If you watched the recent Ken Burns series on the Roosevelts, you were probably as captivated as I was by Teddy Roosevelt’s stunningly horrific experiences on the River of Doubt. What ever possessed the man! It’s one thing to take a break from the grueling rigors of politics, or to recognize that your son could use a little toughening up, but had these men truly apprehended what they were up against, would their curiosity about where the River of Doubt flowed have not been amply satisfied? And if there was any sense of glamor to the expedition it must have come with the sendoff, or perhaps with the anticipated return; because Theodore Roosevelt miraculously side-stepped death, and when he did shakily return, the hint of it was still about him.
The thing I’ve noticed with Amazonian river expedition stories is that you can easily get caught up in descriptions of the lush splendor of the jungle, the thrill of running the rapids, the hair-raising encounters with crocodiles and piranha, the maddening ever-presence of mosquitoes, the unsettling sound of distant drums, and the more unsettling sound of proximal waterfalls. But what usually gets short shrift is the time spent not in canoes. That is to say, most of the journey. Times when the rapids are not navigable, or when falls have to be skirted. Days (maybe weeks) when not nearly enough men struggle overland with back-busting canoes hewn from logs cut from trees dating from the Pre-Kevlarian Period. What you don’t get is the spike of pure fear of imagined things slithering against your ankles. What you don’t get is the full grunt and grime.
While life adrift may indeed be fraught with peril, I firmly believe that the struggle to get from one wet spot to another is even more hazardous. Having spent altogether too much of my own life in colorless portage, I always pause when I see someone captaining their own craft; pause and give a little cheer.
Photographer Craig Bohanan’s blog can be found here.