4. Rafting the Grand Canyon….August, 2021 

The Rapids

The one thing I did not expect on this trip, was how much I’d love the rapids.  Before Mary Ellen ever talked to me about floating the Canyon, I feared the thought of floating this river because of the rapids.  Of course I thought I’d just die in them.  Then she talked to me about everything else….the hikes, the night sky, the sounds, the colors, etc.  So, I put the rapids to the back of my mind…most of the time.  I’d read about them all though…I could name you the biggest most badass rapids in the river.  

The first day, late in the afternoon & under cloud covered skies, we went through a series of rapids called the 20 mile rapids (or something like that).  They came fast & furious…one right after the other.  These I will admit, I didn’t like all that well because I was freezing.  No sun & no break & it was the first time we felt how freezing cold the water was.  By the time we got to camp, Jill & I were both shivering.  But as soon as we changed into dry clothes we warmed up.

That wouldn’t be the last of the shivers….I got them almost every day.  And did a gazillion times whenever I sat in front of the boat. But, my body would only shiver & freeze for a couple of minutes, then with the sun & the furnace like air, my skin would dry.  We learned to not wear so many layers because our skin would dry faster than any shirt would & then you’d be warm again.  It was a repeating cycle of dry, soaked, freeze, dry…over & over.  

But, I really loved to be face to face with giant brown waves….knowing it could be fun to ride them but like anything in nature, they can have a deadly side too.  I wasn’t afraid, but shocked that I loved it so much.  I can be such a big wuss about so many things…but the rapids were mesmerizing.  I made sure to keep my eyes open right up to the point where I’d get blasted in the face by the water.  Wow…I will never forget that.

I can tell you that my most fun rapid was not really one noted too much in all the Canyon books.  It was called Salt Creek Rapid.  I was on the front of the boat riding cowboy style & we (Barbara who was riding on the front on the other side of the boat) could see this wave was huge.  It was like we were plunging down the side of skyscraper…we were on top of it, nosing down fast & it was thrilling.

The one that moved me…literally moved me about a foot towards the back of the boat was Hermit.  It was a crazy big forceful rapid…the power of this water is amazing.  On Hermit, because of all the debris in the water, once we regained our breath & were out of the rapid, I found a small log behind my back.  So much force with that rapid.

These photos are in no order & there’s no way I can tell what rapid they are except Lava.  In the big ones I was holding on too tight to take any photos.


This is Lava Rapid…rated a 10 (that’s as high as it goes down here).  The drop where the water is smooth in the middle is about 15-20 feet.  I think it’s the largest navigable rapid in the country.  But, for me, as someone who is just sitting in the boat, this was not near as violent as Hermit.  Hermit gets my vote for being the absolute biggest.


Day 12 8.6
Our last day was a short time on the river; we loaded up & floated for about an hour or two at the most.  Only a couple of ‘riffles’…no big rapids left.  We had to wait near where we docked the boats for about 45 minutes, but our Pilots put the boats in shade & well all visited, including with all the Guides.  Then we unloaded all our stuff for the last time, transferred everything we’d taken with us from our dry bags to a giant heavy duty plastic bag & loaded them on the bus.  We said a sad good bye to our Guides.  They still needed to load the boats then take them to warehouse & tear everything down & clean it for it’s next trip.  They work so hard.

Our bus ride started on a 17 mile wash road…super bumpy & our driver did not take it slow.  I kept wondering if now that I survived the river & rapids, if I would die on an old school bus.  We popped out at Peach Springs, AZ, took a bathroom & lunch break then road the 1.5 hours back to our hotel in Flagstaff.  The minute most got cell service on the bus, they were back to real life.  I’d left my phone in the hotel, so I just looked at the views along the road….so very tired after not have slept the past two nights, also the dramamine I’d popped were making me drowsy.  But, I can rarely sleep in a moving vehicle, so I thought about our trip, the river & the canyon & silently hoped the best of all of that, would never leave me.

Once back at the hotel, we unloaded the bus, then retrieved any bags we’d left.  I walked out to the parking lot to check out Camper…she was sitting there just perfect & the inside smelled just great!  Big sigh of relief…I really don’t like leaving her unattended.  Then we checked into our room.  Jill called Greg first;  I hit the shower.  Wow….it felt great.

Jill & I didn’t eat with most of the group who met at a local restaurant, along with the Guides.  But we did stop by so we could say good bye to everyone & leave our tips & also say goodbye to our amazing Guides.

Jill spent most of the evening on the phone with her family; I was repacking Camper & getting things organized, but got in a quick call with Sara & the girls, & a quick one with Danny who was at the Lake.

Day 13 8.7
Jill didn’t want to go out to breakfast & she was busy making plans to see her family when she returned home.  So, I blew off the early morning, then took her to the airport & she headed back to Texas.

I made a brief stop at the store for cream, ice & laundry soap.  Then conveniently went next door to the store & did a big load of sandy muddy laundry.  While I was in the laundromat, Mary Ellen called & we chatted for about an hour.  It was great to visit with her about the trip.  We made plans to meet early the next morning.  I also talked to Danny again for a little bit, but his brother was getting ready to leave the lake, so we agreed to catch up later.

