Running the canyon’s rapids
Our readers share tales of their ramblings around the world.
Who: Susan Belford of Potomac, Md., (the author) and friends Noreen Marcus and Jay Sushelsky of Chevy Chase; Akemi Maegawa and Ryszard Pluta of Bethesda; and Barbara Marcus of Denver.
Where, when, why: In May, we ran the rapids of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in wooden dories. We signed up with Oars (Outdoors Adventure River Specialists) a year and a half before the trip. Our tour group included 16 adrenaline-seeking adventurers from the United States and Canada, and four river guides who paddled our boats through the raging rapids. The Oars crew also included four oarsmen who skillfully navigated our huge rafts through the rapids while carrying the entire group’s food, tents, mats, supplies and gear. Our expedition group launched at Lee’s Ferry, two hours north of Flagstaff, and traveled 84 miles down the Colorado River through the Canyon.
Highlights and high points: Our senses were continuously stimulated as we traveled through a succession of rapids. We clung to our dory as 50-degree waves smacked us in the face, causing our boat to vigorously careen through narrow passages. As we sped through riffles, rapids and other varieties of turbulence, our crew skillfully guided the boat and kept it in an upright position.
Cultural connection or disconnect: While we rafted down the Colorado, our river guide Andre told us about the other guides and oarsmen. He told me that one of them, Jackson, was originally from Jackson, Wyo. My son also happens to live in Jackson and has a son named Jackson. When we tied up for lunch, I approached him and introduced myself. “Matt told me a year ago that he named your grandson after me,” he said. What a small world!
Biggest laugh or cry: At the confluence of the Little Colorado and Colorado rivers, our guide told us to don our life jackets — a not unusual request until we were shown how to put them on. We wore them in a diaper-like fashion, tied around our waists with our legs through the armholes. Wearing our new gear, we learned how to ride the rapids. (The Little Colorado was a gorgeous turquoise blue and much warmer than the icy Colorado.) Each of us jumped in, one by one, and were swept down the river on our backs. What an exhilarating ride!
How unexpected: I was amazed how many times during the trip I had to dig deep inside myself to overcome a challenge and conquer my fears. I climbed higher and hiked more than I ever thought possible, scurrying up and down rocks and hiking almost 10 miles totally uphill to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon from Phantom Ranch. I was also surprised by how much I actually loved the camping experience. At night when we crawled into our sleeping bags, I gazed up at the sight of millions of stars without city lights, and saw real shooting stars in the sky.
Favorite memento or memory: The most important insight I had is that we are just a speck of dust in history when you compare how short our lives are — and how unimportant our worries are — in comparison to the age of the magnificent rock formations of the Grand Canyon. We are so fortunate to have the health and ability to hike, camp and enjoy God’s natural beauty in all its glory.
To tell us about your own trip, go to washingtonpost.com/travel and fill out the What a Trip form with your fondest memories, finest moments and favorite photos.
TOP: The author’s view after a hike — almost 10 miles uphill — from Phantom Ranch to the south rim of the Grand Canyon. ABOVE: From left, Noreen Marcus, Barbara Marcus, Jay Sushelsky, Akemi Maegawa, Ryszard Pluta and the author.