Redbud at dawn, Flagstaff
Patience, patience. It will get better. There will be pain, terror, comic interludes, amazement, all that. Soon enough.
So today we think we are getting up early. How naïve we are, believing ourselves totally on-the-ball as we deposit our overstuffed drybags in the lobby at 6 a.m., first ones ready. And first to the breakfast buffet as well. I have a strong hankering for a lovely waffle, but we all decide on the no-waiting buffet. So. Well. There is a great big pan full of sausage. English muffins. Hard-boiled eggs. This could work.
The other folks filter into the dining room. We don’t know each other yet, one meeting with the trip leader last night was not enough for bonding. And with my personal brand of dysnomia, we’ve been together far too little even for adequate identification. At least some people make a bit of an effort to be memorable. Isn’t that the wise-cracking guy who made sure to poll the group to establish he’s the oldest among us? But who are those people he’s with? Thank goodness we are only a group of sixteen. And I already know three of us. Of course, that’s counting myself.
We are all in our carefully assembled river-rafting outfits, so we are now instantly recognizable to the hotel staff as Those OARS Guests. What’s that uniform like?
Quick-drying pants—seems to me pretty much all the passengers are in long pants, and those of us with new gear are sporting the sun-protecting fabrics.
Quick-drying shirts—experienced types have layered short- and long-sleeved shirts. Me, I’ve structured a Nerd Look, with a white long-sleeved “base layer” (ultra-comfortable, some fancy brand, UPF 50 fabric, and snagged off the REI heavily-discounted Outlet page) under the polo-style shirt I had on yesterday. (Already counting days. Each shirt gets 4 days.)
Everyone has a hat. Shade is the name of the game on the water, anywhere. Doesn’t matter if you’re revving one of those horrid Personal Watercraft across a reservoir or balancing the outrigger on your 20-foot ocean-going catamaran, the brain requires protection from Sol. Most everyone has gone for the wide-brimmed Ranger Rick hat. At least one has chosen the Sahara-style cap with the side-drapes to protect the neck and ears. It looks comfy. I debate. Should I dig my backup cap out of my bag or stick with the wide-brimmed one?
Footgear is a mix. Some of us are wearing our hiking boots; others are already in their boat sandals, anxious to get their toes wet in the Colorado River. Most of us have purchased Teva-style water shoes, some have added neoprene socks, a few have simply packed neoprene booties—a low-mass choice, but requiring a shoe change for even a short hike. Again, I am full of myself for having found a pair of Keen sandals for 25 bucks. There are some benefits to knowing one’s size in children’s shoes.
And, given it’s 7 a.m. in Flagstaff on the first of April, virtually everyone has layered on a fleece jacket. A few have their rain jackets on top of that, too, serving double duty as a windbreaker. The raingear is mostly tucked in our “day” drybags, as suggested at last night’s pre-trip meeting. Later on, when we are all tucked into our rain-suits, it can be difficult to tell each other apart, as most have gone with basic black.
The five of us who will be taking the full 14-day trip: “Clark, Lois, Lana, Eliza, & Todd”
So, as we gather in the lobby, stuffing last-minute additions into our daybags and packs, the river-guide crew begins to appear. Either that, or there’s a new robbery scheme in which people dressed in shorts, tee-shirts, and flip-flops drop by hotels and make off with fully-packed drybags. Which brings us to the uniform of the river guide:
Pants? Nay, shorts are the required day wear. In the event of actual severe weather, say, a cold day with heavy rain, neoprene pants may appear. And a very cold early morning may prompt a brief stretch with an outer layer, but not likely, no.
Shirts? Optional for the men. (Well, keep in mind that on the river everyone, absolutely everyone, wears a life vest every minute.) Most of the time, it’s a short-sleeved shirt or a tank top. Our wise Team Leader previewed her clothing choices by advising us (at last night’s briefing) to choose clothing over sunblock whenever possible, will be found wearing long-sleeved shirts and fingerless gloves on sunny days, but this is the choice of a nonconformist.
Shoes? Optional, though often sandals are chosen. Well, not really sandals, but flip-flops. It is rumored that the guides own hiking boots. More on this topic later, when hiking becomes a factor.
Coats? Well, maybe a shirt for a little while on a chilly morning.
In short, there is no chance that one would mistake a guest for a guide, or vice-versa. In each party, we will have one person who fits in rather well with the guide class, but attire keeps them distinct no matter what.
While we are staring at one another and fiddling with our backpacks and daybags, the crew have arrived and are lightly tossing our lumpy twenty-five-pound drybags up to the top racks of a pair of white passenger vans. One van also has a trailer with a big yellow thingy on it. So we have our first glimpse of a raft. We all sort of wallflower-it, clumping around the benches in front of the hotel, taking pictures of each other. But eventually we have to wriggle into the vans.
Our van and raft, at Cameron Trading Post
So it’s a long drive to the put-in at Mile Zero, aka Lees Ferry, so we are promised a “rest stop” at Cameron Trading Post. This is a wonderful combination of a tourist trap, an art gallery, a grocery store, hotel, church, and post office. Basically, it’s a town. Cameron’s perched on the edge of the gorge of the Little Colorado River, where the original founder of the trading post launched the business by building a bridge over the Gorge. Now, there’s a standard highway bridge, but there’s still also an older suspension bridge (no, not the original one). At this hour we have the place pretty much to ourselves. I find a bracelet and a couple of T-Shirts in the shop before stopping in the grocery for a tub of Vaseline. But first, of course, I have to run down and snag a photo of the bridge. The older one, of course.
Old Cameron Bridge, over Little Colorado River Gorge
The rest of the drive is longer and affords a chance for naps. Billie’s friend Krista is sitting in front of me. She spends the time carefully braiding her barely shoulder-length hair and tying off the ends with colorful yarn–all without being able to see what she’s doing.
A peek at our first rapid, Paria Riffle, from the Lees Ferry Campground
Finally, we pull in and stop at the campground above Lees Ferry. We learn that a traveler with another group which had used the campsite facilities down at Lees Ferry had turned out to have rotovirus, so we’re going to avoid those places. The Campground has a set of restrooms we can use before we go on down to the put-in spot. While we wait for one another, we can take some photos of the the Colorado river below us and Vermilion cliffs glowing above us beneath the deep blue sky.
But we are finally rounded up and pile into the vans for the half-mile drive down to the water. Finally, we’re at the River. Time for more lectures!
Gearing up at Lees Ferry