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Just call me James

It was a hot day in the desert today, made even hotter by my double-fronted Carhartts and long-sleeved, woolly lumberjack shirt. I was sweltering. This, however, was very necessary. My tan colored pants were covered in a quivering blanket of whining wings. Mosquitoes. Dozens. Hundreds of them, the bitches, trying to drink through reinforced cotton. Their needle noses weren’t able to tap into my skin, but I still slapped and flapped and paced along the edge of the high water, waiting for the guides to finish loading their boats and orienting their guests so I could get the flock out of there with the empty vans. Driving shuttles for a raft company is a pretty glamorous job, and I am just the dirty hippie to do it.

Mosquitoshire or, the Sand Wash boat ramp on the Green River (“The Portal to Desolation Canyon”) is a weekly haunt for me and the other guides and staff. We run a four to six day trip downriver every week; it’s one of the company’s most popular routes. As the company driver, I haven’t seen the famous canyon yet, but I am becoming intimately familiar with the route between Green River (the town, three hours south of Salt Lake City) and Sand Wash (Mosquitoton). Sunday afternoons, after hooking up the trailers, loading and packing the boats, we set off. It’s a long drive, but a favorite, because it’s one of the few drives that don’t involve transporting paying clients. Guides are free to sprawl and sleep on the back seats of the 15-passenger vans, read, meditate, enjoy time off to recharge before switching back into guide mode. Not I. I get to drive. And drive. At least on the trip north, I have company to keep me awake and entertained. It’s a long way up there, four to six hours from Green River, depending on weather, necessary stops, how well the van and trailers ride. Van #21, the four-wheel-drive beast with a modest lift kit is a reliable but slow ride.

Green River to Price is leg one. A long, straight, flat haul, the road to Price is often windy, sometimes stormy. Bruise-purple clouds bully their way across the sky, casting injured yellow light across the rolling desertscape, often flinging hail and bolts of lightning into the earth. Typically, I haul one trailer with two loaded boats (once upon a time, drivers had to haul two trailers at a time), though every other week or so I get a triple stack: three boats. When packed properly, a triple stack isn’t much harder to tow, but when the wind starts whipping tumbleweeds across the highway, three boats stacked high make an effective sail. Price is our dinner stop. The various aromas of Taco Bell, Wendy’s, and Burger King mingle and fill the van with their greasy humidity. Ten minutes out of Price, we turn right at the coal power plant, white steam boiling out of hourglass stacks.

Indian Canyon. Sandy, sagebrush desert and rocky canyon walls give way to damp, high alpine spring as the road climbs to Indian Pass (9,114 feet). It’s late June, but snow lingers in the dark crevices between conifers and pastel green aspens, and at the top of the pass, gray, scummy winter cleaves to avalanche-crunched trees. Van #21 groans and humps uphill at a steady 25 miles per hour. The road below the pass is a sigh of relief. The van cruises easily downhill toward Duchesne, winding through the narrow, open rangeland on the northern edge of the Ashley National Forest.

Turning right onto Main Street in Duchesne, we stop and fill up on gas, sour gummy sharks, energy drinks, and beef jerky. Last stop in civilization. Beyond are 25 miles of dirt through oil fields and then the Sand Wash itself. Dinosaur oil rigs bob their heads over black, greasy troughs. Hundreds of them, fixed in slavish perpetuity, pumping, pumping, pumping. With the windows down, one can hear the grinding drone of the generators that impel the machines to movement. Desert globemallow is in bloom, a small bush with orange blossoms like pussy willows on thin green sticks; in the distance, the plants blend together to create the illusion of a uniform carpet of bright orange: the shocking orange of emergency fencing. It’s usually close to sunset by the time we’re creeping over the ruts and washboard down into the wash and always dark when the guides pile out onto the boat ramp in their head nets and long sleeves. I’m getting good at backing the trailer. The ramp is at the bottom of an enormous plateau, and after tying the boats off and rigging the bare essentials, I drive the last 20 minutes back up the road, turn left at the airport road, and climb the 300 feet or so onto the plateau, where we camp next to the airstrip and its usually limp windsock. Before mosquito season, I relished sleeping on the edge of the cliffy mesa with just a pad and my sleeping bag. Last night I felt weak and boring, erecting my tent next to the van, but I did enjoy the extra two hours of mosquito-free sleep the tent provided. In the morning, around 7:30, two, three, or four tiny planes buzz their way across the horizon and land bouncily on the dirt runway. We meet the guests as they alight into the cool desert morning, help them organize their gear, bring them down to the boat ramp. Then, the guests and guides shove off. I wave from the ramp. Then I get back in the van. And that’s my job. Drive. Sleep. Drive. Camp. Wash vans. Drive. Swat mosquitoes. Drive. Enjoy the view.

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