When your cheek muscles strain and ache with pain due to excessive laughter, when your stomach cramps and you have to actively not pee in your pants, you know it is special.  That kind of joy and laughter does not come easy or regularly in our daily lives.  But when my group of river girlfriends comes together, the gratitude, giggles and festivity just flows.

Launching on the high flows of the Main Smith River with the girls. Convenient access to Stout Grove just downstream!

Women gather for many reasons. The strength that comes from these communal experiences offers us support in many stages of our lives.  These days, we find ourselves breaking new trails with careers, or building our own businesses.  We have dispersed and settled in new regions with new partners.  But it wasn’t that long ago when many of us met.  Most, on the banks of the White Salmon River where we worked for Wet Planet Whitewater Center as guides and instructors, sustainability coordinators, marketing staff, writers, gardeners, or baristas. Some girls we saw while in town or out on a paddle after work. From there, the river brought us closer.

The Babes, or at least the ones in time for a paddle on the Wild & Scenic Smith River!

Launching on a river with a group of people, especially a group of women, creates a bond through experience.  We float the same flow, catch the same eddies, see the same eagles soar.  Sometimes we spend multiple days together, cooking as the sun sets and camping under the stars alongside the river that will take us somewhere new and extraordinary the following day.

The river strips us of many cares and worries of the developed world. We struggle some days on the water, sometimes just barely making it with the help of our crew. Most days we find a deep bliss floating on the water. We find each other’s eyes and release a joyful cry at the beauty we are fortunate enough to experience. In this way, we are also stripped to connect at the core rather than superficially at the surface. We are bonded, forever.

Before #RVlife, there was #AstroLife. Kinda miss her some days. Great shuttle vehicle!

After these rich moments, we know that gathering at least once a year will give us fuel and fire to continue to lead our lives this way. And so, Babecation was born.

Babecation: The gathering of babes in a beautiful place, ready to experience the natural world through paddling, hiking, hot springs, etc. Babecation also involves extensive sessions of giving and receiving gratitude and support for each other.  No men allowed. 

Today, January 23, 2016, we are one week away from our annual Babecation.  We’ll unite this year on the banks of the Wild & Scenic McKenzie River in the cascade range of Oregon. Last year, we were here, in Crescent City along the Wild & Scenic Smith River in northern California. While not purposeful, our affinity to Wild & Scenic rivers seems to be a theme, and might be a subconscious affirmation of our untamed and beautiful selves.

Pump, pump it up. Stand up paddle boards were perfect for the Main Smith stretch of river. We love having a few of these around to add to the joy of river trippin’!

A fisherman hoping to snag a steelhead was naturally surprised that we wanted to get *in* the water in January (normal). Upon seeing that we were all female, he didn’t even know what to say (not as normal).

The Smith River, designated as Wild & Scenic from nearly the headwaters all the way to the source, is one of the more completely protected watersheds in the national Wild & Scenic system.

This is a big deal.

Protecting just a portion of a watershed is valuable, but what happens upstream and upslope ultimately makes it’s way downstream. Free-flowing rivers that are protected in their entirety preserve some of the essential functions of river systems that are disrupted when damage occurs up or downstream.

A stout Redwood indeed.

We pull over our kayaks and SUPs while on the river and take a stroll through Stout Grove.  The forest here houses massive old-growth Redwood trees that make you feel small and temporary on this earth.

 

Classic hug-hug-a-tree-that-is-too-big-to-hug shot. Can’t help it around these giant Redwoods.

River smiles.

We take more time over the weekend to explore more of the incredible forest landscape. The small creeks rushing past gigantic trees, feeding the soil and undergrowth of these lush and vibrant places.

These places make feeling grateful easy.  Grateful for the opportunity to see and tough a tree that is hundreds of years old. Grateful for our friendships that bring us together in places like this. Grateful for those who have fought to maintain these places for future groups of ladies to feel inspired and deeply rooted.

I look up and feel small.

 

Mostly, we giddily skipped around the forest, like young girls seeing trees for the first time.

Thank you girls for an awesome Babecation 2016! Can’t wait to see you this weekend for Babecation 2017!