After a lovely Christmas spent with family in Oklahoma, it was time to decide where to spend the winter. That is the best and worst part of life on the road: choosing where to go when absolutely anywhere is a possibility. The sensible thing would be to head back to the Southeast where the weather is mild and the whitewater plentiful. But here it is New Years Eve, and we are ringing in the New Year once again, parked next to idling semi-trucks at the Grizzly Creek rest stop along the banks of the Colorado River outside of Glenwood Springs, CO. There is snow along the bank and slush in the river, but as ridiculous as it may seem, it is a tradition that I have embraced for over a decade and one that Abby and Kathy are learning to love.
We meet up with friends for a final paddle of 2017 and then spend New Years Eve together as a family in the Winnebago reflecting and dreaming of adventures that lie ahead. We awaken the next morning to find a favorable forecast of clear skies and a predicted high of 40 degrees – perfect paddling conditions. We are not the only ones stoked on the balmy winter temps because around 11 AM, paddlers begin arriving in droves. I mean there are literally over a hundred people scurrying about loading kayaks, rafts and SUPs, and bundling up in dry suits, skull caps and gloves. The entire area is abuzz with anticipation of the icy rapids that await. We load-up and join the convoy upstream to the put-in.
On the boat ramp, every eddy and flat piece of ground is choked with people and boats. Once everyone is in the water we head downstream like a mass start of a marathon. It’s a wild moment going down the first icy rapid as a writing mass of paddles and boats. Shoshone is short, a little over a mile, but we make the most of it. Icy rocks are splatted, waves are surfed and every eddy is caught by someone. You hear the splashing of water and whoops of joy echoing up and down the canyon. This is the love of paddling in it’s purest form.
Once the last rapid is run, the take out becomes a celebration of rivers and paddlers. Huge pots of homemade chili and and cider are simmering on propane burners. Cauldrons of hot chocolate are steaming on the snowy sidewalk overlooking the river. Some paddlers change into puffy jackets and feast on the simmering provisions while others head back up to the put-in for a second or third lap. This is a true grass roots celebration of paddling. The excitement is contagious as past epics on the river are remembered and plans are made for future whitewater exploits.
For me this is one of my favorite days of the year. When I lived full time in Colorado it was a way to connect with others when many friends were more focused on skiing than kayaking. But now I find myself driving cross country from much warmer and wetter climates to be a part of this tradition. It seems crazy to me too but I love it so much. So I invite you to make the trip and join us on the next New Years Day Shoshone celebration, or as I like to think about it, the first day of the next paddling season.