Highs, Lows, and Transformation
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 Wystra
- Another day, another journey
- Headed up the Colorado River to Glen Canyon Dam
- A peaceful paddle down a river very near and dear to our hearts.
- Team work
- Turning the camera on the Photographer.
- In his free time Skip is also a Ninja.
- Morning cofee in a beautiful canyon and a filmmaking session with Skip
- Beauty smiles
- 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
- Becca and Zach, full of love as always. Rest Sweetly Zach, you will be missed beyond words by so many.