Editor’s note: This blog was written by ICL’s artist in residence for 2016, Josh Udesen.

On occasion, I take Idaho for granted. I travel often throughout the state, float the rivers, trek the peaks and view the vastness of our state and become accustomed to all it has to offer. But what is our backdoor is a lifetime destination for many.

Even with the routine of seeing the Sawtooth skyline or the rapids of the Payette, I do my best to absorb how fortunate I am to have this as a playground. Fortunately, Idaho’s wilderness provides profound reminders of its vast and one-of-a-kind character. For me, a recent trip down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River  was  just what I needed be reminded of the  unique grandeur  of this  state.

Thanks to  my participation in  the Idaho Conservation League’s Artist in Residence program, I was invited to travel with ARTA River Trips through the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness for six days as a guest. The soul purpose of my time on the river was to become inspired. With such latitude, my approach was to take a dry bag with a change of clothes, paint, brushes, paper, canvases, cameras and a bunch of ideas. I spent five nights and days observing, absorbing and truly engaging with the river.

As a regular river runner, my usual role on river trips includes  planning, packing, organizing, getting the logistics figured out, running rapids, setting camps, cooking  meals and generally feeling like I need to make everything great for everybody. My years of being a river guide make this approach inherent and part of my DNA. On  this trip I was a guest, and as uncomfortable I thought I might be, the professional and congenial guides and fellow travelers made my  transition to passenger and guest seamless and an honest pleasure.

Although this was not my first trip down the Middle Fork, it was a truly unique experience for me. I was quickly pulled  into the easy rhythm of the river. Sleeping under the stars allowed me to be greeted by the sun. Each day I was able to ease into a morning ritual of coffee, waking up, breakfast, breaking camp and rigging boats. With the majority of my time spent as a passenger, I was for once able to simply observe. My usual thoughts are of downriver,  the next bend, rocks, obstacles and what lies  ahead. This trip gave me time and freedom  to snap photos, investigate geology, cast (and cast, and cast) for native cutthroat, sketch, pester the guides, investigate the area’s history and become absorbed with my surroundings.

Such opportunity overwhelmed me as an artist. I had envisioned painting every day. As I attempted the plein air approach I was stymied by the difficulty of  encapsulating my ideas into a small canvas. I started and pushed forward but was never satisfied. Although it was fun and I  really pushed myself, I quickly determined I was not going to be able to complete a painting or sketch each day. By day three I was content with simply snapping photos, sketching ideas and allowing myself to build ideas over time rather than force them.

The worst part about river trips is they conclude just as you are truly finding your cadence. The sixth day on this river is really the most exciting in terms of rapids and this  adds  to the buildup-and the subsequent letdown, as you finish the last rapid and realize you are done. The fortunate and new experience for me this time is I’ve come away with a host of ideas fermenting in my head, and my excitement and enthusiasm for Idaho, the Middle Fork and wild places, is once again replenished.