suggestion.

No, things don’t always go as planned, but with the right attitude, they’ll still go, and if in the end you can still laugh about it, then maybe things aren’t so bad.

The Old Man will always be on the river, seeking solace, sitting by the fire, a hand reaching from the shadows, grabbing his ear, a voice: “Old Man, it’s time for bed,” and the river will run to the sea.

Sean can be reached at