Finding Joy in the Grand Canyon

November 24, 2020
Finding Joy in the Canyon

If you have booked a five-day, guided rafting trip in the Grand Canyon, there are some things that you should know: First and most importantly, they will tell you to bring hand cream and this is no joke. It will feel as if there is a vacuum on the inside of your body designed solely to suck any moisture out of your skin. If you have a best friend you can call them after the trip and deliver the bad news that they have unfortunately been replaced by an amazing product called Trader Joe’s hand lotion! Likely, they tell you to keep nothing in your pockets so you don’t lose it, but I would plan to keep Chapstick very, very 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. They will be squeezing into the “tea room” in the back of the raft or drawing straws to see who has to be the one to sit in the “splash zone.” Hopefully, you will have someone as brave as Catnis Everdeen on your boat who will, “volunteer as tribune” to be the one getting soaked. 

If you’re a mom, make sure you bring some sort of meditation practice to calm that over-active, motherly brain. There is no doubt that if you have your children with you, you will hope you haven’t led them into something too dangerous. If they got bit by a rattle snake, thrown from the boat, or fell off the Bright Angel Trail into their untimely death, you’d probably feel a little bit bad about that. And if you have left your kids at home, you will no doubt be feeling some of that motherly guilt that they are not here with you, in quite possibly the most beautiful place on earth. Some deep breathing and “OOOOmmmmms” go a long way to quieting that monster in your head that threatens to ruin your journey.  

Finding Joy in the Canyon

Some deep breathing and “OOOOmmmmms” go a long way to quieting that monster in your head.

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 only the light of those stars, it is easy to feel in awe, but also a little bit scared. You have to 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 in his head lamp at 2:00am, it’s probably because he was just on his way to the river to pee. Like everyone here, Bob is most likely a very, very good guy. 

Even if you’ve had problems with overly assertive or pushy men in your past, it is also unlikely that anyone would find you even remotely attractive enough to come on to you on this trip. During the day, you will be outfitted in a “frog-suit” which basically looks like a plastic, brown garbage bag from head to toe. Want to be a giant turd for Halloween? Great! Then buy this rain-suit at Cliff Dwellers Lodge and you’ll be all set for the rapids and trick-or-treating! You will also be wearing a sun hat over your frog-suit’s hood to keep out the sun so now you look like a turd that also enjoys safaris!  

Pax in a frog suit.
Pax in a frog suit.

Finding Joy in the Grand Canyon.

If that’s not enough, any skin that is exposed (like your hands or your nose) are most likely overly dried or sun-burnt. 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 four pairs of sweatpants. But forget about 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 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 not sure what to read, Zadie Smith’s, Feel Free is a great choice. Go ahead and flip to the back. (Feel Free!) 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 sounds weird, but also awfully familiar.  

As for the hike out of the canyon—those eight miles straight up hill—well, 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 your self when you get passed by the sixty-eight year-old Grandmother of three, or the man carrying a fifty pound pack—or the woman who is three months pregnant. But hey, no one has to know that—what happens in the canyon stays in the canyon!  

In Smith’s opinion, joy is a combination of pain, struggle, and pleasure which sounds weird, but also awfully familiar.  

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 is no shame in asking someone who is on their way down. This is life or death here people! And even if it’s not, it sure feels like it!  

Grand Canyon

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 other things of course—things called logistics: airplanes and shuttles and hotels or how you’re going to pay off the credit cards that awarded you this trip.  

When you reach the top, you will feel a combination of things:  exhaustion, elation, pride, and joy! Yes, joy!

They all want your joy, all of them. But don’t let them have it. This is yours. All of it. Close your eyes. Can you hear the river? Tune out these clinking and blinking slot machines in Vegas and instead 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.        

Photo credits for Finding Joy in the Canyon by Lainy Carslaw and Unplash.com.

About Lainy Carslaw

Lainy CarslawLainy Carslaw is a mom, gymnastics coach, and writer from Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. She has her undergraduate degree in Poetry from the University of Pittsburgh, and an MFA in Fiction from Chatham University. Her work can be found in The Madwomen in the Attic Anthologies, The Nasty Women/ Bad Hombre Anthology, and Technique Magazine. She is also a regular contributor to her local newspaper, The Hampton News and has hopes of publishing her first novel, Regrip in the near future.

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