If I reach my arm out the window, I could casually shake hands with the man next to me — the driver of a truck going some 50 m.p.h. just inches from the car in which I am riding. I look at him and he smiles subtly, then lightly wobbles his head. Such vehicle proximity seems alarming, but in India, it is the norm. Even the sacred cows are un-fettered by it.
“In America, you drive by rules,” our driver Mandip says laughing. “Here in India, we drive by instinct.” I smile and continue to marvel at the swarm of chaos unfolding in front of me, motoring through Delhi. Remarkably, road rage seems almost entirely non-existent. The chaos has a hint of zen-full orchestration even.

I have returned to the congestion of India to document another transportation corridor – the Ganges River. That sacred river of God Shiva, transporting the prayers of nearly one billion Hindus, travels some 1500 miles from the Gangotri Glacier high in the Himalaya to the Bay of Bengal near Calcutta. With the help of two climbing friends, Jake Norton and David Morton, (collectively they have nine Everest summits under their belts), we will try to document this sacred jewel — in images but also scientific data. We are carrying water testing equipment the entire way to better understand some of the contamination areas of this revered and often reviled river.
The sacred city Haridwar, India shoulders the Ganges in the foothills of the Himalaya. The sacred city Haridwar, India shoulders the Ganges in the foothills of the Himalaya.

As we leave this morning toward the high Himalaya on the heels of a record monsoon, I am constantly reminded of how this river sculpts the world here. Our journey ahead is riddled with washed out roads and destroyed villages from biblical floods that occurred here three months ago. One local report says 25,000 people perished. Everyone we encounter seems to agree that climate change is knocking loudly on the Himalaya.

When my mind leans towards the challenges in thinking of our climb (7,000 meter, unclimbed Chaukhamba IV) and our long journey ahead, I remind myself of the wise words of my dear friend Madhav, our cherished fixer for our seven week trip. “Worry, is praying for what you don’t want.”

Looking ahead to the many hours of instinctual driving, uncharted climbing and miles of river exploration ahead…I try not to worry about it.

To read and see some of my prior work in India from last year, see National Geographic Traveler’s story “Here Comes The Sun“.

Very grateful to work with a remarkable and team of sponsors: #microsoft #eddiebauer #nationalgeographic #ambujacement.

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Their logo says “Rivers Connect Us”. It is a catchy phrase but how do these slivers of life do it? Is it simply their waters that run through so many of our plumbing systems? Or is it their ancient, weathered beauty that lures us to their banks to listen and watch? Maybe its their splashy fun that makes us feel young again, or is it the wildlife that we might see drinking at dawn? Or just maybe, it is something more.

For me, it is all of the above. So when American Rivers asked me to make a video about their top 10 endangered river listing, I was honored and inspired. I wanted to fulfill what logo represents. When I heard that my backyard river, the Colorado, would top that list, I was motivated to represent my home river.  I was also saddened and excited.

The Colorado River —The Most Endangered River in America 2013 from Peter McBride on Vimeo.

End of the Colorado

Saddened because the listing means that the mighty Colorado which sculpted the Grand Canyon, needs help. A lot of help. Its flows ran to the sea for six million years but stopped in the late 1990s thanks to management, drought and climate change. Not a drop of the Colorado has kissed the Sea of Cortez since. As my video says, she is tired, tapped and tied.

I was excited by the news for the same reason. The river needs help and this listing will achieve a critical step – raising awareness. If people aren’t aware of this national icon drying up, how will they ever get involved?

Personally, the Colorado River has connected me to many things, many people and many remarkable places. It has bonded me with my father who helped me fly the length of the river to document its flow for my book The Colorado River; Flowing Through Conflict and my film Chasing Water. It connected me to other salty river rats,  fishermen, filmmakers, farmers flight, fast ski runs and passionate souls trying to protect this body of snow-melt that offers life for 36 million people and thousands of critters across seven States and two countries. The river also connected, or even grounded me to the fields which I grew up irrigating with the river’s headwaters on our family ranch.

But very rare and special connection happened. While giving a lecture at a water conference, I re-connected (separately) with two dear old friends. When I finished my talk, I was discussing  the America Rivers video I was producing and wondering who should be the voice. Many people came to mind including scores of famous folks. But then by luck, fate or desperation, it occurred to me that my two friends, one a third generation Coloradan, the other a dedicated water attorney, would be perfect for the job. They would serve as my Johnny and June Cash – two voices that represent how the Colorado is in all of us. Of course, both live in Colorado and love the river too.

Two days later, the three of us convened and for the first time, my two friends met in person. There, in a playroom turned audio recording studio, the Colorado River connected two remarkable humans who had know of each other for years but never met face to face. Between recordings we laughed and talked water issues and laughed more. Considering our three busy schedules, it was slightly remarkable how we all came together.  The power of rivers I suppose. As American Rivers logo says: They do connect us. Enjoy the video and think how the Colorado or another river, might connect you to something worth noting. And then think about what you might do to protect it.

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The Water Tower

November 9, 2012

In central Kenya, northeast of the Rift Valley, there is a tower. It is a monumental, granite swell with a crumbling pinnacle that stretches 17,058 feet into the sky. Many people throughout this region of East Africa believe their God, Ngai, lives on top. While this second tallest African peak named Mt. Kenya, may be [...]

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The ol’ Blog Bulletin Board — and the toe grab.

September 4, 2012

Fear not. I am not a blogger nor intend to be one. As I see it, the world needs more physical doing, less blogging. But, like many, I have collected an eclectic assortment of tales. So consider this a bulletin board of stories, video clips, a few photography tips, snapshots and a some magic moments [...]

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