In the beginning
I once went on a river trip in the summer months. 16 days, 16 people, 16 personalities and 6 boats. Though I appreciated the opportunity, It wasn’t all that I thought it could be. We never had the chance to hike (not at all) and long days on the water left little spare time, paitence wore thin and personalities collided. There are amazing waterfalls, ruins and gorgeous nooks to explore, everywhere along the river corridor. I longed for additional days on the water with a different smaller group, in winter when commercial trips are not allowed. I caught myself thinking about it more. I said it outloud and I wanted to manifest it. I didn’t just think about it once or twice, I dreeeammed about it. I wanted and badly.
While wasting away the winter, sauntering along the rim of Grand Canyon with my dog, working a shift at a pizza place here and there, I got this surprise message. I can still remember how it felt to see those words on the screen of my phone. I felt pangs of absolute shock, the way I’d expect someone chosen for the Price is Right or opening the college acceptance letter might feel. I made this face, I’m making the same face right now as I sit here writing this. I think about that insane feeling and I’m reeling in it all over again.
I said, “fuck”.
I knew I HAD to go. And before I even knew all of the details, my brain and soul had locked into this, I was already committed. I asked the necessary questions and ran away to figure out the components required to make this go, I was determined.
I quickly acquired a dry suit, dry bags and the most necessary equipment on loan. Besides not having the cash then, I made the call. I was in. It took me a little while to formally fork over the cash but I eventually did and everything happened very fast, much as my memories of the trip and the days that pass from when we started to when it was over and in between now and then.
The best part of all of it all for me was the opportunity to get some good hikes in from the river. Hiking was one of the main objectives presented to me in the limited details of the trip that I received and based on hiking opportunity, I was sold. I knew Cassidy from my days working at the South Rim and though we both have spent a lot of time hiking in it, we never did any together. Hiking was at least one objective of what our TL wanted to do on this trip. As a raft guide in the canyon, He already knew the river and the rapids, hiking options and camps, Cassidy is every river guide book and as soon and offered us countless other valuable geological, historical and relevant to today information as we made our way down the Colorado.
We all met in Flagstaff and it was hard to tell how long each person knew who but it was a very easy how question to answer. They were all rafting guides with various experiences on many rivers and their paths crossed with each other just like some rivers are intertwined. In the coming days it would be more obvious to me just how truly capable they were.
All the rapids A-Z
As we made our way along the river, I got a chance to see everyone for who they were and saw the group as a whole. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I’d signed up for a 25-day trip with a bunch of strangers. Even the person who invited me, I hardly really knew. Once we settled in to our first camp where we saw a ring tail cat and totally lost our minds watching it. After a while we made it into some sort of personality or character in the Grand Canyon arcade game that we were about to be stuck in. It became so much of an event that we would refer back to the famous “ring squirrel” for much of the trip and in a way that no one outside of our unit would ever be able to understand. It was the beginning of a contingency in strange jokes about the animals of Grand Canyon and what we should do do save them.
If you ever end up seeing a bumper sticker out there in the world that says, “Expose the nipple for bat sniffles” or “Dick pics for condor chicks”. Sorry, not really. And if that wasn’t enough there are porpoises in the colorado that will do nasty things to you if it finds you attractive and maybe for no reason at all and without warning. Don’t worry, there’s a support group for that.
We spoke in terrible accents from every country in the world and some countries that might have not been discovered yet. Working hard we offloaded and unloaded, set up and broke down, over and over again at every place we rested our heads but it became something of a habit and fell into place in routine as time went on. We didn’t get any less silly, the jokes poured on and sometimes my sides hurt so much from all of the laughing.
Midway through a new member joined our crew, Peeinerre was born. A man drawn of the finest sharpie on an big old plastic pickle jar. Drawn by each of us, a single line to make this beautiful face. He may, or may not, have a nose that nears the resemblance of a scrotum. Peeinerre is a very proud French man who has the face of some sort of modern picasso mona lisa. He is the truest work of art and began to take on a life of his own when he joined our team. He mostly starred at us with his misshapen mismatched eyes and while smoking, he leaned his very large croissant-looking-sharpie-drawn ear into our conversations. He will tell you exactly what he thinks if you don’t turn him around. Although we gave him a swift punch, here and there, on his cheeky days, we always made sure to put him in a safe place in the raft and tuck him in tight for ze rapids. All the while we talked at him, and for him, in French accents that only a mother could love.
Even after the trip had ended we discussed Peeinerre:
“Peenyayur” in ‘MurkinI thought Pinierre was Eli’s idea. Who cares. He’s a part of all of us
I need to fix his name in my blog. He lives in all of us
Who has Pinierre? And also, how do we spell his name?
