'The River Wild' Twenty Years Later: Uncovering Gail's Rafting Journal

Twenty years ago today, director Curtis Hanson and star Meryl Streep would team up for an action/adventure story set on a white-water rafting trip. To commemorate, we dug up Streep's character's journal entries.

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Twenty years ago today, director Curtis Hanson and star Meryl Streep hit theaters with an action/adventure story set on a white-water rafting trip. The River Wild was pure potboiler, and it opened to decent reviews and decent box-office. It received Golden Globe nominations (for Streep and Kevin Bacon) but nothing at the Oscars. It may well have settled into history as a middling picture on Streep's road back to Oscar dominance (she'd be back in the Best Actress lineup the next year for The Bridges of Madison County) and Hanson's rise up the directors' ranks (he was still a few years from breaking big with L.A. Confidential), if not for one thing: it's a GREAT movie, as any of its myriad showings on cable TV will tell you.

On this, its 20th anniversary, we went and dug up the vacation journal of Streep's character, Gail, a mother and expert rafting guide who was faced with a crumbling marriage and a trio of armed robbers on her family vacation. Here are some excerpts, along with the scans directly from her journal.


Went rowing for the first time this week and watched the sunrise. Boston can be a breathtakingly beautiful city from this angle, especially when mine is the only floating body in the river. Tom came home late and informed us that he won’t be able to make Roarke’s birthday trip. This makes year three. I’m beginning to think he doesn’t care about us at all, and I made that clear as I slammed the bathroom door after our argument. It was an expert slam - not loud enough to scare the kids, but loud enough for him to get it. I stayed in the bathroom until I heard him take a pillow and quilt downstairs to the living room, and then I watched Seinfeld alone. George knocked women and children out of the way while escaping a small fire. He’s a monster, but I find him oddly charming. Oafish and irresponsible but a man of action in a way Tom will never be.


FRIDAY, MAY 6, ‘94
I underestimated Tom! Soon after we arrived at mom and dad’s he showed up looking exhausted, but handsome as ever. Roarke was surprised, but I’m not sure it’s enough to earn back his respect. He was much more intrigued by the three men we met while getting into the water. They were an interesting trio, and seemed rather...wild. Maybe even dangerous. One of them even gave Roarke a baseball cap. Wade, I think his name was. I think I’d like to see him without his shirt on.

After Roarke fell asleep, Tom apologized for his recent shittiness. It felt insincere, and I think he just wanted to get laid. So I denied him and went to bed. He thought I was asleep, but really I was just thinking about last night’s Seinfeld. I’m looking forward to it being rerun.


After a pleasant morning on the water, we ran into that trio again. Their boat hit a rough patch and Wade fell out of the water. After the thrilling first moments of seeing him wet, the dimmest of the three informed us that Wade can’t swim. All the eroticism was lost as Tom jumped in and saved his life. Happy to see him alive, I gave Wade a fly fishing lesson. Forgive me, diary, but I told him being shirtless makes learning easier. I sniffed his shoulder while teaching him to cast and am happy to note that his skin smelled just as I expected: like sweat and danger.

After becoming sufficiently titillated, I brought out Roarke’s birthday cake. Tom gave him a Swiss Army Knife. I’m normally not a fan of weapons, but this one feels more like a tool, so I’ll let it slide. Wade gave him $200, which seemed a little odd, but I suppose it was a nice gesture.

Once we thought everyone was in bed, Tom made a pass at me near the hot springs. It’s been a while and I couldn’t stop thinking about Wade’s pecs, so I agreed. During a preparatory bath, I noticed Wade watching me in all my nakedness from an overhang above the water. For a brief moment I thought it would be fun if he joined us, but quickly decided against it. Tom and I hadn’t invited a third since Roarke and, I’m afraid, Wade seems like the type to carry around more than a handful of diseases. Tom and I decided that tomorrow we’d leave them behind. What a shame.


SUNDAY, MAY 8, ‘94
OK! So. Today was weird. Our plan didn’t work and, well, they’re criminals! Actual criminals. I never thought I’d have a gun pulled on me outside of Boston, but here we are. (Oh, and Roarke, god love him, somehow knew they had a gun and didn’t tell us until it was about to be used! I’ll deal with that when we get back home.)

Anyway. As I was saying, diary, Wade and Terry are armed robbers. Imagine that! Perhaps that’s part of why I was so captivated by him. He’s exciting in a way Tom will never be and could never be and that danger I smelled on him yesterday wasn’t some scent you buy at Macy’s. It was honest to god danger. A savage saltiness dripping from his perfect pores.

Oh, the dog ran away. She’ll be fine.


MONDAY, MAY 9, ‘94
I’m officially, 100%, straight up, no going back, o v e r Wade. He killed Tom AND Johnny, a park ranger I USED TO BABYSIT (who, I might add, grew up quite nicely.) Armed robbery I could deal with, but not murder. Especially not double murder. We have to go through the Gauntlet tomorrow, so I suppose this might be my last entry. If this diary is found, please give it to my parents, but only after destroying the entries from Summer ‘91.


TUESDAY, MAY 10, ‘94
Diary, Roarke, the dog and I are alive! Oh, and so is Tom! Turns out he didn’t die yesterday after all! Allow me to recap what was certainly the most exciting day of my life.

So, we’re floating down the Gauntlet and it’s terrible and whatever, but then we noticed some American Sign Language on the rocks! Tom had written instructions IN CODE (I forget how sexy he can be sometimes) that told us when to stop the boat. He built some ridiculous but functional contraption that flipped the boat and gave us time to take Wade and the other one (I keep forgetting his name) out. I threw his bag of stolen money into the water, saw the gun, grabbed it, and was all, “STOP OR I’LL SHOOT.” Wade gave me some sob story and said he’d never kill us, but I pulled the trigger anyway. And get this! Just like out of a movie, the barrel was empty. This, of course, revealed Wade’s true colors, and he lunged at me anyway. But I spun the barrel to the only remaining bullet, cocked, and fired it just in time. Wade was dead as a doornail and I’d saved the whole damn family myself.

Later I overheard Roarke tell a police office that it was Tom who “saved our lives,” and felt more than a little hurt. But I suppose letting him believe his father to be more heroic than I am is a burden mothers of sons tend to face.

I’ll let him believe it, for now.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.