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A dear friend invited me to join her on a whitewater rafting trip; a women’s river retreat. I had never taken a vacation like this before. I was hesitant: It was a lot of money, and I wasn’t sure about sharing my vacation with a dozen strangers in addition to my friend. She twisted my arm well enough, and I decided to give it a try. Little did I know then how much this adventure was an investment in my future.
I remember the first morning, anxiously waiting at the boat ramp for instructions about how all of this would work: We watched as our guides-all women–packed everything we would need, or want, for four days onto these large inflatable rafts. Armed with sunscreen, sunglasses, and a stylish life vest, we boarded the boats and shoved off into the current.
Our first stop would be for lunch. The boats were pulled into an eddy, and we climbed out to a beautiful white sand beach, with some Box Elder trees for shade, and a rocky basalt ledge on which to perch while the guides prepared our repast, including lots of fresh fruit and veggies. I sat staring out at the Lower Salmon river, swift and clear. One of the other guests approached me and asked how I liked the trip so far. I replied that it was lovely, and I was pleased that one of these strangers had reached out to say hello. Then I realized, it was my friend Amy. I had never seen her without makeup before, much less with wet hair and a skimpy swimsuit, and I didn’t recognize her! We were making the transition to river time.
The first day seemed like a long one, but once we rowed to a campsite, we were rewarded with lessons in foot reflexology, and got to practice on each other. Soon we were admiring the genius of our guides, who had from their stores magically whipped up a Mexican fiesta dinner! Where had those cook pots come from? And chairs, an awning, real plates and forks, too. Oh, and there was strawberry shortcake for dessert! Other than sleeping in a tent, we were hardly “roughing it.”
In the morning, we awoke to gentle calls for yoga practice. Even though the daytime was quite hot, the early hours were much cooler, so I put on some fleece, and joined the group. The sand gave my asanas a whole new feeling of rootedness. I had been studying some yoga, but our resident river guru introduced me to several new concepts, including a style called “Acuyoga,” which combines Chinese medicine with hatha yoga. She was knowledgeable about nutrition, too, and throughout the rest of the trip we would chat on and off as we floated downstream. In the capable hands of our guides, there was little to do but relax, enjoy the scenery of northern Idaho, and enjoy each other’s company.
Some of the guests indulged in paddling small inflatable kayaks from time to time, and I have it a try as well, but found it a little distracting from the relaxing rhythm into which I was settling for the first time in years, maybe ever. Although I had camped a lot, and had been on a whitewater trip once, I had never taken such a luxurious vacation before, had never traveled with a girlfriend before, had never traveled with a group — a group of women.
We were all getting acquainted, and in a very short time sharing intimate secrets of our lives; one woman from New York had recently lost her brother in an auto accident. Others shared their struggles with marriage-“Should we try something different sexually to rekindle the spark?” one woman asked. Others in the group took an afternoon break to sunbathe au naturelle. It was easy enough to respect those who were more modest, since the beaches were so vast. I knew I was relaxing when I found myself walking to that far end of the beach.
Sometimes we would slide into the water for a swim; it seemed not only an essential part of a river experience to swim in it, but it was also an essential survival tactic on hot August afternoons when the danger of dehydration is high. We learned that if you are suddenly not having a good time anymore, if everyone else on the trip is suddenly annoying you, you are probably dehydrated. Drink water, and have a swim.
Before we knew it, we were at our last night’s camp, and were amazed yet again at the skill and talent of our guides in preparing a gourmet grill of salmon after a hard day of rowing and navigating rapids. Chocolate cake appeared for dessert, freshly baked in a Dutch oven. By the next afternoon, we were land lubbers once more. Four days had passed without a phone, a computer, a car, or a convenience store. It had been a slice of heaven. At a motel in Grangeville, Idaho, we scrubbed off the layers of sunscreen and sand (an excellent exfoliant, no extra charge), and dressed for dinner. Several of our group planned to meet at Oscar’s, a local restaurant, for a farewell.
Amy and I arrived, but didn’t see any of our new friends. Then we noticed them – at a table in the front, several women smartly dressed, fresh lipstick and combed hair. We had gotten to know our new friends from the inside – out.
My first experience on a Holiday women’s river retreat inspired me to become a yoga teacher and massage therapist, and now, nearly ten years later, I spend my summers working for the company to give back to other women the incredible gifts I have received from the opportunity to relax and renew on the river. I have made many friends over the years, both guides and guests. Some, including Amy, have continued to join me on these adventures. Many plan special occasions around these trips, inviting female family and friends to celebrate a birthday, or perhaps a daughter’s departure for college or marriage. Others arrive solo, and make it an occasion for self-nurturing that only the simplicity of an outdoor riverside spa can offer.
write by robinson