I saw the Grand Canyon for the very first time in 2004. Of course, I had seen pictures of it. Of course, I knew it was big. But walking up to that rim, I realized that I had seen nothing but shadows and knew nothing at all. The real thing is the kind of immense that makes you feel the size of an atom, crushes you just looking at it, stuns your mind, and makes you forget how to breathe.
When my mind started up again, it was consumed with only one thought: I have to get down there—and stay a while.
Apparently I’m not the only one with this compulsion. Countless people seek to travel the Colorado River by raft. Access to the river is tightly regulated. While it’s possible to organize your own trip given adequate amounts of knowledge, funding and patience, the simplest way to raft the Grand Canyon is via commercial operator. In my case, that was Western River Expeditions. All you need to do (after plunking down your cash) is show up with an appropriately sized bag containing the prescribed list of personal items. Everything else is provided for you, from the sturdy, blue, no-flip raft to the camping gear and food, plus the boatmen to drive the raft and their assistants (known as “swampers”) who prepare the food. Tents and cots are provided, but after some basic instruction, these are yours to manage.
Which is why, when I finally booked my river rafting adventure in 2008, four years after first laying eyes on this holy grail of rafting trips, I figured I was going on an adventure for wimps. Just show up and enjoy the scenery going by. Little did I know then that what I was really doing was leave behind reality as I knew it. Entering the Grand Canyon changes you. The longer you stay, the more it burrows into your mind. This is no trip to Disney World. There are no orderly paths or safety rails. There is no electricity or cell service, no air conditioned fast food outlets nor souvenir shops. Not even restrooms. There is only raw, primal nature the way it has always existed, unchanged for millions of years. Here you understand where humanity truly rates in the grand scheme of things. Here you may know terror and ecstasy in the same moment. Here…you are humbled.
The trip I went on in 2008 was for 6 days, including 5 nights camping in places that might as well have been on the moon, they were so remote. The moment that trip ended was the moment I knew I would have to come back.
I’m now planning my return for 2017, this time on a 7 day trip. In preparation for this adventure, I’m going over my notes from my last outing and will be posting a series of blog entries about it in the weeks to come as well as writing several articles for a local magazine.
Come along for the virtual ride.
But be warned. By the time you finish reading, you may well book your own trip.