Rivers & Rapids and Bears, Oh My!
By Guest Author: Debbie Jacobs
She was easy to spot. On her medical form she had noted that she would not be useful for carrying any canoes, the stick drawing she included showed three people carrying a canoe overhead. Standing in between two of the figures, Maxine could not reach high enough to help.
Even if she were not ‘petite’ Maxine would stand out in a crowd. At 71 years old she walks with determined strides and dressed in her outdoor gear, purchased in the boy’s department, she doesn’t fit the mold of ‘older lady’. Spunky is a word that comes to mind, but only if it makes you think of a Jack Russell terrier, small, with attitude. “How’d you know it was me?” she winked when I approached her as she exited the gate at the airport.
“I used to be 4’10” until I shrunk two @#$% inches,” Maxine explained to me at dinner our first night together as a group. We were preparing for a 5 day adventure down Oregon’s Rogue River. The group, all women over 40, were being accompanied by three women raft guides, three to four decades their junior. If the guides thought they were heading out with ‘little old ladies’ they had a big surprise coming.
Besides our three rafts, we also had 2 inflatable kayaks. Every day we were given the option to hop in a guided raft, or captain our own craft. It was late May, and though we had near perfect weather, the kayakers wore wetsuits and had they flipped, a swim would have been invigorating, to say the least. Maxine was among the first to volunteer for the experience. Never having been in a kayak did not deter her. I held my breath watching her descend the rapids, but she handled the boat like a pro. “I love being an active learner,” Maxine explained, “I believe in ‘process’, which includes: acquiring skills that challenge me with physical, mental, and ethical prowess...that’s why these trips are a perfect fit for me.” That’s quite a statement coming from a woman willing to wear a purple helmet and neoprene.
As we traveled down the river, our guides had built up our one night camping in bear territory to the point that we were nervous, but couldn’t wait. A single electric wire enclosure had been constructed at the campsite where our food was to be stored. I doubted the effectiveness of the system, suspecting that a marauding bear would not be deterred by the shock, but I kept my thoughts to myself. When I was a couple of decades younger, I had spent wonderful months backpacking in Yosemite National Park. Black bears were a common visitor at camp and I never ceased to be thrilled by their presence. A black bear in camp would be the icing on the cake.
At dinner that evening, Wendy, our young snow-boarding raft guide, was in charge of the ‘bear talk’. We were warned to put our toiletry bags into the electric enclosure. Bears show no reluctance to slicing a hole in your tent with their four inch claws, gobbling your toothpaste and rooting for the Snicker bar under your pillow. When the talk progressed to include the concerns for menstruating women in bear country, a cry rose from the group, “Not a problem in this crowd!” they laughed. Poor Wendy, now a lovely shade of crimson, admitted that she’d never rafted with a group of just ‘older’ women. “Don’t worry about it honey,” one woman reassured her, “Estrogen is overrated.”
We woke the next morning to discover that the bears had found better pickings somewhere else and left us unmolested. The one we’d seen, wandering the bank of the river earlier the day before, must have found a group of smellier campers to harass. Sitting in our camp chairs, sipping our morning teas and coffees at breakfast, our kitchen area was suddenly overrun by a small herd of deer. Six young deer came scampering out of the trees and raced each other past our tents, kicking up sand and circling twice before returning back into the woods. Who needs midnight bears when the breakfast show includes Bambi!
The women in the group continued to be impressed by Maxine’s exploits, her willingness to brave the rapids on her own, her lively sense of humor, her openness to new ideas and situations. The only complaint I ever heard from her was regarding chair height construction. Another woman on our trip, admirable in her own right, after listening to the accolades go round and round, whispered to me, “I don’t know what the big deal is, she’s ONLY 2 years older than I am!”
She was right, Maxine was the senior in the group by a mere two years, so she was not that unusual, BUT, she was the only one in the group whose feet didn’t touch the floor when sitting in a chair, and surely that has to count for something. But then again, I’ve learned that it’s not what we’re packaged in that makes a difference, as much as what’s inside. Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right.” Maxine knows she can.
I’ll keep Henry Ford and Maxine in mind when I shrink ‘two #$% inches’, myself.
Debbie Jacobs, founder and president of Explorations in Travel,
http://www.exploretravel.com, organizes outdoor and
cultural adventures for women over 40 and arranges individual volunteer placements in
Latin America , the South Pacific and Nepal. She lives in southern Vermont with too many
dogs. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright 2000-by Debbie Jacobs