My name is Joan. I was born and raised in the Roaring Fork Valley and have recently returned to work for Elk Mountain Expeditions. Every time I see a familiar face I am asked "what brings you home?", which has lead me to do a lot of pondering on the subject. Why am I drawn to this valley? How come, no matter how hard I try, I end up back where I started? Probably because where I started is still one of my favorite places that I've yet to discover. Every time I come to the valley, I try not to leave without visiting one of the many rivers in some fashion or another, whether it be to soak, swim, boat or reflect. The river is where I feel most at home, most connected to myself and nature. What can I say? I grew up boating these waters, they have taught me more lessons than I can count and formed me into the woman I am today.
I was around 10 years old when I took my first kayak lesson. It was early spring and our instructor brought us to a pristine high mountain lake surrounded by the creeks that feed the Crystal River. That day was far from glamorous, it was 40 degrees and snowing and we were supposed to practice wet exits (swimming out of your kayak). We sure did practice them, but proceeded to spend the rest of the day with the heater cranking in the car learning how to avoid hypothermia. This is one of my favorite boating memories. I learned to face huge fears flipping over a boat in freezing water, got to watch as a snowstorm engulfed Mount Sopris and most importantly, I got to share some hilarious memories with good friends. I would probably categorize that day as one of the worst days of boating I have ever had, and yet I was still hooked for life. After that day the boating improved exponentially as I spent the next four years learning about the rivers in the Roaring Fork Valley. I learned about river ecology, running whitewater, river etiquette, and adventuring; all from local boaters who wanted to share the river with the next generation. Kayaking eventually took me all over the world. I've explored rivers from the Himalayan Mountains to the might Zambizi in Africa. I've paddled all over North America and even tested a few rivers down south in Chile. Everywhere I go I try to boat, that is my happy place, that is where I feel comfortable and alive.
When I think about how many opportunities I have gained from being around rivers, I remember that first day on the water. I think about how lucky I am to have grown up in a place so full of great boating and surrounded by such a special river community. I have gained so much from the river and believe it has many things to share with all of us. And so I find myself back in the valley with the opportunity to share my favorite places with the fortunate people who get to live near and visit these amazing rivers. I hope that the people who run these rivers with us will come away with an appreciation like I have for this place. Not only for the fun times shared on the river, but for the animals who inhabit it, the plants that surround it, the water that flows through it and people who love it.