Friday, June 29, 2012

The Grand Canyon (Day 18) - LAVA LAVA LAVA!!!!

The following post is from the journal I kept of my recent adventure upon a 21-day private river rafting trip on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon from Lee's Ferry to Diamond Peak (about 230 miles) that took place between April 18th and May 8th, 2012.

May 5, 2012 (Cinco De Mayo)

What are the freaking chances that my 200th Blog Post would coincide with my Grand Canyon journal entry for Lava Falls day, which actually occurred on Cinco De Mayo and one of the brightest full moons of the year?!?! I'm stoked! Here goes....

6 A.M.

Today is Lava Falls day. We are 13 miles away from this class 10 rapid that for many is the highlight of white-water rafting the Grand Canyon. We will probably hit it by mid-afternoon. Today is also Cinco De Mayo so a large portion of Americans will be getting shitfaced drunk across the continent to celebrate a holiday that doesn't really have anything to do with the USA. It's all good for us because we also enjoy an excuse to party and it also, just so happens, to be tradition to drink tequila after Lava Falls.

I'm writing at this super early hour in the hopes that i will better help me conduct myself today. I've struggled on this trip giving up the higher class rapids to Robert (Crystal, Hance, Dubendorff & Horn) and I have to constantly remind myself that I have been given the opportunity to paddle a few good ones (Upset, Fishtail, Granite, Bedrock, etc.), but man, deep down inside I really want a shot at just one of the big ones! I think I was right in demanding to paddle a few of them back in the inner gorge, but I felt like I really had to demand them rather than be given the opportunity. Even yesterday I had to fight for Upset Rapid. I had to give Robert an ultimatum and say "if you do Upset then I'm doing Lava," and Robert instantly backed down, but not before saying, "I just want more practice before Lava." I responded with, "you're either ready for Lava at this point or you're not. Are you ready," because I am.

I felt really bad after making that statement, but upon reflection I feel it's the truth. I am 100 percent confident of my abilities at this point and if needed, I would paddle Lava. Lava Falls is hands down Robert's rapid. He invited me to go on this trip... to go on his boat... so it's been silently understood from the beginning that Lava is his. I wouldn't try and take Lava for him for anything. My issue, that I'm just now figuring out is control. I never dreamed I'd have such a problem with it until I got out here and had to experience it. I've been psycho-analyzing myself for days now and I've finally figured it out. By figuring it out and writing about it I think I can come to terms with it and be a better person.

Here's what I've learned. If I were in a boat with Bob or Butch, I wouldn't have an issue being a passenger and being in their hands and giving them control over my fate because they've each got 30+ years of experience on this river. They're experts. Robert and I are NOT experts. Not even close. We're both super smart and in great shape and completely capable, but at the end of the day, we're both fucking beginners. We've both made excellent decisions so far on this trip and we're always thinking the same thing, which is good. Those decisions have come with having the right knowledge provided by Bob and Butch before hand. We are both at the same skill level. Neither him, nor I are better than the other at this point. This is the reason I'm struggling. It makes it difficult for me to sit back and be submissive. Everything in my upbringing has pushed me to be in charge and be an "alpha" male in critical situations. I feel and hope that Robert is the same way. I was also raised to be competitive or at least be the best when put in a situation where I'm surrounded by equality.

So.... today I must bite my tongue, hang on and try to enjoy the ride. I must be stoked for my cousin and share in his triumph. This is what I must do and I know it. Next time, if there is a next time, I will man my own boat and bring along Jenny. Hopefully, it'll be with Robert and Athena and the gang again, but each of us in our own boat side by side. That would be epic.

Oh... I don't think I wrote about Upset Rapid yesterday. It was my worst run yet. I planned to enter the tongue on the left and push left through the first lateral and the rest of the run, which curves right. There is a huge hole in the middle that has flipped even commercial rigs so that is what you are avoiding with this strategy. There is a cheat to the right, but it's narrow and hard to hit and often times the river pulls you left because the rapid is curving right along a rock wall.

Upset Rapid

Everything in my head was conflicted because every other rapid that looks like this one usually is the opposite in that you want to avoid the outside of the curve instead of pushing into it. I watch Butch go ahead of me and he makes it as planned. It's my turn and a domino of things cause me to miss my line completely. First, I start a little left in the tongue where Butch entered, but when I push into the first wave on the left side I missed a stroke on my left oar. This threw me off balance and the wave knocks us to the right. I lose my grip on the oar completely and during the time it takes me to regain control of the oar we are pushed halfway across the river to the right. Now it's too late to do anything, but take whatever this rapid throws at us. We are in the middle-right side of the rapid quickly approaching the hole. I hit a wave sort of sideways and really think we might come close to flipping, but we rock right over top the wave. This gives me enough time to turn us straight again and push directly forward as we enter the hole.

