We all have it: a means to reset, to press the pause button and recharge ourselves. Call it what you will, but everyone has something that can make the rest of the world stop its chaos and allow us to just be. For some, it’s the early morning run in Buffalo Park. For others it’s grabbing your harness and climbing a Sedona spire. It may be an overnight sleeping out under the stars up on the San Francisco Peaks, or a multi-day backpacking trip in Grand Canyon. It may be a daily habit, or a seasonal event that is anxiously awaited. For me, it tends to be the latter, and it’s a trip rafting down the Colorado River.
It’s easy to fall in love with the river. The steep canyon walls reflecting golden hues on the water’s surface at the 5:30 coffee call, the massive scale of the hydraulics, and not to mention the numerous side canyons, ranging from the Little Colorado River with it’s turquoise waters, to winding Tapeats narrows in Deer Creek, to sleek Muav beauty in Tuckup, and so many more. Iconic stops like Nankoweap, Little Colorado, Redwall Cavern, Elves Chasm, Deer Creek, and Havasu are only the beginning of the adventures to be had exploring side canyons. Archeological sites dot the walls, and around every bend is a view worthy of a National Geographic cover shot. It’s really, really easy to fall in love with the river.
But it’s not only the beauty down there that resets me: it’s also the day-to-day pace of an oar trip. Every morning is waking up before the light of day has even began its decent down the canyon walls in the hopes of being able to finish coffee and breakfast and pack up camp before the sun hits the beach. Then your day is simple: go downstream. Some days are hiking days; with anywhere from 1-3 hike stops throughout the day. Others are whitewater days, this last trip we hit Hance, Horn Creek, Granite, and Hermit, in one day to name a few, making for one of the most fun whitewater days any of us ever had. Other days are mileage days, not a lot of hikes; likely plenty of rapids, but those days are really focused on getting as far downstream as possible. And then there are play days. Days where we don’t have a lot of miles to make, and we may have a hike in there as well, but the goal of the day is to get to a good spot, whip out some pool toys, and play. Redwall Cavern, the Little Colorado, and Havasu are a popular three such spots. Our big play day this trip was at Redwall Cavern, which included but was not limited to the classic Frisbee game in the cavern, eddy floats on pool toys (we had an alligator, a stingray, a flamingo, and an airplane, with the stingray being my personal favorite, despite the minimal steering capabilities), blowing up the Stand Up Paddleboard for eddy runs, and a game that involves spinning ten times as fast as you can while holding a paddle up in the air and staring up at it, then dropping it on the ground and jumping over it without falling down. Play days may take the cake.
Getting to camp at the end of the day can sometimes feel like the longest part of the day; it usually entails a few fire lines unloading the boats, setting up the groover, putting beers in the drag bags for chilling, and I usually end up running back and forth between the rafts, jumping over piles of dry bags and ammo cans and water jugs, seeing just how fast I can get down the line of rafts from the kitchen boat to the groover boat to unload without slipping and falling. Finally after the kitchen and groover are set up and the clients are off finding their campsites, we get to grab a cold beer and a seltzer water out of a drag bag, gather on someone’s boat, and talk about the day we just had and the day to come. With a few minutes before it’s time to start dinner some of us may jump in the cold water with a sarong and a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s and commence a little self-care time. Minutes later with wet hair and maybe, a clean(er) pair of clothes, the cook team for the day is in the kitchen chopping vegetables in mass quantities, heating up coals for the Dutch oven, and using every bowl, pot, spatula, and knife in the kitchen cavalry and making a huge pile of dishes. And then dinner is done, everyone is fed, the dishes are clean, the boats are wrangled, and everyone’s a few beers deep sitting in a big circle staring up at the stars, yawning because the sun has gone down which means it’s time for bed. Eventually the passengers retreat to their beach set up and the crew heads down to our boats, on rainy nights gathering under someone’s mega-mid with a bottle of whiskey huddled around in a circle of laughter. When I’ve finally made it back to my sleeping bag on the hatch of the boat and stare up at the stars for a few minutes, counting the shooting stars as they dart across the sky, that’s when I remember how lucky I am. The world keeps turning, my email inbox continues to fill, politics continue to stump the general public, but I’m lying in my sleeping bag staring up at the streak of stars outlined by the canyon’s walls, drifting off into a sleep rocked by the gentle lap of the waves of the river on the banks of the Colorado River of Grand Canyon.
These means of resetting and recharging, or pressing pause in the massive world we live in make all the difference. Coming off the river and returning to work at Peace, everything happened a little slower. The day felt a little more methodical, relaxed. The pace mimicked that of a river trip. By next summer days will once more feel like a whirlwind of hectic activity: but I’ll be thinking about getting on another trip down the river.
By Maddie Smith