On November 18, I will join a group of fourteen people for a one month 279 mile journey down the Colorado river from Lee’s Ferry, Arizona/Utah to Pierce Ferry, Arizona through the heart of the Grand Canyon.
I was invited on the trip by Hazel Clark and her husband Tom Martin. Both Tom and Hazel have been a part of the canyon for decades: hiking, boating, learning about, writing about, talking about the canyon and its surrounds, organizing to help save it and its watershed. Good people, who have offered me an amazing opportunity to see and live in the canyon during its most cold and quiet season. Yet, the decision to go did not come easy.
Though I have rafted the canyon before, it was always either in the summer or fall with my family, and the trips never lasted a month. When I agreed back in spring to go on this coming trip, November seemed far away. I figured I had plenty of time to get my head around the idea of being gone for so long and during such a challenging season. But it has taken me until this week to finally make my reservations to fly to Flagstaff where I will join the group I will live, eat, paddle, cook, camp and hike with for 30 days.
Entering the canyon takes commitment. There is no easy way out once those walls start rising, no way to call and check-in, no texting to see if Elijah’s homework is done. There’s no way to wish Chuck and Elijah a happy Thanksgiving, or Chanukah. No way to tell them what it is like to spend my 56th birthday at the bottom of the Great Gully.
As the days get closer to my departure, I find that my reasons for agreeing to go feel flimsy compared to my very substantial fears. How will I deal with being so disconnected from my family? How will I feel about the isolation in the dead of winter? How irresponsible of a mother am I being? How selfish? How will I ever stay warm enough? The temperature could drop below freezing, and the river water? I don’t even want to think about it. Plus there is the dark. Winter nights are already long, and the canyon will cut our few hours of daylight short.
Still, I feel compelled to go. I met Tom and Hazel as a result of my writing about Kaitlin Kenney – the young woman who died while rafting the Grand Canyon during the winter of 2013. Search parties were looking for her while I lived on the South Rim as the National Park Service’s Artist in Residence. Those essays about Kaitlin led to many personal revelations about what it means to be alive. Really alive. The risk it takes, the perseverance and bravery. They led to my hiking into the canyon on solo retreats, and then other challenges—always out and in the wild. Challenging myself. My mind, my body, my soul.
I will use this blog to describe how I am getting ready for this next trip—a month winter rafting the canyon. I will post about what geer I will use, what films I am watching, books and blogs I am reading, music I am listening to. What I am packing, and what I am saying to myself and my family as I get ready to walk out that door.
This morning, I found this beautiful Vimeo Film about a Grand Canyon river trip taken last year. During it, kayaker, Curt Joyce, lost their life. The film is called Why We Go. It explains some of my reasons for why I am leaving for the river in a few weeks.