Finding Joy While Rafting the Grand Canyon
If you have booked a five-day, guided trip rafting the Grand Canyon, there are some things that you should know. First and most importantly, when they tell you to bring hand cream, listen. It will feel as if there is a vacuum inside your body sucking any moisture out of your skin. Plus, don’t follow the guides’ advice when they tell you to keep nothing in your pockets: keep a chapstick handy!
Your guides will warn you that the rapids are cold but that’s a lie—they’re freezing! Especially in May. On day one, everyone on your boat will be excited to sit up front. But on day two, it’s a whole other story. Everyone will be trying to squeeze into the “tea room” at the back of the raft, or drawing straws to see who has to sit in the splash zone. Hopefully you’ll have a Katniss Everdeen on your boat who will volunteer as a tribute and be the one to get soaked.
If you’re a mom, make sure you bring some sort of meditation practice to calm that over-active, motherly brain. There’s no doubt that if you have your children with you rafting the Grand Canyon, you’ll hope you haven’t led them into something too dangerous. If they got bitten by a rattlesnake, thrown from the boat, or fell off the Bright Angel Trail on this adventure, you may feel responsible. If you’ve left your kids at home, you’ll probably feel that motherly guilt that you didn’t bring them with you, as the Grand Canyon may be the most beautiful place on earth. Some deep breathing and oooohhms will a long way to quieting that monster in your head that threatens to ruin your journey.
Tune out these clinking and blinking slot machines in Vegas and remember those stars, those millions and millions of stars blanketing the night and then even shooting, right when you imagined they would.
Likewise, if you are a woman who has watched way too many episodes of 60 Minutes, you will want to be able to push those paranoid thoughts away as well. When you wake up in the middle of the night under the light of the stars, it is easy to feel in awe, but also a little bit scared. Remember: the wild animals are as scared of you as you are of them. Nothing is going to eat you out here (hopefully). And when you see Bob standing over you, shining his head lamp on you at 2am, it’s probably just because he was on his way to the river to pee. Like everyone here, Bob is most likely a very good guy.
Even if you’ve had problems with pushy men in the past, it is also unlikely that anyone would find you even remotely attractive enough to come onto you on this trip. During the day, you will be outfitted in a “frog-suit”, which basically looks like a brown, plastic garbage bag from head to toe. It also doubles as a turd costume for Halloween. You will also be wearing a sun hat over your frog-suit’s hood to keep the sun off, so you look like a turd who also enjoys safaris!
But forget how you look! Your smell might be enough in itself to keep any unwanted prey from coming too close.
If that’s not enough, any exposed skin (like your hands or your nose) will likely get sunburned, and at night you will be so layered up you will look nothing short of the Stay-Puffed-Marshmallow-Man. You might not be prepared enough for the cold on night one, but on night two you will do anything to stay warm in that sleeping bag, even if it means wearing four pairs of sweat pants.
But forget how you look! Your smell might be enough in itself to keep any unwanted prey from coming too close. They will tell you to bring biodegradable river soap with you rafting the Grand Canyon, but here you’ll have to make a difficult choice between hypothermia from the cold water or no-one wanting to sit next to you on the boat. (I’ve always been a loner so it wasn’t a hard choice for me).
I suggest bringing a book for the evenings, and if you’re after a recommendation, Zadie Smith’s Feel Free is a great choice. Go ahead and flip to the back. It’s a book of essays, and the last one is about joy. In Smith’s opinion, joy is a combination of pain, struggle, and pleasure, which will sound awfully familiar on this trip rafting the Grand Canyon.
When you wake up in the middle of the night under the light of the stars, it is easy to feel in awe, but also a little bit scared. Remember: the wild animals are as scared of you as you are of them.
As for the eight-mile, almost-vertical hike out of the canyon: make sure you’re prepared. First of all, leave your competitive nature back on the boat. This is not a race, people! You might feel a little bad about yourself when you get passed by the 68-year-old grandmother of three, or the man carrying a 50- pound pack…or even the woman who is three months pregnant. But hey, no-one has to know that. What happens in the canyon stays in the canyon.
Most important of all, make sure to bring plenty of water. Your guide might tell you that there are three water stations to fill up, but this is a lie. A vicious, vicious lie! If you do run out, there’s no shame in asking someone who is on their way down for theirs. This is a life-or-death situation! (And even if it isn’t, it sure feels like it.)
When you reach the top, you will feel a combination of things: exhaustion, elation, pride, and joy. Yes, joy!
When you reach the top, you will feel a combination of things: exhaustion, elation, pride, and joy. Yes, joy! But there are evil forces out there who will try to take this from you, almost immediately. With cell service comes text messages about the broken dishwasher at home, emails about your child’s homework that they will need to make up, and voicemails… so, so many voicemails. And then there are the logistics, like airplanes and shuttles and hotels, or how you’re going to pay off the credit cards that allowed you this trip.
They all want your joy, all of them. But don’t let them have it. This is yours. Close your eyes. Can you hear the river? Tune out these clinking and blinking slot machines in Vegas and remember those stars, those millions and millions of stars blanketing the night and then even shooting, right when you imagined they would. Remember the heron’s wings, impossibly big, hovering right above the water. Remember the color, that unimaginable milky blue, of the Little Colorado.
The laughter in the rapids, the conversations over morning coffee, every step you struggled to take during that last mile. It is all yours and it always will be, even if you only get to do it once. Once may be just enough joy for a lifetime.