Highs, Lows, and Transformation

Apr 24

by Amber Valenti

“What’s beautiful about transformation is that it is absolute, a one way street. You can never go back to the way things were.” 

A lot can happen in 30 days. That would be an understatement for this last month. Joy, excitement, momentum, shifting, dissolving, loss, and uncertainty swept through our lives. But one thing is certain—our lives and this project are dynamic and ever-changing.


In the last month the Nobody’s River project has soared. We raised more than $32,000 through our donor campaign—a staggering, humbling, and deeply inspiring experience.

Our precious passports were finally returned to us with pretty little Russian visas on their pages. And all of our logistical complexities in Mongolia and Russia were slowly working themselves out one at a time.

Our team met up in Arizona mid-March to test gear, celebrate our incredible support, and finish planning. We took a jet boat up to Glen Canyon dam and paddled down over a couple of days. In the shadow of a symbol that looms so large in our psyche, we sighed deeply, feeling the broader context of our journey.

We opened up packages of gear like it was Christmas—NRS, Keen, Trak Kayaks, Big Agnes, Goal Zero, Eddie Bauer, and Smith sunglasses. Skip Armstrong gave us a fantastic filmmaking tutorial and set us up to capture the images needed to tell this story—the perspective, the raw emotions, and the beautiful details.

Our collective energy was incredible. We were bursting at the seems with excitement for the months ahead.


But on April 7th, we began a very different kind of journey. Zach, Becca’s long time partner, was in a terrible paragliding accident. He passed away a few short hours later at the age of 28. This beautiful human life and big beacon of love was no longer with us. The world changed yet again, and so did we.

Grief is immeasurable.  A dark sea. It’s like someone has suddenly blindfolded you, cinched a 100-pound weight vest around your chest, and asked you to keep running through life’s uneven terrain. It physically hurts. But perhaps more than anything, it is so disorienting. One minute you are beaming with love and gratitude, and the next you can barely breathe through the sobs.


In the last couple of weeks we focused first on supporting Becca and feeling the gravity of this huge loss. This experience is difficult to describe and deeply personal.

We have also spent long hours asking ourselves and each other how to move forward. There are no simple answers. There is no obvious path ahead. And though some things have become more clear, others remain faint forms on a distant horizon.

What we do know is that we are moving forward, slowly, and with shaky legs and beat up hearts, but forward. It will not be the same journey we had planned. It cannot be, because life has changed and in the process so have we. Our team of four will now leave June 1st and travel through Mongolia by kayak. Then we will let our hearts lead us from there. We may take the train and ferry to the ocean in Russia or we may still paddle the last 900 kilometers to the ocean. We trust that the path will appear as we move forward if we just keeping listening.

We will be paddling much less of the total river length and will be abroad for a shorter period of time now, but we still plan to travel from the headwaters to the ocean, to capture the place in images, film, and scientific data, and to bring those stories home to all of you. We will still write blogs and our sponsors will still get gorgeous photos and all of the things they were promised. But the story will certainly be more raw, more real, and more deeply human.

This time is sacred and transformative. No matter how painful it can be, we know we have a beautiful opportunity to honor Zach and our loved ones—to celebrate our losses, celebrate what we still have, and live passionately. But I think Nobody’s River was about this all along.

Sometimes the forces at work around us are much bigger than we are and far beyond our understanding. These are the times to watch in awe, to listen quietly, and to trust in the transformative power of living. So we are offering this process up to spirit. Our hope is that life will continue to transform and expand us into greater love through even this great tragedy.

We extend an invitation to each of you to continue supporting us on this powerful and raw human journey to celebrate life, transformation, adventure, and free-flowing rivers. Love to you all. 

“We are traveler’s on an cosmic journey, stardust swirling and dancing in the eddies and whirlpools of infinity. Life is eternal. We have stopped for a moment to encounter eachother, to meet, to love, to share. This is a precious moment. It is a little parenthesis in eternity.” —Paulo Coelho

In Loving Memory of Zach Orman,
who will live forever in our hearts.

  • Zach Orman and his unforgettable smile. Photo: Kiki WystraZach Orman and his unforgettable smile. Photo: Kiki Wystra
  • Another day, another journeyAnother day, another journey
  • Headed up the Colorado River to Glen Canyon DamHeaded up the Colorado River to Glen Canyon Dam
  • A peaceful paddle down a river very near and dear to our hearts. A peaceful paddle down a river very near and dear to our hearts.
  • Team workTeam work
  • Yaaaaaow!Yaaaaaow!
  • Turning the camera on the Photographer.Turning the camera on the Photographer.
  • In his free time Skip is also a Ninja. In his free time Skip is also a Ninja.
  • Morning cofee in a beautiful canyon and a filmmaking session with SkipMorning cofee in a beautiful canyon and a filmmaking session with Skip
  • Beauty smilesBeauty smiles
  • So much love. AND matching hats. So much love. AND matching hats.
  • "While your footsteps no longer reach the ground, believe me, you will still leave prints upon this earth." Avi Kazen"While your footsteps no longer reach the ground, believe me, you will still leave prints upon this earth." Avi Kazen
  • Becca and Zach, full of love as always. Rest Sweetly Zach, you will be missed beyond words by so many.Becca and Zach, full of love as always. Rest Sweetly Zach, you will be missed beyond words by so many.

