S and I, clearly from a bloodline of true outdoorsmen, are in flip flops. He chose his rugged and stylish Tommy Hilfiger numbers, while I opted for my all-purpose, sensible Old Navy ones. M is in running shoes and the most sure-footed of us all. We walk along the dirt path through the trees alongside the river. The hikers' testimonials M printed said we would have to cross the river to get to the hot springs, but that there was a very shallow place where we could do this with little effort. The path is quite rocky and rough, and S and I stop a couple of times to adjust our flimsy footwear. The river looks fairly shallow at a couple of different points, so we hmmm and haaa over where the best place to cross will be. We see a place where there are several large rocks protruding from the water and decide to tackle it there. The river is babbling along at a pretty good pace, and the current looks strong. M is sure there has to be an even better spot ahead to cross, so he continues to walk. S is now totally in his element, and steps into the river with little trepidation. I nervously follow him, not thinking this such a good idea with so little day light left, but scared to be separated. I step onto the wet rocks, teetering and finding it hard to get my balance, loaded down like a mule with so many items. I have barely made it halfway across by the time S gets to the other bank. I'm carrying the backpack, and it contains my digital camera. I'm afraid of falling in the water and ruining it so I decide to turn back. S, already bored and totally unconcerned, has begun to venture up the other side of the river, looking for the path to the hot springs.
It is here that M returns to me, having turned to see my awkward struggling on the rocks. He helps me out, telling me to give him the heavy bag, and puts it on his back instead. We remind each other that we have less than an hour of daylight and that it's crazy to try and find the hot springs now. However, S is waving frantically from the far side of the river and pointing as though he has found something. We can't hear him over the noise of the rushing water, but it looks as though he may have the springs in his sight. M takes off his running shoes, puts them in the bag he's now carrying, and then we both cautiously step into the river. I go first so that M can keep a watchful eye on me. Almost instantly, a flip flop is torn from my foot and rushes downstream in the tremendous current. I try to go after it without getting wet, but it's terribly rocky, and the water is moving too fast not to resort to more desperate measures. I quickly forget about staying dry, and let myself fall into the cold water to swim after it; my pants and t-shirt overtop my bathing suit becoming heavy and constricting. I actually manage to catch up to the flip-flop slowed now and then by protruding rocks. Once I have it, I use all my strength to right myself, then slowly and shakily remove the other still on my foot, and put them both in my front pockets. I start to trudge back up the river toward M. I can see the look on his face is a mix of anger and relief. The rocky riverbottom is torture on my bare feet. I take a few steps toward M, then start to lose my balance. The two water canteens I'm carrying (which are still quite full with ice and water and deceptively heavy), slide around the back of my shoulders, around my neck, pulling me back into the water. The current carries me for a few feet before I manage to grab a large rock sticking out of the water, and anchor myself. M starts yelling at this point; neither of us can remember what. I can see in his face that he's not sure of how to help me, but I shout that I am ok, and very clumsily, start back up the river toward me.
S has returned, wondering what is taking us so long. M angrily reports that I almost drowned in the river, very irritated now at everything. I'm soaking wet up to my chin and fighting back girlie tears. S impatiently waits for us until we manage to finally cross. He takes the heavy knapsack from M, M takes one of the canteens from me, and we set off in the direction of the place that S has said he has heard people yelling and laughing.
After a minute or two, this path just stops, and there is nowhere to go. We can faintly hear people voices, hooting and hollering in the distance. M offer to climb up the cliff to our right to see if there is anything beyond it. S and I wait at the bottom and use this opportunity to selfishly save ourselves from starvation by inhaling multiple dill pickles. When M returns after several minutes, he says he thinks he could make out the springs from up there. Without a path to follow here though, we conclude we've crossed at the wrong point in the river, and that we have to cross back, and head further up before crossing back once more.
I take off my flip flops having learned my lesson, and begin crossing back over the river ever so slowly. This time with a little more success! S had crossed first with the knapsack, and is standing on dry land, waving the the jar of pickles at me like a carrot in front of a donkey. Strangely, it seems to help. We walk further up the river once we all are safely across, and look for another shallow area that we can cross easily. At this point, we can hear the distant voices get louder, and we know we are starting to get close. Following the sound of the voices, veering off the path and pushing through tree branches... we FINALLY, gratefully, set our sites upon the famed Verde Hot Springs!!!
(...to be continued)