After I had clean, but not all dry laundry spread over the inside of my 4Runner, I drove downtown.  I went back to Tourist Home where Mary Ellen said they have the best burger in Flag.  While waiting for my table, Barbara from our trip was just walking out of the restaurant & came over to say hi.  I invited her to sit & visit & she did for about 45 minutes.  She was on her way to Vegas but had been spending part of today checking out downtown Flagstaff…which is what I did after I finished my yummy burger.

I went into a couple of galleries that were new to me & another couple of gear shops.  I also went to Dark Sky Brewing & Historic Brewing before I left downtown.  I stopped by Target for a couple of bags of salad, & a couple of individual containers of hummus.

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I drove south of town, back into the forest where I’d camped before this trip began…I really needed some quiet forest time.  I found one of the last spots on this busy Saturday night in the cool forest, folded & put away all my laundry, straightened up Camper & got her all ready to hit the road again.  Then tucked in under another beautiful sky.

Day 14 8.8
My alarm, which rarely gets used, went off at 5am…actually I’d woken up just before it went off.  I made coffee, changed clothes & left the forest.  I drove back into Flagstaff, pulled in parking lot & packed my day pack.  Then I drove about 50 minutes, following directions south towards Sedona that Mary Ellen had given me to find the Crack trailhead.  She had invited me to meet up with her & Sean, her husband, for an early morning hike.  Mary Ellen has a great project brewing for her 60th birthday & it includes ‘wild swims”.  I was excited to be part of her project.

The trail is about 3.5 miles long & we chatted all the way talking about the Canyon trip, the geology in this area, the birdsong we heard along this trail & some of the various plants we passed.  It was a beautiful morning!


Then we got to the end of the trail.  A wonderful swimming hole!  

One way to get in the water, was to jump.  Sean went first…he’s the only one who has done this before.

Mary Ellen takes the plunge!

I was kind of skeptical & nervous, but watched both of them go first & decided to quit overthinking the whole thing & just LEAP!

Touchdown!

The water was a perfect temperature.

What a super fun morning.  So grateful Mary Ellen invited me to join her & Sean for this special hike!

Climbing back up from my swim.

Mary Ellen brought me yummy IPA.  Check out the title…It was perfect & super thoughtful!

We hugged good bye & thanked them once again for a lovely hike, great conversation & especially to Mary Ellen…I wouldn’t have the float trip on the dream-list if it weren’t for her.  Also, she is the one who originally organized the trip with AZRA….the former company she worked for.

I filled up with gas & ice, & hopped on the highway in brutal temps. About 3 hours later, I stopped at Lake Havasu City for the night.

I ate & drank at College Street Brewhouse & had this cherry beer, made with real cherries.  It’s a close second to my favorite from New Glarus in Wisconsin. YUM!

I took a swim in Lake Havasu.  Water felt great…it’s like 109 here right now.

My campspot for the night just outside of Lake Havasu city…the temperature was 105 at 8:30 at night.  In spite of all my windows open & covered in screens & me sleeping backwards with my head out the back end & my little fan going full blast, it was miserable. I finally fell asleep around 3am when I took my sarong, soaked it in my melted cooler water & laid it over my entire body.  Some nights just go like that.

rAnDoM
I am still processing this amazing trip & everything it included.  I know I feel so fortunate to have been on those boats with those super amazing Guides & to go with a great company like AZRA.  

I’ve never planned something so far in advance in my whole life.  I signed up on October, 2019.  It was definitely the most expensive trip I’ve ever taken.  I took out the trip insurance too…always wondering what might happen to prevent me from going.  But, I kept telling Danny over & over…I was bound & determined to take this trip.  I was over the moon excited for it from the day I signed up.  

It’s incredible how quickly you get used to doing everything in freezing muddy water.  I guess when theres no other choice, you just do what you need to.

I tried to make it all 8 days in the same clothes —they were working great for me—but on morning 6, my shorts literally stood, without me in them.  I decided the experiment was over & put on my one other pair of shorts I’d taken.

The ant bite is pain I hope to never have again.  I couldn’t believe something so small (although it was a big red ant) could be so brutal.  

It was really cool that 22 women, who maybe knew one or two other people on the trip, but not everyone, could come together under such challenging & unique conditions & get along great.  We all made new friends, laughed a lot, told our stories to each other & will always have this shared experience together.

Jill had some struggles during this trip…health & otherwise.  I wished it’d been better for her, but I know she had some moments when it was all good & she enjoyed the canyon.

Danny & I both think it was weird to not have spoken to each other for a week…we couldn’t remember any other time since we’ve known each other when that’s happened.  And, I missed some important events:  His mother had passed away in May of 2020, but they chose this week to have a graveside service for her.  He had it all to do & I felt bad I wasn’t there for him.  I so appreciate my sister-in-law Jan helping him out.  And, I missed his birthday too…which was definitely not the first time, but the first time I couldn’t call him on his special day.  He’s a guy with so much understanding of who I am & let’s me be me…my heart is full of love for this man!

Now I move on to my next adventure.  I’m on my way to California, the Sierra Nevada Mountains & to see Pete, Leia & Luke!  But, I will be thinking of this special Grand Canyon Rafting trip for months & years to come.  I think it’s so different than some of my other travels…I’m guessing it will stay with me, in my heart, in my thoughts & always in my memories.


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