Safe, Sound and Sobered: A Writer Wednesday Post

August 6th, 2014 | Posted by Irene in Essays


Safe and SoundSafe and Sound, photo © Robin O’Brien, all text © Irene O’Garden 2014

To listen to this post, please click here: Safe, Sound and Sobered

I’m back from Montana, safe and sound, but sobered both by the grandeur and the risk of the wilderness.

My younger brother Jim and his sons have trekked into the Montana backcountry for thirty years. My sister Robin and I decided to accompany them this year after the February death of our older brother John. The party was all family: three nephews, a grand nephew, grandniece and a nephew’s nephew by marriage. At 62, I was not only the eldest, but the least-experienced in the ways of the wilds.

Our trip was described as a day-long horseback ride into the Bob Marshall Wilderness, followed by a 5-day float on the South Fork of The Flathead River. I brought watercolors.

But Montanans speak a different language. The “float” was actually a rafting trip over Class 2 and 3 rapids, around spikey fallen trees, jutting logs, with portages over slippery rock “gardens.” The eleven-hour horseback ride was a piece of cake in comparison.

Many clichés sprung alive on this journey—“Between a rock and a hard place” is but one. Getting thrust off the raft was nothing compared to the panic of seeing loved ones topple into the swift chilly current. We all survived none the worse for wear, though my adrenals are exhausted.

I’ll eventually write more about this trip—either here or elsewhere. It was both the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and one of the most sublime. Experiencing the splendor of the most remote location in the Lower 48 was an exhilarating privilege, matched only by the beauty of human beings behaving at their best.

Had I known what lay ahead,  I never would have gone. But I’ll be forever grateful I did.



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  • giom


  • Jackie

    A good friend of mine who has gone on three rafting trips was thrown out this time as the water was particularly high. She was under longer than the “safety kayaker”, who normally paddles along side the rafts, had ever seen. My friend said that when she was under, she thought that was the end. But it wasn’t! Grateful to the powers! However, it was very sobering for us all. Nature is to be respected, that’s for sure.

    • IreneOGarden

      Gosh, Jackie — so glad she made it. My respect has been sharpened, that’s for sure!

  • Angela Sparks

    Wow. I can’t wait to hear the tale! Glad you are all safe.

    • IreneOGarden

      Thanks, Angela–I’m sure you are hearing it even now–couldn’t have done without Ro!

  • ceblain

    All I can say is, you are a brave woman, and even if I could walk okay, I don’t think that I would ever do this kind of trip. Not “boring” at all. 🙂 Cynthia Blain

    • IreneOGarden

      Thanks so much Cynthia! Challenges come in all forms–even ordinary walking–glad you’re still at it!

  • stacy

    I have skydived over NJ and white water rafted down the Penobscot river in Maine but I was young…. in my 20s. Now mid 50s I probably would not. You- 62!!! You’re such a badass Irene! Congrats and welcome home….alive! xoxo

    • IreneOGarden

      Stacy my dear–I have been called many things in my life, but never by the honorific “badass!” Couldn’t be happier–Thanks!

  • Laura

    How EXCITING! I wish I went too! I hope we here a great deal more about it…though I know so much of the thrill is when it is happening…Good for YOU!

    • IreneOGarden

      Funny how the thrill remains, Laura– I think it’s lodged permanently in my system! Thanks–

  • Karen Beckwith

    Sounds like you have a lot of (!breath taking!) stories to share. So glad you’re all good. Thanks for this very visual post, Irene.

    • IreneOGarden

      Ain’t it the truth,Karen–My breath was taken for many reasons! Thanks for your words–

  • Scott

    We’ve been waiting for your return. I look forward to the stories seeping out between those rocks and hard places for many years to come. Congratulations on a spectacular wilderness adventure!

    • IreneOGarden

      Seep they will, dear Scott–always nice to know you’re listening–

  • Kathy Dosh

    how very daring and exhilarating of you! thanks for sharing, Irene. always enjoy your Wed. posts 🙂

    • IreneOGarden

      Thanks, Kathy–what a pleasure to hear from you!

  • Debra Griner

    Wow! That sounds incredible, Irene. I guess ignorance really is bliss, huh? Look forward to hearing more about it!

    • IreneOGarden

      Right you are, Debra–am so glad we didn’t know what was coming, but glad we came out it! Hope your summer was happy–

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