I want to tell one last story about our time on the Rogue last week, and I had to wait to write it because John and I were irritated with each other for a couple days and I couldn’t readily access the feelings I wanted to document (which is in itself a pretty good summation of marriage: the good times don’t always last, but ideally, neither do the bad times).

It’s no secret that the past four years have been challenging for the two of us. We have different political perspectives and different values and we are in general just two very different people in many ways. These contrasts have mostly worked in our favor over time, I believe, each of us contributing our individual worldviews and strengths and if not always agreeing, at least learning from one another.

But it’s been increasingly difficult to find common ground in recent years or even agree to disagree. I see this as a larger issue that the entire country has been struggling with, and since this is my blog and I get to say what I want here, I’ll state for the record that I mostly blame the inept and often downright vile Trump administration for the polarized mess we find ourselves in now. (Second only to Twitter, which I firmly believe is an actual social and cultural toxin that has done far more harm than good.)

There is also the fact that I am an addict, which I say not to vilify myself but to acknowledge that I have always put a strain on our relationship in some way from this disease. Being in active addiction is a burden on those who care about me, and frankly being in recovery isn’t always a cakewalk either.

When the pandemic started it seemed like the two of us banded together, equally worried about keeping our family safe, and then as things went on we took on differing attitudes. COVID-19 somehow became a political thing, even masks became political, protests were erupting and we had opposing thoughts about the topics that were being stirred up as a result of that, we’d been in quarantine with the kids forever, and it all just felt like a lot.

Like, a LOT a lot. Maybe too much. It felt like maybe this was the breaking point for us, which is a hell of a thing to say but I know I felt it, and I know he did too. We both had times of wondering whether our mutual desire to preserve our family unit was misguided, whether everyone wouldn’t eventually be better off if we went our separate ways.

John surprised me by suggesting that the two of us go rafting together. I’ve always deeply enjoyed my times on the river but I never really imagined that we would do that trip on our own. It felt like an enormous adventure, it felt like a much-needed opportunity to reconnect, and it felt … well, like an investment. An investment in us.

From the moment we left the boys with John’s parents I felt a lightness in my body and spirit, the relief and freedom that comes from not having to continually divvy out your attention and energy for other people. We could talk without being interrupted, we could do what we chose, we didn’t have to worry about anyone but ourselves. Every parent knows the delicious luxury of being kid-free for a few days, and it was particularly refreshing after months of being virtually on top of each other 24/7.

So there was an immediate pleasure to that, but as our trip continued I felt as though I were seeing John with fresh eyes. I saw how carefully he watched out for me in the rapids, how quickly he helped me when I was in need, how patiently he explained things so that I could learn some of the skills he’s acquired over the years. The way he gave me the best sleeping bag, held my hand when the trail got scrambly, and made me coffee before I even woke up in the mornings.

I saw how he prefers to relax by staying active, tinkering with gear or re-familiarizing himself with the next day’s rapids in the guidebook. We unwind in different ways, and I think it took this trip for me to finally understand that he truly finds peace through work and that he does not judge others for, say, lazing by the water with a book.

There are so many things I admire and love about John: his strength, his humor, his intellect, his drive, his thirst for adventure, his kindness. I wouldn’t say that I have ever lost sight of these things, but the feeling of being on opposite sides of a battleground has brought a scary myopia at times.

We talked a lot about past memories and shared experiences, often while sitting by the campfire at night. The stingrays we petted in Mexico, the time we had dinner at the top of a Bangkok skyscraper with menus carved on slate so they wouldn’t blow away, our career wins and setbacks, the day we oh so gingerly drove home from the hospital with our first newborn child asleep in the backseat.

I have lived so much of my life with him. We have navigated so much terrain together. We have grown apart and close and apart again. There have been the very best of times and the very worst.

On our hardest days, I have held onto my greatest desire: to keep my family together. That has been the glue when everything else felt as though it was crumbling around me, when the violence in the streets seemed to echo the chaos and unrest in my own heart. Maybe that was enough on its own, but I feel more bolstered now. I have a renewed faith in the two of us, a vision of our future when the children are on their own, a dream of covering even more terrain, side by side, until it is time to rest.