  • Callie

    Always supporting you four :) Good luck and my prayers are with you on this life journey.

  • http://www.facebook.com/gabrielle.lilly Gabrielle Angel Dee Lilly

    You still have my support. Much love!

  • http://www.facebook.com/holly.orman Holly Orman

    You will always have my support. Zach will be there in spirit with you and looking after you.

    • http://www.facebook.com/amber.valenti.1 Amber Valenti

      Oh Holly, thank you. I cannot express how much that means to us. I think of you guys everyday. I am sure we will see a lot of Zach out there. And I will see you guys on May 5th. Much love, Amber

  • Stephanie Dashiell

    Full of support for you all.

  • K. Ferg

    What a stunningly beautiful homage to your journey and to Zach. I am in awe of your perspective and your courage to move forward. You four ladies are completely inspirational. Becca, thoughts and prayers for you especially. I am comforted knowing you have three pillars of strength to accompany you on this journey of the spirit. All the best.

  • Heidi Blanchard

    Wishing you all a beautiful journey. What a thoughtful, emotional and sincere update. Love to you all.

  • Laurie Lehmann

    You are all such an inspiration. Wise beyond your years. The trip will be what it is and Zach will be with you every step of the way. Safe journey and we support you fully from here.
    Laurie Lehmann

  • Jenny k

    Take care of each other, love every step. Good luck on the journey…love to you all

  • DustenD

    Keep Paddling!

  • Bubba & BJ

    How beautiful and well stated. Thank you for bringing some clarity to my confused thoughts at this troubled time. Zach was always fun to be with, he touched all our hearts with his free spirit. I wish you Becka and buddies a magical journey and transformation. Love you. Bubba

  • Nicole Nasser

    Beautiful. Becca, we love you so much. So many of us support you in so many parts of your journey, and remember you have the hearts of all of us buoying you on all aspects of your path. <3

  • http://www.facebook.com/wendylhesse Wendy Hesse

    This is beautiful. I am moved, misty, proud, sad, hopeful. Sending love to you all!

  • Alicia Castro

    Wishing you and your team the very best as you journey forward. May Zach’s life be honored through your intentional and adventurous spirits!

  • David Allfrey


  • Shannon Linton

    So beautifully said! We will be looking forward to sharing your journey through words and photos… your adventure inspires us all!

  • Reuben C

    Go with the flow. The river twists and turns and eventually lands you in a new place. Hope you have downstream winds all the way!

  • Casey C.

    Wow… I dont even know Zach, but I feel as if I do know him though the things I love to do most, with the ones I love. I know that NBR’s journey will be watched over by Zach and those that have gone before him. Lots of love from Idaho to NBR and to Becca. Cheers!

    • http://www.facebook.com/amber.valenti.1 Amber Valenti

      Yes, Dean will be with us too:) DWDWD!

  • Laurel Saiz, Syracuse

    We have always loved Zach and the Ormans from the time they shared several cold and snowy years with us here in Syracuse, when Rodger was doing his residency. These photographs are beautiful and make me both filled with sadness and also awe at the grandeur of the scenes. All of us in here in Syracuse are sending love and support and will think of you during your incredible trip to come.

  • Dede

    I am counting on you all to make the most of this adventure!! Thinking of you , supporting you, hugging you- be safe!

  • Camila

    Beautiful piece. Supporting you then, now, and always. What matters is your hearts and your courage. Stay strong, knowing that we stand with you loves.

  • Heather

    My excitement to support you guys only grows stronger with each step that you take, in whichever direction that might be. <3

  • Rachel & Scott

    We encourage you all to go out into the unknown and come back even better stronger human beings

  • Blair Brown

    You have quite a way with words my dear! No doubt we are all the things that we love about those around us! And you loooove big girl. Guessing you all do – and that’s part of what brought you beauties together! Looking forward to your journey. xx

  • http://www.facebook.com/denali.schmidt.1 Denali Schmidt

    Beautifully said and felt

  • Kristen Schott (Welles)

    i finally made it onto your website, Becca. What an inspiring tribute to your trip and to Zach. Amber writes beautifully. I am so hoping that the trip will be healing for you. Follow the river and go with all of our love, Kristen

  • Les+ Fran Williams

    Becca; Our hearts go out to you!!! Having meet Zach only once both of us felt that you were a match made in heaven.You both lived life to the fullest and made us feel that this is the way life should be. Becca continue to follow your dreams Zach would have wanted it that way Fran + Les Williams

  • Fran

    Becca- We look forward to following your journey. I am sure that Zach is following it also!

  • Kristin Anchors

    It took too long for me to visit this blog, but glad I finally did. You ladies are incredible. This was beautifully written. Much love!