Rafting the Colorado is a Rapid Learning Experience

What we have to look forward to: the boat eating Lava Rapids on the Colorado River.

Our Grand Canyon adventure started over a year ago. Tom Lovering called with an urgent message. I had to immediately stop whatever I was doing and climb on-line to sign up for the Grand Canyon Colorado River permit lottery. Apparently the permits are hard to obtain, somewhat harder than walking out of a casino with a million dollars.

I am somewhat immune to Tom’s last minute schemes but the charming Peggy who loves water, loves rivers, and loves sunshine immediately jumped on-line and did the necessary clicking. Early the next morning we received an Email from the National Park Service saying we had won. It took me a lot longer to persuade Tom than it did for the NPS people to inform us.

I am not, by nature, a white water man. I put running rapids right up there with dangling on rock cliffs, playing Kamikaze on ski slopes, and riding the latest death-defying roller coaster at Four Flags.  My approach to outdoor adventure is more in the nature of risk taking than thrill seeking. Consequently, I have only had two real white water rafting experiences.

The first was with Tom on the Mokelumne River in California in the 70s. Within five minutes he had dumped us into something known as Dead Man’s Hole. “Paddle!” he screamed. River rats love to give their favorite rapids scary names such as Satan’s Pool and Suicide Bend. They can wax eloquently for hours over the qualities of these death dealing anomalies. Our detour “was a learning experience,” Tom explained as we emptied the water out of the raft and lungs.

My second white water trip was on the Middle Fork of the American River. This time I was travelling with Mark Dubois, his wife Sharon Negri and a friend. Mark, sometimes known as the Gentle Giant, once chained himself to a rock in the bottom of the Stanislaus River to stop the Army Corps of Engineers from flooding the canyon with water. He also co-founded Friends of the River, an organization dedicated to saving the wild rivers of the west.

Our trip was rather mellow up until we came to the large rapid. Mark was having us do such things as close our eyes and lean backwards out of the raft with our hair touching the water so we could ‘listen’ to the river. He’s a spiritual type guy, one with nature. Apparently Nature had rejected me. “Now, Curt,” he directed as we approached the rapid known as Guaranteed to Drown or some other similar name, “I want you to climb out of the raft and float down it.”

“I know, I know,” I groused as I rolled out of the raft into the icy waters. “It’s a learning experience.

And that’s how I classify our trip down the Colorado, a learning experience. But I know it will be more. I’ve visited the Grand Canyon many times over the years and have always come away with a feeling of awe and reverence each time. How could a trip through the Canyon’s inner core be any different?

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