What I can see more clearly is how I don’t want to stay in this marriage out of duty or the fear of hurting the boys or any other reason that is less than the real truth, which is that I want to stay in this marriage because he is my person. Through all of our changes, all the ways that we are no longer the same people who took vows in a tiny church on Orcas Island almost twenty years ago, he is still my person.

I can only speak for what I took home from our trip, but I believe it was a powerful reset that served us both. A break from the news and noise, a return to nature and our most basic needs.

A soul-deep reminder that I love John, now and always. I love him no matter who he votes for, I love him even when we are terrible to one another, I love him despite and because of our differences.

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[Part one] About 11 miles down the river is Jenny Creek, an idyllic spot on the south bank where we camped the first night. I could hardly imagine a better campsite but our last night on the river was even more amazing, with a gentle sloping sandy beach and a friendly family of deer wandering through camp.

Our second night was spent at Marial Lodge, which was a combination of experiences I really appreciated: I love camping, but I can’t lie, I love showers and flushable toilets just a tiny bit more. Marial is incredibly charming, with a cozy lodge to hang out in, enormous home-cooked meals to savor, and the world’s friendliest dog to play with.

Day one offers the most rapids, day two is relatively chill with a few big splashes, and day three is the most intense at the start, with the rock walls narrowing and the ground dropping to create the fast-moving Mule Creek Canyon at mile 21. We hiked the night before to an overlook where I watched the great rushing boil of water and firmly abandoned my original half-baked plans to take the kayak through.

(A piece of slightly comical advice from a guide to the Rogue on Mule Creek: “Your goal should be to keep your boat straight, and moving forward.” Yes, much like the helpful skiing instructions from Better Off Dead: “Go that way, really fast. If something gets in your way, turn.”)

John took us through Mule Creek on his raft with barely a bump, even in the infamous Coffee Pot at the end, which is essentially a roiling bowl of crazy. This isn’t my photo (credit: NW Rafting) but it shows the setup: the combination of a small space and a whole lot of water power can be very challenging.

After Mule Creek comes Blossom Bar, the most difficult rapid of the river. I guess it is a class IV, the same as Coffee Pot, but it’s scarier because of the potential consequences. Blossom was originally unnavigable, with early miners and explorers essentially hand-dragging boats through the giant rocks before it was cleared with dynamite, and now it remains a boulder-strewn churn that demands precise navigation.

The first and most important move is to avoid the so-called “picket fence,” a line of big undercut rocks that can act as a trap and a fatal sieve. A hard turn at the exact right moment is required before moving with the current through powerful lateral waves and quickly eddying out before picking your way through even more rocks.

My first times through Blossom were on foot, walking around the rapid with our kids. As the boys got older they were able to walk through on their own and I rode with John, with one memorable trip that resulted in us briefly high-siding on a rock before thankfully sliding free.

On this journey, John perfectly executed the entire run without even a single impact. “Like buttah!” I howled, zingy with post-Blossom relief and pride, and then I gave myself the solemn promise that I too would successfully navigate this rapid on my own someday JUST KIDDING I am pretty sure I am never doing that ever.

I did paddle the rest of our time on the river, though, to our campsite at Tacoma Camp and all the way out on the morning of day four. Every day we saw bald eagles, osprey, great blue herons, river mink, turtles, tiny lizards, and once, a disturbingly large leaping fish that was either a salmon or young sturgeon (also a reminder that deep waters are never to be trusted). We cooled off from the hot sunshine in the river by day and sat by crackling campfires at night. We told stories and laughed a lot but spent most of our time in companionable quiet, happily lost in the ever-changing landscape and waters.

Since we got back home I’ve been trying to curb my screen time and news reading, to try and hold on to just a bit of that peace of mind the Rogue brings. There is truly nothing like this place, and I can’t wait to go back.

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