Feature series-Part 2

“Hot coffeeeeeee!” A voice pierces peaceful slumber as I awaken several days into our Colorado River rafting trip. It’s early, the air is cool and you can hear the river rushing past our sleeping-bags-over-ground-tarp boudoir.

“Hey wake up, we’ve got to get going,” I punch Dennis, as he curls into a fetal position away from me. “We’ve got to get this stuff packed and to the boat!”

“You...organized in the morning?” he questions, sitting up as he checks for ant bites.

“Not in your best interest to insult me, if you want my help,” I responded.

“Good advice,” he answered, as he began to roll a sleeping bag.

****

Jobs are good. And, river rafting participants are tasked with getting everything in small packages to get on the boat, i.e., bags, tarps and personal items. That’s nothing to complain about. The guides and swampers have already made coffee, fixed breakfast and are concerning themselves with their day’s duties.

****

Several days into a river trip, you understand how far removed you are from your normal life. With me, that seemed to incur two reactions. One, panic – will everything go well and everyone be okay while I’m gone? The second salving thought is – I wouldn’t have any control on outcomes whether I was there or not. What’s funny is – that’s a very liberating thought.

****

There are many major rapids of the Colorado River as it flows through the Grand Canyon. The river drops a total of 1,709 feet in 296 miles, approx. eight feet per mile. The rapids are many, and most decidedly the major thrill of a river trip. The fast-flowing icy cold water tumbling down over enormous, submerged obstacles, all contained within narrow canyon walls, presents a major adrenaline rush to the boaters and the guide. I’m sure for the skilled river guide who possesses knowledge of water currents, hidden obstacles and the boating vessel, it is an exciting challenge. For passengers quietly lulled into sedation by the boat’s pre-rapids meandering...the heart quickens and the fingers clench onto security ropes the first time you see the river just disappearing off the horizon. (That usually means you’re approaching a large, dropping rapid! I’d say sweaty-palm time, but you are usually already wet!)

The first significant rapid you encounter on your trip is Badger Creek Rapid, with a 15-foot drop, and is rated a 4-6 on a scale of 1-10. In terms of how a novice river rafter perceives the first significant rapids is an ‘oh my gosh,’ or ‘wow.’ By the time you get to the third day, you approach the major rapids with respect, fear, thrilled excitement, and the words you’re uttering probably shouldn’t be quoted!

You know when a rapid is going to be more impressive, because the guide comes to the front of the boat to ‘visit’ with you, usually leaving their swamper to drive in the lull before the chaos.

In our case, JoLinda would offer a quick prayer for us...just kidding! She’d tell us that we needed two handholds. (I told Dennis that didn’t include one holding a beer!) One in front of us and one behind. She’d mention that particular falls’ history (which usually included someone long ago dieing), and then go back to steer the raft.

Major rapids, like Crystal, Hance, Granite, Hermit and Lava, made you understand just how skilled the boat guides must be. The rapid’s roar was deafening upon approach, and the sheer brutality of the water surging around obstacles in every direction made you think it’d be impossible to pass through.

As the bow of the boat would slowly begin its descent into the swirling, raging water below, it felt like the calm before the storm.

The first wave of shockingly cold water splashes, and you’re thinking,“that’s not so bad...bring it on.” Then boom! A full wave inundates you, knocking you loose from your seat hold. You tighten your grip, and try seeing through the onslaught of water to prepare for what’s coming next. When you complete the rapids, you are still startled, but totally thrilled from the excitement. You shake off excess water, wipe off your glasses and then boom – you get hit again. My sister-in-law Denise called the after slam, the ‘crack attack,’ because it tended to be a seriously cold wave that sneaks up on you from between the raft’s body and pontoon.

“Dixie, just a little aside,” Dennis leans over and whispers, “When they were saying get two handholds, they weren’t referring to one being your fingernails digging into my arm.”

“Quit whining!” I retort. “I bet John Wesley Powell didn’t whine about stuff like that.”

“Probably not, but he only had one arm!” he responded.