written and photographed by Adam Sawyer
Two years ago, I had a molar removed. It had died. According to the dentist, I grind to the point that my teeth resemble a man in his 80s. I’m 42. This predilection has spawned a number of other delightful health issues, including temporomandibular joint pain (TMJ) and an omnipresent tightness in my neck and shoulders.
I take measures: I get regular exercise in the outdoors, I eat right (for the most part), wear a mouthguard, stretch, and so on. I also take it to the next level. I practice mindfulness. I go through a regimen of mental gymnastics that, with varying degrees of success, offers relief. It sucks.
Last summer I took a multi-day rafting trip down the Snake River through Hells Canyon in Northeast Oregon. It is the deepest canyon in America. It is a designated Wild and Scenic River whose rugged remoteness ensures solitude.
Hells Canyon has no cell phone reception, at all, ever. You’re encouraged to leave your phone behind, unless you want to use it as a camera. And you certainly don’t need it as a time tracker. On the Snake River, you are on “river time.” If you’ve ever gripped a paddle, you know it’s true, admit it. Out there, life paces itself within the constructs of your surroundings … the rising and setting sun, the flow of the water, the weather, your body, your senses …. They all work in concert to tell you when it’s time to wake up, eat, pay attention, relax and sleep. It’s a quick transition. I don’t think anyone on my trip considered the notion of Facebook or an inbox beyond the Milky Way movie on day one.
On day two, I settled into the instinctive ritual of river time. Alternating phases of watching slow water and riding adrenaline-inducing rapids flipped my mind and body into an unfettered personal landscape—my jaw pain had vanished. By the end of this day, my new body emerged. Good-bye tightness in my neck and shoulders. Past the relay towers, I lived grind-free. The wild place tamed me, if only for two nights.