We collide violently with the hole, but punch right through it. All in all, it wasn't as bad as I was anticipating. Butch asks afterward how the devil at the bottom of that hole is doing? I guess we're now in some sort of special club of people that have been down there to see the Devil. I really didn't think the hole was bad, but we might have hit it just right. What really didn't like was losing the oar and the control loss. It wasn't a good run, but it was a good experience. Upon reflection, the same thing happened to Robert in Dubendorff. Now I understand what he meant after that run when he said, "sometimes you wish you could have a 'do over' when it goes like that."

Alright, well, it's time for breakfast. I'll try to post again tonight given that all goes well! Bring on Lava!

10 P.M.

So... I'm a little drunk.

The word "so" seems to be the go to word on this trip when you want to talk to the group and state some kind of plan of action. Butch uses it all the time and now it seems that I've adopted it as well.

So... we are camped at the "Below Lava Falls," campsite otherwise known as Tequila Beach.

So... the day went well after all. I'm so glad I took the time to write this morning. I think it helped me sort things out in my head and be a better person today. Before we reached Lava Falls we stopped to hike Fern Glen Canyon (Mile 168). Not a big deal, but worth mentioning. At one point I did hike away from the group and was the first to reach a destination point and there was one single dove that flew away right over my head. I feel that the dove is a peace symbol and this was a sign to find inner peace with myself. We then ate lunch on some sandbar with no shade where Butch didn't even want to come ashore because of a science trip he did back in the 1980s where it was brutally hot.

Finally, we make it to Lava Falls! We scout it and then it's time to go. Bob goes first in the dory. Then Andy and Kathy followed by Butch and Tricia and we bring up the rear in the Flower Power. Robert did a fine job considering each person going in front of us did slightly different than what was discussed beforehand. We were all aiming for the same line, but everyone went slightly different from one another. Robert stuck to our plan and we did just fine. The actual rapid was somewhat uneventful; a few big waves head on and we were done without incident. Everyone did great. I felt happiness for Robert even though I long to do Lava some day myself. Next time!

After making it through upper Lava Falls (the serious part of the rapid) and before entering the lower Lava Falls rapid, Robert, Athena and I all share a round of tequila. Then, once we all make the beach below the rapid everyone starts binge drinking and celebrating our triumph. Tequila shots of Patron, brought by Andy and Cathy, are slammed down followed by mucho cerveza. A few days ago we switched our day 18 food pack with day 20 intentionally so we could have Mexican food tonight instead of Italian. Robert, Athena and I cook dinner for everyone. Spirits are high and everyone is stoked! After a few hours, I'm very buzzed and decide to call it a night, which brings me here to my personal campsite.
Lava Falls GoPro Video

I picked this sight during my intoxication and it immediately became obvious that I chose poorly. I'm right in the middle of a sand dune with exposure to the wind at all angles. I lay down on my air mattress and immediately realize that I'm going to be sand blasted all night. What to do? My first idea is to go back to the kitchen and drink more so I can pass out in my sand box. Then EUREKA! I'm struck with pure brilliance that for the life of me I can't understand why I figure it out now while drunk and not days ago when I'm sober.

I march back to the boat and grab my tent. I bust out the tent and throw it right on top of the air mattress. The air mattress is way to big to go inside my tent so for days I've been sleeping outside. Now I realize that I can easily set my tent up on top of my air mattress and stake it down just the same. I stumble around totally wasted doing this and 15-minutes later, WAA-LA... I have a tent to provide some shelter from the sand storm and a soft floor to sleep on! I take great pride in such a small accomplishment! I'm smiling just now as I write this because I'm still stoked!

Tonight I noticed a since of calmness coming over Butch and Bob. It's as if a huge level of stress was lifted off their shoulders once we were finished with Lava.

I'm about to fade away to sleep here, but I can't believe we only have three more days and we're out of here. I miss Jenny more and more each day. I'm not sure if she would like the adrenaline rush of the larger rapids, but I know she would love everything else this pace offers. I can't wait to get back and never separate from her this long again!

The morning after... Sand still got into everything, but not nearly as much as without the tent. Yay, for drunken innovation!


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