This question is answered in about as many ways as there are people that enjoy the experiences that only happen on an extended trip on a wilderness river. For some it is the white water and river itself. For others it is the magnificent scenery one can only access from a trip on a wilderness river such as the Middle Fork of the Salmon. Others enjoy the camaraderie and bonding that happens when a group of people, whether they are family and old friends that make up the trip or a group of folks that have never known each other prior, come together and take part in the experiences only found traveling down a wilderness river.
For me it is multiple things. The river and scenery have never become mundane in the 20 plus years I have worked on the river, so that is a big part. The challenge is another part, from the logistics and packing to actually getting a party safely down the river. Good food is yet another aspect, one that some folks might be a bit surprised about. There is something about preparing and eating meals you would expect to find in fine dinning establishments around the country in a beautiful setting. They say the first sense one uses when eating is vision.
Ultimately, all of this leads to what might be at the top of my “what IS a river trip” list, and that is the sense of family that develops when groups of people come together for a multiple day river trip. Eating together, recreating together, all participants working towards a common goal work together to build a sense of community and family. This is something that, as part of other popular vacations, just does not happen and it is something to think about when choosing a vacation.