I have him and idk If he knows how to read or write just smoke ciga
The ierre sounds very french though – what say you?
“Peenyayur” in ‘Murkin
And then time really did go on. It feels like it all went so fast. We rowed some rapids but as I was not rowing, many of them and the features are becoming a bit of a blur. We all did a few hikes together, some might say death marches, and I can’t tell you what it felt like to feel a bit of myself come back – hiking in the canyon makes me feel alive and I’m really feeling fulfilled when I am clamoring up some hillside to reveal a greater more majestic view around the slope.
We traded off with running the kitchen, setting up the groover and purifying the water – like most rafting trips do. Right before we left, I asked about the food and made some jokes about hoping it wasn’t vegan. Well of course it was and I felt silly and awkward in making a joke about it. We did have some meals with meat throughout our trip but I almost didn’t need it at all Kayleigh cooked and dehydrated a bazillion amazing vegan dishes that really blew us away more than once she outdid the previous night’s menu.
I loved a little bit about everyone’s personality and the group as a whole. I really enjoyed watching them row through some of those amazing rapids and am really completed by having this exceptional experience of a good group of people, in this epic landscape doing something that by its very nature, isn’t easy. I’m glad for all the wildlife sighting experiences , kube playing, death marching, smirnoff icing, and campfire book reading lol
At home alone, now after a glorious 25-days in the outdoors.
I looked at the items on the floor of my place in Flagstaff, saddened. These things that I came to know so well, the only material things that I had with me in the world, separated from their original purpose and decommissioned. Supplies stacked next to the bags they inhabited for almost a month. I packed and repacked, off loaded and loaded, strapped and I strapped, opened and closed these things over and over and over again. Now they were stripped of meaning sitting pathetically unnecessary, cast away to a mess on the floor.
I shed a few tears to see these things sitting there like that and it surprised me like some sort of heavy flash of postpartum… not so surprising as I usually cry at every 30second Hallmark commercial I come into contact with. I missed the outdoor elements, the frost on the sleeping bag, the smell of the fire, the sound of the water and the work involved to travel through and come to know the quiet winter way of this amazing place I’ve become married to. This was the most time I spent with her, the most she has ever seeped into my soul.
Often, I’m described as overly talkative but I was quiet and entranced by the consciousness of my own mind, aware of my surrounding but lost the material part of myself. The river winding on like a life line in my heart until it stopped at Pearce Ferry.
I have so many emotions about being back on the other side, as I drove up to South Rim of Grand Canyon today, I couldn’t help but still feel a bit like I was floating.
Feeling disconnected to the sense of place and all that it encompasses, I set out to the South Rim via 89, part of the same route for the put in at Lee’s Ferry, nearly a month ago. I drove on and though I drove faster than I probably should have, I saw the landscape pass by so smooth and slow. Only yesterday morning did we take out of Pearce Ferry and I felt different now.
As I contemplated what that meant, I pulled my fingers through my hair. It felt so insanely smooth, for what less than 24 hours ago was a messy dry dredded up ponytail disguised as a bun and looking like a packrat nesting operation. My hands so rough from the river that even though the hair was detangled, it was like Velcro stuck to loose rough skin on my hands. Velcro hands and a hair that still smelled like campfire, somewhere between the river and “civilization”, it’s exactly how I felt too, still floating.
I tilted my nose to the north and I could just begin to see the little Colorado River Gorge and smiled to myself remembering the confluence and being down there in that gorge. Though it was somewhere in that 25 day span just behind us, it felt like eons ago that we were there together.
Finally the Hopi radio came through and I listened through the static until it came clear. They were playing a melancholy song which only caused me to start singing “hello darkness, my old friend… I’ve come to talk with you again” something of a reoccurring theme song (of MANY) for nearly the entire journey that we shared. I laughed out loud to myself and drove on.
I drove up early to the canyon early for my portrait session. I wanted to spend a minute on the top side peering over and seeing its scale again in a different way. It was a little busy but for once I didn’t feel smug about it, I just smiled in satisfaction knowing that I just experienced this incredible side of Grand Canyon that lives down there off in the distance. Most of the other onlookers might not think all that much about the view below and simply look, get back in the car and hustle on but I gazed into the same space. I saw a rapid we ran and a debris fan full of ancient history and I could remember what it felt like to be there sauntering along the trails in our drysuits. I felt so incredibly full and rich, and I truly am. I am the richest one alive, today standing looking over this giant chasms that contains all of my most precious memories and represents something so much larger than myself.