April 18th (Wednesday) - Day 1
A decade ago I was in the right place at the right time. I scored a trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. The catch at the time, was I worked my way down the river as my Uncle Butch's swamper, or assistant guide. My Aunt Tricia, who usually swamped for her husband couldn't go at the last minute and I happened to be in town for my Cousin Robert's wedding. I called my work (I was a newspaper journalist at the time) and told them they could fire me if they must, but I'd be back in 10 days. I worked my ass off on that trip, but enjoyed every second if it! Then, 4-years ago, I was lucky enough to be in a position in life to go down the river again as a passenger with my Aunt and Uncle acting as our guides. That trip was much like the first trip, only I didn't have to work so hard.
Today, I embark on my third trip into the Ditch! This time it's a private trip (no commercial guide service involved). My Aunt Tricia got designated as the trip leader (TL) by winning the National Park Service's annual lottery where they give out a limited number of permission slips for private trips. We are eight strong including my Aunt Tricia, Uncle Butch, Cousin Robert and his girlfriend Athena along with Andy and Kathy, myself and Bob Hallett who is braving the river solo in his Dory named after his daughter, the Abby Rose. Andy and Kathy are from Park City, Utah, and seem to be friendly and fun. Bob is a fellow Floridian like myself and while we've never met before this trip, we only live about 20 minutes away from each other. My cousin Robert and Athena live in Portland, Oregon, and Robert's mother Tricia and her husband Butch call San Jose, California, home when they're not on the River. I'd say we pretty much have the country covered!
Between the eight of us we are using four boats; two 18-foot rafts with Butch and Tricia on one and Robert, Athena and myself on the other, a 14-foot raft belonging to Andy and Kathy and then Bob in the Abbey Rose. The trip will last 21 days until we pull out at Diamond Creek. The major significance of this trip for myself and Robert is that it's a rowing trip. The other two times I've been down the River have been on motorized rafts. Now it will be a real adventure. Robert, Athena and I will share rowing duties and white-water rapids.
Today, after a full day and a half at Lee's Ferry, we got under way. We made a distance of 11 miles in a half day of time and made camp just above Soap Rapid at Soap Canyon. The major confidence builder today was Badger Rapid around mile 8. Robert took us through the 15' drop rapid without incident. We were a little far right, which made for a good lesson afterward during a discussion with Butch. Earlier in the day Bob let me, or pretty much ordered me, into the Abbey Rose. As soon as I was in he jumped out and onto our raft leaving me alone in his Dory. It's a small dory and I immediately equated it to a sports car when compared to our 18-foot raft that we've now named "Flower Power" because of the brightly colored fake flowers that Athena has affixed to our bow. We've already had a few bees come up and investigate the flowers. I'm hoping for a humming bird.
While I'm still rowing the dory the 6-Mile rapid approaches. I look over at Bob who is hanging out in Flower Power and he nods an approval and says, "go on, run it!" I pick a line and follow the other boats. The dory rocks up and down, but is surprisingly stable and the rapid is gone as fast as it appeared. Now I realize that that rapid was very small, non-technical and super easy, but what an honor to be given that opportunity! The dory is like a fighter jet of boats compared to ours, which would be a cargo plane. It turns on a dime and is much faster and streamline. I'm stoked and look forward to more opportunities during this trip! Another thing about Bob is he has already offered all of us a free skydiving experience at his business, Sky Dive DeLand. As a private pilot, I've worn a few parachutes, but never had to use one. I've never been that motivated to jump out of a perfectly good airplane, but I might take him up on that offer when we get home. I'm excited to get to know him better during this trip.
Tonight, in camp, we made Salmon, rice and broccoli. A fat mouse appeared under our cook table. As it hung out it appeared to have no fear of humans. It's unlawful to harm any animal in the Grand Canyon and I think this mouse knew that as he let me place my camera within inches of his face. We also saw some other interesting wildlife today including two California Condors. The park ranger said there are only 73 of them. They were under the Marble Canyon Bridge. Their tag numbers were 55 and 28 I think.
This is going to be a great trip! I know it. My biggest issue that I foresee will be missing my fiance, Jenny.