The summer sun happens fast in Moab, and Carol Robertson is ready for adventure. Carol is an individual with cerebral palsy, but, with Splore, she can comfortably enjoy an overnight rafting trip on the Colorado River.
Splore has guided adventures in Utah for nearly 40 years. Splore offers anyone and everyone recreational opportunity. And Splore has a faculty for hiring open-hearted and competent trip leaders and volunteers.
A postcard-blue sky provides the singularly monochrome morning backdrop for the canyon’s colors and textures as river rafting participants arrive at the Splore meet-up location. The group convenes in the shade of a pavilion, and social alchemy commences. People who were strangers minutes ago are invited by inclusive and enthusiastic leaders to share a fun personal fabrication. Consciously or unconsciously, individuals realize that this is a welcoming and safe space.
This trip is one of Splore’s open trips, an overnight river rafting weekend on the Fisher Towers section of the Colorado. “Open” means that the trip date is open to all people. A different outfit might break down “people” into “ability” and “disability” categories, but Splore’s staff, leaders and volunteers eschew categorizing because we are all people, people who, leader Melissa LeViner notes, “have the right to experience risk.”
Carol and her husband, Kenny, sit on the raft frame in modified molded plastic chairs as their raft is skillfully guided downriver. After floating for a handful of hours, the oars-women beach the rafts on the sandy riverside. They establish a minimal camp set-up, and then return to focusing the group’s energy on connecting. Genuine interaction and play are important components of a Splore trip. Peals of laughter accompany the sound of river breaks lapping the shore. Throughout the course of the trip, participants are skillfully ushered into light-hearted engagement.
When dinner is served, veteran river-runner “Smiles” Littlefield announces the Splore tradition of inviting participants to share something for which they are thankful. Suzy used to organize annual river trips for University of Utah hospital staff before a turn in health required her to undergo a kidney transplant. This is the first time in 22 years that she has been “on the river,” a qualifier that, in addition to connecting with nature, signifies a spiritual connection with people, regardless of religion, politics, ethnicity, background or “ability.” The group’s collective acceptance allows communal tears to flow and form a protective pool around Suzy’s vulnerability.
The following day, leaders steer rafts or command paddling participants through a series of ever-shifting rapids. Triple-digit weather is abated only by the cool Colorado waters. The trip’s closing circle ceremony, also a Splore tradition, gives participants the chance to say what they might remember about the trip five years from now. Carol Robertson, a person with cerebral palsy challenges says “The Splore family knows me more than my own family.” Carol’s comment embodies Splore’s true spirit of adventure.