There Is No Turning Back… Running the Colorado River

And why would a guy allow his toenails to be painted? Read on…

I didn’t sleep well. I never do the night before a big event, even when I know what to expect. This time I am clueless.

I also have an early morning assignment: fill a humongous chest with ice. It’s a precious commodity, worth its weight in cold on an 18 day river trip through the desert. Since the ice store is located on the other side of Flagstaff, the chore will add an hour to our morning.  It’s time we don’t have; we’re already behind. (I never catch up.)

Peggy and I down a hurried bran muffin and gulp a cup of watery motel coffee. I am tempted to go out to the van and make the real stuff but we have chores to complete. It is time to make the leap from life on the road to life on the river. Lap tops, cell phones, good clothes and the other accoutrements of modern civilization are stuffed into bags and dumped into the van.

Plus I have to paint my toenails. It’s a virgin experience. Grand Canyon boatmen are a superstitious bunch. Many believe their boats will flip if a person is on board with naked toes. And it’s true; boats have flipped under such circumstances. It makes no difference if the opposite also happens.

Tom lectures me, “I will not let you on my boat unless your toenails are painted.” He’s serious. Peggy dutifully applies blue polish on four of my toes. Does this mean we will only half flip?

PRO, the company that is outfitting us with three of our five rafts and miscellaneous equipment, is supposed to arrive at 11 to load our gear and transport us to Lee’s Ferry. “They are coming an hour early,” Tom reports. It’s panic time. Their big truck arrives promptly at 10:55. Maybe the staff gave us the earlier time to assure we would be ready.

Whatever. We are ready to load and loading is what we do. It’s a group effort; everyone pitches in.

There is an unwritten Commandment on private river trips: Thou Shall Do Your Share. No one is paid to pamper us. Not helping will lead to bad things, like banishment from the tribe. Sweat is pouring off of me by the time the truck is loaded. It promises to be a long, hot day.

The transport van arrives and we pile on. The adventure has begun; there is no turning back.

We head out Highway 89 retracing our route down from visiting Utah’s incredible National Parks a week earlier. A quick stop at Safeway provides deli sandwiches for lunch. Mine is ham and cheddar. We will graze on the go. Our KOA, Fat Man’s trail, and the San Francisco Peaks pass by on the left. Soon we are in Navajo country. The road to the Grand Canyon, Cameron and the Little Colorado River join the list of things passed. At Bitter Springs we jog left on Alt 89 and start our descent to Lees Ferry, the beginning point of all Grand Canyon river trips.

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