When D day arrived and everyone disembarked I wasn’t with you. I was reading a sonnet. I was on my way to a wedding. When you were at Espace Eau Vie and Elise’s shoulder gave way, I was in the garden, red roses in bloom. When you arrived and wound up the snaking hair pin bends unusually free from snow and ice I was in ancient Baths. When you were on the Sunshine Run I was afraid, driving on the wrong side of the road hurtling past the vineyards Reims and Beaune.
You weren’t on the Claree. That was too low. You weren’t on the Gironde either. No death weir this year. You weren’t on the Onde or the BTG. All far too low. Not enough snow pack and a blazing Spring put pay to all that.
It was my first morning in the Alps and I wore a shorty sleeved cag and elbow pads on the banks of the Guille. I came face to face with a sheer cliff of our ambition. The towering walls of the Chateau Queryas Gorge, albeit not quite the thundering caldron of hell of yesteryear and not so much fear.
The tension rose in me as I descended through the entry rapid. No warm up, but a wake up. Not exactly what I would say on line, but on an approximation to a line and into the first of the waves you can see from the rocks high above. Shoved by the water from one side of the flow to the other. Hitting the stone and loosening my grip on the paddle to push off with my palm. Passing the crux and waiting in the relative calm of an eddy formed on the river right able to catch my breath before the exit rapid and the boney lines that follow claiming another boat before a steep short hike out to the cemetery where I doubt I’ll be able to arrange to be buried. I survived, I was animated and alive.
The flow was so low that I was allowed to lead on that usually raging torrent which is the Ubaye Race Course. Able to eddy hop mostly gently down the river looking at the sky and the high thin bridge above.
On the way to the Guisane I saw a figure in the sky falling, tumbling, plummeting, upside down. I thought l, not for the first time, that I would see him die. When we arrived the river was not as fast as I had recalled. But the rocks were higher in the water making it difficult to run in places, making a rapid in Gillberts hard to navigate and easy (as I was) to be pinned on.
Some of you went to the next valley where a glacier was still melting and a dam was releasing. I followed up over the mountain pass there to where the sun danced, shined and gleamed on the blue white water running, racing, splashing down the steep sloping river bed towards a grade 4 rapid that looked deceptively inviting. But I was too hot and parched and unwilling to drink from the water rushing past and the rocks seemed quick, sharp and treacherous so I left a part of my heart on the Romanche.
Then the Covid arrived carving a raveen between us. Split up. Separated. The Durance still held its water. The mellow waves forming trains down towards the wave were we played at a distance. Spinning, flipping, rolling, surfing and finally swimming. Together and apart.
We bade our farewells to the lakes, the streams, the rocks, the rivers and the maintain for another year. We were on our way home. You speeding past when my journey stopped. I was on the side of the road. Gear box failure. Gillettes jaunes on.