Featured writer: The Grumpy Hiker
I’m sitting in a house in Cleveland, OH trying to write a blog post that better summarizes my experience in the Grand Canyon. It’s 45 degrees, clouds, raining and, for someone who has spent the last two years in Arizona; absolutely miserable.
Spending 21 days rafting the Colorado River feels like a dream, and telling people about it feels like I’m betraying the experience. Words cannot describe the connections I have now with my river family, nor really the experiences we shared together. To share them feels like trying to articulate a piece of my soul. I’m not sure it can be done!
In order for me to put you in the right frame of mind I need to share how I got invited on the private river trip. I started physical therapy for an old injury in July, with initial treatment consisting of 6 physical therapy sessions. On my third session my PT, with whom we had been swapping life stories and dreams, mentioned that he might have an open slot on a river trip. On my 4th session (granted, I’ve known this man 4 hours now) he offers the spot to me. Put yourself in my shoes. You’re about to finish your job; your girlfriend broke up with you a month and a half ago. You have no commitments and the offer presents itself. 21 days, you’re the youngest member of the trip by 5 years, most are married couples. You know none of them. Do you take it?
I’m told bucket list publications is looking for a specific twist, an angle. So. I want to tell you all about day 12. Day 12 of the trip of a lifetime. Day 12 started like most days. Our trip leader awoke the 15 other individuals by the then customary shout of “Coffeeeeee and Teaaaaaa.” A breakfast of oatmeal, the now customary loading of the kitchen boat, the boat in which my gear resided on. We launched, saw the sights (because, you know, Deer Creek, pictured below, is alright…), ran a few rapids and landed at Upper Ledges Camp at river mile 152.
This camp is arguably nothing special, not a lot of room, not great spots for the groover and in short, not a lot of privacy. The site is a series of sandstone shelves that lead right down to the river. Built in steps to the kitchen, and wherever you decided to throw down your sleeping bag for the night. By now, the evening routine repeats itself. Unloading the kitchen boat, personal gear, and chairs. Find the groover, laugh at how exposed it is, wave to your friends as you do your duty. Find a flat piece of ground and throw down your tarp, poco pad, and sleeping bag. Grab a book, find a chair, eat some appetizers, enjoy a margarita (we still had ice!) and laugh about the day’s adventures with friends.
Day 12 was a bit of an epiphany for me. Maybe it was the somewhat overcast sky dulling the colors of the canyon walls as the sun set, but I found myself looking down river when Bryan, the gentleman who happens to be a professional photographer, came up. He joined me in my pre tequila influenced evening and we started talking about the trip. Midway through the conversation he summed up what I was feeling at the time but wouldn’t realize for another few days. He turned to me and said:
How many more pictures of the canyon can I take? They are all starting to look the same! No – it’s more about the adventure now, the people we’re with.
And that is why trying to write about rafting the Grand Canyon is so difficult. I can show you pictures of the trip, but I can’t explain the hysterics that ensued after Wilson dumped water on our trip leader as he slept. I can’t explain the camaraderie you develop as a group, or smaller group when you do a difficult day hike on a layover day. How do you relate the conversation with Paul and Linda that happened on the love boat; in which no questions were out of bounds; and not answering because you were embarrassed was just, well, not what you did.
I’m humbled by the opportunity of traveling the Grand Canyon. And while showing pictures to friends and family and describing the trip makes my face light up with excitement as I reach to remember every detail, all I can do in these conversations is convey the scale and beauty of the Canyon. It’s in pictures like the ones in this post, where I may be sharing where it was taken, what it was like standing there or a particularly memorable meal; but in my head, what I’m really remembering? I’m remembering the beauty of the bonds of friendship that were forged.