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Disappearing Rio Grande Expedition Recap

In which we review the latest from Colin's excellent Rio Grande adventure. Check out the dispatches and photos!

By Colin McDonald and Jessi Loerch
Colin takes the canoe, minus all electronics, through the upper portion of Upper Madison Falls.

Intrepid river adventurer Colin McDonald continues his way through the portion of the Rio Grande where the water is getting scarce, more polluted and marked more and more by human crossings. Check out what he's been up to on the river. Here are some highlights:

•    Colin runs across more frequent indicators of the most unpredictable factor in his expedition, other people:

The big variable is the people we will meet. In the last 400 years, there has been a lot of horrific violence near the Rio Grande. The details are gruesome and I don't want to go into the specifics. People have an amazing ability to be cruel.

We have had no indication of that in our entire journey. The closest I have come is a farmer apologizing that he did not have more time to talk about the river because he had to get to town to buy a replacement part for his tractor.

Yes, people cross this river illegally both ways, and they bring illegal goods with them. We see the trails they have cut and the Border Patrol agents looking for them. Most of these people are desperate and have had very difficult journeys. We can't know what their reaction to us would be.

•    Colin's photographer, Mike Kane, hitches a ride on a fast Department of Homeland Security fan boat:

Mike left from the same ramp about 10:30. He caught me in about 30 minutes. We started to think about getting our own fan boat.   

We had one big question. How does Border Patrol expect to catch anyone in a boat that is louder than a helicopter and can be heard from miles away?   

The answer is fan boats don’t sneak up on anyone. But the craft does provide a great way to look for new trails and a way to rescue or arrest folks who are stuck on islands or in the current.

•    Rocks and low water make for a trying day on the river:

We started at 7:30 a.m. and did not see anyone all day. Every time we heard a branch snap as a horse or pig moved through the cane, we imagined drug smugglers breaking through. Not being able to move quickly on the river made us feel vulnerable. 

We were behind schedule and trying to make as many miles as we could. We had no idea where we would stay for the night.   

By 4:30 in the afternoon, we had covered 20 miles and our nerves were shot. It was a combination of exhaustion from moving all day, imagining worst-case scenarios and trying not to break our ankles as we slipped over the slime covered rocks.

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