So, for the next month and more, this blog, or at least most of its available posting space, has been claimed by a fan of the Grand Canyon. Yes, a fan of a really big hole in the ground. It’s not as big as Valles Marinaris, but there is still a river at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, which greatly facilitates travel by river raft. The goal is to take you along on a fourteen-day expedition, from Kaibab Sandstone to Vishnu Schist, through rapids, slot canyons, waterfalls, and thunderstorms, and along the way reveal a few of the deep dark secrets of these trips so few of us take. We’ll cover over 180 miles on the river plus many miles afoot on canyon trailways. Why use up a month to take you on a two-week trip? Because that’s what it feels like. You forget what day it is, how long you’ve been gone, how much time is left. If you don’t keep a journal, you’re lost.
I kept a journal.
I also took about 3,000 photographs and an hour of video.
Yes, there will be a fair amount of “what we did”, but I also want to share the background information the guides (and other travelers) shared with us, the additional tidbits I’ve gleaned from research (the addiction of the Ph.D.), and perhaps even paint the picture well enough that if you can’t go on this trip you can claim you did and provide your friends with a verisimilitudinous description. Just pick one of the falsified names in the diary segments & say “yeah, that’s me”. Also, if you’re a well-heeled adventure traveler planning your own expedition, I’d hope you’ll come away with enough information to know where you should not take short-cuts—and with some clues about how to find experienced, capable guides to get you through safely.
In the meantime, I don’t want to wear out your eyeballs with more than a few photos and a thousand words of gushing per post. There will be directions to see more photos, but, I promise, this won’t be a session of “Watch my Vacation Slideshow”.
Time for the first installment of Secrets of Grand Canyon River Rafting.
Deep, dark secret #1. Not everyone wants to go on this trip. Three husbands who could have joined their wives refused the chance to walk away from work, television, and electronic connectedness for a week. A young backbacker—who had completed the climb of Mount Whitney with his mother just a few months previously—turned down a free ticket and sent his retirement-age Mom on her own. She said he didn’t like the idea of not being in control on the trip. Another traveller’s wife sent him off with a (female) friend he’d recently reconnected with after a thirty-year hiatus, because the wife just can’t stand camping. His son, a golf enthusiast, only agreed to chaperone them if they took the shorter trip, to be sure he’d be home in time to watch the Master’s. Me? No, actually, I didn’t want to go on this trip. The only person who couldn’t tell was my husband, he was so excited about going. Why would this nature/science/ancient-peoples-loving photographer want to sit this out?
First of all, it’s frightfully expensive—if you want to travel the Canyon and not spend a fortune, you need to be able to work there. I am not the correct age or physical type to start a new career as a river guide. Nor do I have the right background or training to get hired by (or even volunteer for) the Park Service or any of the scientific research teams with feet on the water down there. So when my husband Clark declared that it had “always” been his wish to make this trip and that he had, after all, a big landmark birthday coming up, I made him pay for it out of his IRA. That was the only place we had enough money set by.
Second, Clark got the idea from a friend of his, a childhood friend who’s facing the same landmark birthday this year. When these two get together, they tend to devote a significant amount of our time to recalling those good-old-days. Days I did not share. Oh, great, my jealous heart predicted: two weeks of traipsing along behind while they play “remember when.” Well, I did end up trailing along behind, but not quite the way predicted. You’ll see.
And the third and most sensible reason: I broke my shoulder in January and my orthopedist’s solid opinion about my going river-rafting in April was: “I wouldn’t recommend doing that.” The bone knitted on schedule, but shoulders are complicated messes of tendons and muscles that don’t take kindly to the whole process. I was told it would be a year or more before I’d be back from this injury. My physical therapist did what he could to get some of my range-of-motion restored and added a couple of exercises to build back a little strength, but I went off with one arm fully-qualified to hang on tight and one that complained bitterly about any extension beyond a basic stretch while it simply refused to raise my hand beyond about 80 degrees. One upside was that Clark got to haul all my gearbags, because I just couldn’t handle them.
The other upside is that I would not want to have missed out on this trip. Even though we couldn’t afford it, it was worth it. Does that make any sense at all? Well, it will.
So, all right already, let’s go. For a teasing sneak-peek, here is a picture from Day 5. Oh, aye, it’s the Grand Canyon.