July 2005. My brother was living in Nelson BC at the time. He dropped by mom’s house and asked her, in his off-handed fashion: Hey Mom, want to raft the Tatshenshini with me?
She had no idea of the conditions. She may not have even known where the Tatshenshini River was exactly. But her son asked and that was enough.
Mom was 66 years old. Then, as now, fears ruled her physical world. She can’t swim, has poor balance, no dynamic strength and a fear of heights and flying. She does, however, have a keen sense of adventure.
Mom: So, what does that involve, exactly?
Wisely, Al was light on the details.
This is a Mother’s Day tale, set in pre-COVID 19 days, when such an adventure was possible.
During the months leading up to her trip, mom prepared by investing in the best life jacket, sleeping bag, down jacket, tent, and booties available, to keep herself warm and dry. She did not take swimming lessons or learn how to paddle. She was along for the ride, and it would end well.
The crux move on this trip, in terms of the paddling, was the canyon section, which fortunately for mom was at the beginning. Once through that, she could relax, relatively speaking. Being with her son gave her great confidence because he knew her fears and he was calm about them. If anything happened, he would help her out. My brother included, the core members of this group were the Nelson swiftwater rescue unit. She was in good hands.
All went well. A few days along, everyone found their niche and pitched in. Teamwork was the key to a smooth expedition. Icebergs, wolves, grizzlies, exposure to weather and days spent on the water, mom managed by drawing on her strengths. She had endurance and a wicked ability to laugh at herself, spontaneously and most genuinely during times of crisis.
The trip was a highlight in her life. For being with her son, comfortable and proud of his accomplishments, and willing to give out her best for him. She wouldn’t be the one who brought the team to a halt.
As her daughter, I recognize what it took for mom to get in a boat day after day. It never got easier, but it became a routine. A certain degree of normal crept in. There was no way out but through.
When I asked her about writing this piece, she came back with: Feels like I was so young; at 66, is it even a story? !! On this Mother’s Day 2020, yes, it is. More than ever.
Mom turns 81 in July. Still a spring chicken. She’s on the fence about the future of her airline travels, but she has every intention of continuing to face her challenges.
This too, shall pass, and more adventures will be taken on.
Technically, the Tatshenini is an easy river, with most of the whitewater concentrated in the first day. The trip takes ten days and is rated as one of the top ten river trips in the world. Located in preserved lands which consist of Glacier Bay National Park, BC Tatshenshini Provincial Park, Kluane National Park and Yukon Game Preserve, this area is the largest non-polar ice field in the world. Logistically, the expedition requires extensive permitting, planning and preparation. From Nelson, the put-in is a 1700km drive, one way.
A Mother’s Day Tale as told by her daughter Jill Macdonlad