After blogging daily for 7 weeks during my road trip around the US, I swore to myself I’d let go of my writing addiction for my 2-week trip to the Grand Canyon and wouldn’t blog about it – you know, sort of like a vacation. Well, here I am, blogging about it! Hi. My name is Sarah. And I have an addiction. To writing, blogging, pictures, and travel. I am breaking this one down into parts for my sanity, so first here’s a little background on how my dad and I ended up on an epic trip down the Colorado River through the one and only, Grand Canyon.
Part 1: Getting to the River
“The purpose of life, after all, is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
I have always made a point to do my best to live life without too many regrets. Sure, no regrets would be optimal, but would you ever progress as an individual if you never felt regret? I don’t think so (my opinion); the feeling of regret changes you and pushes you to take chances. So take opportunities as they come, realizing that timing is never going to be perfect, be present, and see where they take you. And, if you do come out on the other end with some regrets, challenge yourself to make up for them.
That was deep. Cue the transitional, instrumental music.
I remember my dad coming home from his 6-day Colorado River trip with my two cousins, Rawlins and Ed, in the Grand Canyon with AZRA about eight years ago. He raved about it. I remember him telling stories about the very close lightning strike, the endless beautiful landscape, the big white water, the relentless sun, and the long hike out via the Bright Angel Trail. I also remember my dad saying he had just one regret – that he didn’t do the full 14-day trip down the river. I think he was immediately determined to someday do the 14-day full canyon trip…with or without me!
Personally, I was hooked on the adventure of whitewater from a young age as our family trips generally included a half-day or full-day rafting trip on the smaller, but very fun, rivers east of the Mississippi. The multi-day trips I wasn’t too sure about because I had never been much of a camper. Spent a lot of time outdoors growing up, but camping with tents and such was never a recurring part of those adventures. We would do our first multi-day river trip on the Snake River through Hells Canyon a year later in 2008. I was immediately hooked on the multi-days. The camping part wasn’t a deal breaker for me (phew) – if anything, it was a great way to step outside of the comfort zone (I also am not a great sleeper, so I tend find the whole sleeping part of camping to be a bit of a time-suck – star gazing being the exception of course – i’ve had people ask me what my least favorite part of the river trips are – my answer is always, “well, I could really do without the whole sleeping part”). If you know me even a little bit, this (the whole comfort zone thing, in case I lost you there) is something that I, in some situations, find difficult to do and sometimes have to be pushed to do. More often than not though, once I get myself off my I-like-my-comfort-zone struggle-bus, the end result is a pretty rewarding experience. Well there’s no better way to embrace camping then when you are on a river trip for several days and have no other choice but to just go with it! In the South, we also call this sort of situation baptism by fire. It can be quite effective.
In 2009, we rafted the Middle Fork of the Salmon River on a 7-day trip, which is often rated as one of the best technical rivers for some great whitewater. The whitewater is my favorite part – I cannot get enough of the rush of adrenaline that races through you once you hear the unmistakable roar of an upcoming rapid. It’s just freakin’ awesome. The incredible scenery that you are immersed in while on the river comes in at a close second. It is incredibly hard to compete with the natural beauty of the United States. We took several years off from the multi-day trips, but of course managed to squeeze in a couple of runs down the New River in West Virginia as it was reasonably close to my home at the time in Baltimore. We finally got back on the water for a 7-day trip down the Rogue River in Oregon in 2014. It didn’t take long to settle back into the river routine, and I just remember being so pumped to be back on a river for 7 days of adventure.
So what’s next on the river rafting bucket-list? Fresh off a river trip in Oregon, and on our drive up to Portland, I believe the decision was officially made. It was time to commit to a 14-day trip down the Colorado in the Grand Canyon. We picked our trip dates after we got home from Oregon, I hoarded my vacation time at work like a crazy person, and we booked our trip over a year in advance. It would be a long wait, but my dad was finally going to satisfy his one regret from his first trip on the Colorado!
Skip ahead to September 5, 2015. I left my job in Baltimore at the end of May. I sold my house. I moved back home to Charleston in June (technically) to start a new job in October. And I was fresh off a 7-week road trip around the beautiful USA (feel free to read my blog about the road trip – yes, shameless plug for my blog, you’ll work past it). I made it back home from my US road trip on September 1st, giving me just a couple of days to get laundry done, take care of some meetings, do a photo shoot for the Great Dane Rescue, and pack for the Grand Canyon. I had never packed for a 14-day river trip. And it proved to be a bit of a challenge even with the provided list! My other challenge was that a box of my river stuff was buried in my storage unit, so I had to figure out some alternatives to include running out last minute to get new river worthy shoes – my nicely broken-in and well-worn Chacos were lost in the storage unit black hole. Dammit. My feet were cringing already! Oh the joys of moving!
