There is no simple way to orchestrate the travel here. Yes, planes fly to Flagstaff, not the same airlines as fly to the big airports but their small-scale partners. There’s a shuttle bus from Phoenix, and if you were facing a long layover the van could even be faster.
But we arrive in Phoenix with plane tickets in hand and actually welcome a half-hour flight delay, because it allows us a chance to buy lunch. I even have time for a stroll through the overpriced-souvenir shop, where I hand over $2 for a pair of elastic bands someone in the shop has put out to support a fundraiser for improving water supplies in Haiti. Seems appropriate. And the chance to put up our feet for a half-hour is welcome, as we’re already tired. We actually began yesterday, on Day “-1”, with a five-hour drive to rendezvous with Clark’s friend, who lives near Reno, so we could all travel together the whole way. Our Day Zero expedition consisted of a drive from the pine forests of Plumas County to the desert flats of Reno’s outskirts, a freeway jaunt to the airport (chauffered by another friend), a big plane to Phoenix, a little plane to Flagstaff, then a search for the airport shuttle. We will have a powerful case of deja vu on Day Fourteen. You’ll see.
Flagstaff’s airport is a fabulous, small airport. My favorite kind. One baggage claim zone. No trouble meeting a shuttle bus right outside. As it happens, the other folks sharing the van are another couple going on our trip. And they have obtained an intelligence report from the rafting company, OARS, that we five will be the only “guests” staying on the raft trip for the full fourteen days. The rest of the group will leave halfway (and hike out), to be replaced by a new batch of folks for the second week. So we will actually get to spend a full fifteen days with Todd and Eliza. Oh, yeah, and until such time as the members of our trip group authorize me to use their names, I will be using fake names, just in case I goof up and say something upsetting or someone turns out to be in Witness Protection. I won’t do the same for the crew, since I want to actually give them the props they deserve. In fact, I’d hope this whole piece could be considered a humungous letter of reference for each and every person on the crew. I’d initially given myself permission to use my own and my husband’s names, but he protested, so here goes. He is herewith dubbed “Clark”. And what to call Childhood Friend? How about Lana? And surely that makes me “Lois”. The only funny thing about this, is that I actually have a friend called Lois–so, hey, Lois, you can tell people this is you. (Fair warning, though, I’m not the heroine of this story!)
The key element of Day Zero is the evening briefing from the Trip Leader. We gather in one of the Radisson Hotel’s conference rooms. (The Midway guests also will have a briefing, but not by the Trip Leader , as she will be a mile downhill at the time.) So we meet our first authentic River Guide. This is Billie Prosser, who’s been whitewater rafting since she was a teenager, over fifteen years now, much of that time in the Grand Canyon. These days, she chooses to do only a few of these Grand Canyon trips a year, giving herself the chance to work on other rivers and also to have time for a private trip, as time permits, to enjoy the Canyon without having to take care of people like us.
At the meeting, we also get our first glimpse of our fellow travelers all together. We are heavily loaded with Californians and Canadians. There are three women from Canada—their menfolk didn’t want to come. There’s two father-son duos: one a dad and his athletic teenager, the other a Bechtel project technician taking a voluntary layoff to make the trip with his dad, a (putatively) retired actor and writer. The Fab Five (Todd & Eliza and the three of us–Lois, Clark, and Lana) are all from California. The actor, who takes care during the meeting to firmly establish that he’s the most-senior member of the troupe, has also brought along a childhood friend—a woman he hadn’t seen since high school. While he keeps us entertained, I get the vague feeling he sort of expects someone to recognize him. Then there’s another triad…a husband and wife and one of their friends. Is that sixteen?
We get a quick summary of what to expect in the morning. The crucial item is to have our gear packed and in the lobby by quarter to seven and be ready to leave by seven. There’s a little last-minute advice on what to be sure to bring. In case something’s been forgotten, there’s a WalMart in walking distance. We’re advised to bring lots and lots of moisturizer. I ask for a definition of “lots”, which it seems is a 16 oz bottle per person per week. Oh, my goodness, I didn’t bring that much, so we have a trip to WalMart in the plans already. We’re issued our “drybags”, each labeled with our own personal real names. (Amazingly, they don’t know to use the fake names I will make up in the future for this blog.) And Billie gives us a five-minute seminar on how to seal the drybags. This is important, as all of our clothing and personal items go in this bag, which will then be tied onto a raft and frequently doused with water. We’re each also issued a small drybag. The big bag is inaccessible except in camp. The day bag serves to keep dry what we need to keep dry but have access to during the day. And we’re allowed to bring whatever we like in our daypacks as well, provided we understand that these will get drenched in larger rapids or if it rains. The drybags don’t have our personal names on them. Instead, they each have an identifying name written in Sharpie, to individualize them. We just each have to remember our bag’s name. Mine is “Turpentine Broom”. Lana’s is “Grease Bush”. And Clark selects the distinctly memorable “#73”. Mine is the best. Here is all about Turpentine Broom and Grease Bush. I expect we’ll encounter these plants on our journey. In the meantime, the names help, as the bags come in only a few colors.
I’m relieved to hear there will be a bag for boots, as this will make room in my kit for all that moisturizer. Others are relieved to hear that their beer and wine orders have been filled. Some are anxious to double-check on that after the meeting. Billie has the checklist. Evidently, this is a common anxiety.
Then we are off to WalMart. Yes, our first act upon crossing the moment into our trip environment is to walk down a suburban city street, past a dark and quiet Home Depot, an active supermarket, and a Bank of America with lights glowing invitingly above its ATM, to shop in the megabehemoth of a store that was launched just a few miles from Clark and Lana’s home town. But oh, they do indeed have It All. More sunblock. I must have more sunblock. Moisturizer, per Billie’s recommendations. Handy dry facewash cloths to get all that sunblock off. And a tripod. What was I thinking, leaving home without a tripod? And a little mini flex-tripod for Clark. Sweet. Now all we have to do is haul this all back to the hotel and get everything crammed into our bags.
And, well, the bag-cramming takes a little while. Maybe more than a little while. Part of it is deciding which things are OK in the backpack (maybe in a Ziploc bag, maybe not), which need to go in the daybag, and which can be done without and stuffed in the main drybag. I have the extra variant that I really have 2 daypacks. One is a one-shoulder sling pack that keeps my cameras and other hiking essentials from bearing down on my healing shoulder and when not in use tucks into the main pocket of my large daypack. The main daypack takes my raingear, a dry set of fleece sealed in ziplocs, my tripod, and other handy items. It’s big, it’s bulky, I will make Clark carry it as much as possible. But it all fits. And while I fancy myself adept at this sort of thing, it is Clark who is already proving to be better at sealing the big drybag. He says it is just that he can squish it down better, being a bit heavier, but I think there is more to it than that. I will keep insisting on doing my bag myself for about four more days. Then I will give up and let him do it for me.
One last shower and a thorough hair washing. It will be 2 weeks without a shampooing, at least for me. I do not want to look at the setting on the alarm clock. It is just too awful to contemplate.