Monday, July 07, 2008

Day Three: Rafting the Grand Canyon, Part Two

Yesterday, we'd gotten plenty wet in a fun, though unthreatening ten-mile series of rapids called the "Roaring Twenties."

Today's whitewater, however, seemed a great deal more threatening. We were going to hit our first biggie, Hance. Tomorrow's challenge was Crystal, while the biggest, wildest rapid of all—Lava—awaited us on Day Five.

We glided through the gorge, steep canyon walls rising up to our left and right. The red, yellow, and sienna colors were somehow richer than they had been, though in a few days, the walls would turn black as we approached the volcanic section of the canyon.

No way out but through it, I thought, silently reciting the mantra I had recently adopted when considering my apprehension about reassimilation into normal society, my interactions with people that were more than temporary for once.

A mile above us was the South Rim, with Grand Canyon Village and thousands of happy tourists clicking away their camera. They'd be psyching themselves up for a quick hike below the rim or maybe they were riding buses from viewpoint to viewpoint. They couldn't see us down here below the steep walls.

Then, at Mile 77, we were at Hance. A 30-foot drop over a half-mile of boulders. We scouted one rapid this morning. Was it Hance? I don't remember. So many rapids scared the hell out of me that I've forgotten which one was which.

The group was silent as the rafts glided through the smooth water just before the rapid.

"Find your handholds," said Elk, from the motor at the back of the raft. He was perched high above the raft, scouting ahead with a foot on a cooler and another on a metal rim.

"I'm scared," I announced flatly to him, across the group.

"Wise beyond her years," quipped the 16-year-old girl's father.

"Oh, Miss World Traveler is scared." Elk wasn't too fussed about one of the canyon's toughest rapids.

"This isn't the same as getting on the bus in Kenya," I shouted back, just before we descended into the maelstrom.

I faced forward just in time to get bludgeoned by a mega-wall of water.

"Bleh!" I had a second to check my sunglasses and hat before we dipped down and got doused again.

Then the raft bucked and flew, up and down like a roller coaster, before the Colorado spit us out below the rocks.

We were all laughing and howling.

It was fun.

The ride continued throughout the day, with a stop for lunch and water below Phantom Ranch (that's where tourists hike or ride down on mules to stay overnight at the bottom of the canyon). We glided under the old pedestrian footbridge and then under the new one.

"Why are there two?"

"They spent a lot of money to build the new one, but the mules wouldn't go over it, because they can see through it to the river. They'll only cross the old one."

In the afternoon, or maybe it was the morning, we approached a technically challenging rapid. I didn't keep good notes, I'm afraid. Amanda had reminded me to get waterproof writing materials for this trip, but I hadn't had time. I seemed to always be digging around in my dry bag for something—camera, video camera, sunscreen, lip balm—and what I really needed was waterproof everything that I could just keep out and clipped onto a strap.

As we approached the rapid-that-shall-remain-anonymous-due-to-my-lack-of-notekeeping, I realized that Elk and I spoke different languages, though we were the same age and had not-entirely-different backgrounds.

He explained that we had to make a choice at the upcoming rapid.

"Do you wanna go to the side where it has a drop-and-roll, or do this thread-the-needle thing where there's a sick feeling like you're gonna die?"

What came over me? Who knows?

"DIE!" I yelled down the raft. No one argued. A few people nodded.

"If we don't mush through it, it's gonna be a rocker."

What the hell does that mean, I thought, just as we dove into the madness.

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