Now the 5th, my dad and I made our way through the thrills of air travel (I was missing Southwest Airlines within minutes of being at the airport), via several flights, on our way to Flagstaff, AZ. Our trip meeting with AZRA was at 7pm, so we had a few hours to grab some dinner to have later and drinks for the trip before heading to the meeting. At the meeting we met the 14 other folks who would be part of the adventure for either the full trip or the upper half. Always a good sign when there’s joking and laughter at the pre-trip meeting. Even if some of it was nervous laughter when the personal pee buckets (aka plastic paint buckets aka the ‘groovette’) were introduced, explained, and passed out.
Side note – the groovette was a new item to me for a river trip. I can honestly say I never used it for its intended purpose. In fact, it was crushed and cracked/broken after a few days in the bottom of my bag – but not before I was able to use it to pour frigid water over my head while “washing” my hair one day. Whoopsie daisy.
Photography is a major hobby and passion of mine, and I certainly won’t claim to be remotely qualified to call myself a professional – amateur is maybe even a stretch – but every now and then a good shot comes along, and sometimes I ‘book’ some shoots back home for friends, or even sell a couple of prints. With all of that, I find myself dedicating more time to my hobby anytime I am not working or writing – it’s an addicting hobby! So for this trip, I was all about taking one of what I affectionately call my “big cameras” (sounds so technical and official) – it is after all the Grand Canyon, how could I not. So the big camera made the trip to Flagstaff, surrounded by cozy foam in it’s water-tight case, ready to take on the Grand Canyon. After the trip meeting, and while packing my stuff in the dry bags, I made the call to not take my big camera partially out of fear of damaging it somehow, but really because the Pelican case was a little bulky to deal with and I wasn’t positive where to put the darn thing and I wasn’t keen on having it in the ‘checked’ dry bag for reasons that I still have not fully figured out. I would have to survive with my handy little waterproof camera instead. I can’t even recall the last time I used a little point and shoot style camera. It was probably the last river trip. But it was an acceptable alternative, I suppose, and small enough to not really get in the way. So friends, just go ahead and lower your expectations on the pictures now! And my apologies, I tend to digress often about random subject matter. Bear (not beer) with me. (Bear versus beer – when southern accents get in the way, it may seems as though we are always saying ‘bear’ – it can get confusing, especially out of context or when they can be used interchangeably to form a logical statement). Again with the rambling. My sincerest apologies.
We were up at 5am (this would become a pattern), and I took my last real shower – my river trip tradition – for the next 14 days, savoring the hot water for sure! We met the group outside to drop off our dry bags and our luggage for when we got back, and headed to breakfast. After a pretty decent breakfast, we loaded up on the bus that would take us to Lee’s Ferry around 6:45am. It was a picture-perfect day in the desert, traveling through the Navajo Reservation, and into the Grand Canyon region. On the roughly three-hour drive from Flagstaff, we made a couple of short stops for bathroom breaks and to check out the Navajo Bridge, which crosses the Colorado River not far from Lee’s Ferry. We would soon be crossing under the bridges on oar boats (or the paddle boat – whatever strikes your fancy) with our river guides at the helm. Do rafts have helms? No idea, but it sure does sound pretty official so I’m going with it.
Speaking of river guides…I’d like to take a brief minute to talk about our river guides. River guides are essential. They know their rivers. They live for this lifestyle. They know their history. They are experts at what they do. And they can make or break a trip (my opinion, of course). When you can feel their passion and pure excitement for the river they are about to lead you down right when you get off the bus – that’s a great thing. A great crew of guides can also push your limits and get you out of your comfort zone (in a good way). They seem to have a knack for ensuring you have the time of your life, and their energy is infectious. Our guides that would take us down the Colorado were hands-down the best and most passionate group I’ve had on any river trip.
Meet our river guides:
We finally made it down to Lee’s Ferry by about 10am give or take, where we met our river guides, lead by our trip leader, Clare. After the traditional life jacket – sorry, personal flotation device – introduction, fittings and guide checks (they should be just on the cusp of being so snug you can barely breathe – if your breathing is not labored, your pfd isn’t tight enough), Clare lead us through the all-important safety talk, interrupted briefly by the very loud motorcycle parade that drove past the landing. Bizarre. Clare had a fun sense of humor and was full of energy – so it was off to a great start. Our river guides for the trip – Clare, Kim, Howie, Colin, Lynn, and Alan – had experience on the river ranging from 6 to 36+ years. I throw those numbers out there because that’s pretty darn impressive people – we’re talking well over 100+ years of combined experience on the Colorado. The primary reason we chose AZRA as the outfit for our trip is because the Colorado is the only river they run and their experience on the river is second to none. 100+ years of experience in a single crew. Case in point. (Side note – I was correctly shortly after this blog post as it was closer to 150+ years after several tripper did some calculations – either way, it is ridiculously impressive). My dad and I have had some good crews on our past river trips, but first impressions always stick with me (I’m an HR professional, I can’t help it), and my first impression of our crew was off-the-charts positive, and I knew we were going to have a damn good time over the next 14 days.
We were told that this trip was Howie’s 150th trip down the Colorado. My dad and I hopped on his oar boat for day 1 on the river, eager to hear what he had to share from his experiences on the Colorado.
And with that, we were officially on the river for the next 14 days and 226 river miles.
Until the next post…