As I lie on my sleeping bag on the last night before the take-out, looking up at the huge desert sky filled with stars, I am exhausted, worn out from all that I’ve experienced. Although I feel as if my body has been completely torn down, my spirit has been rebuilt and restored. The Grand Canyon does that to a person who remains exposed to the unbridled power of the place. There is so much to take in and comprehend-the colors, the sounds, the smells, the temperatures, the thrill and challenge, and, of course, the sights. The Grand is indeed so much more than just the Colorado River’s whitewater that runs through it. It is one of those places that affirm all that is strong and beautiful about our natural world. Paddling through the Grand is the means but not at all the limit to such a grand experience. The put-in at Lee’s Ferry is a place of excitement. There are no other river put-ins that I can think of that accommodate so much anticipation and pleasure. It is a place of profound departure, for leaving behind the worries of day-to-day life.
In this good-bye, we are welcoming a change and something new. It is this welcoming of the new that is present and palpable for all who paddle away from the put-in boat ramp. River-runners of the Grand are the kind of people who embrace a change and welcome being restored. Perhaps the feeling of profound smallness causes it.
The walls of the Grand tower above what our eyes can see from the river level. There is a real sense of being down inside something huge, and slowly and humbly creeping through it. The scale of the surroundings usually astounds first-timers. Frequently, they realize that their vocabularies lack enough adjectives to describe what they’re experiencing, and paddlers are left gawking and staring skyward. It is a place where the landscape is indeed grand in scale, and where we can feel how small and insignificant we truly are.
We’re all creatures of habit, and even in the place of change we crave a routine. As folks float down the Grand, a rhythm develops. The days begin blending together and a pattern emerges. It is a simple and straightforward pattern-wake up slowly, drink morning coffee, breakfast, pack up, float away downstream, surf, side-hike, eat lunch, nap, wake up, surf, side-hike, get to camp, set up, have dinner, sit by the campfire with music, go to bed, wake up the next day, and do it all over again. It is such a rewarding and pleasing passage of time.
And let’s talk about time passing down in the Grand Canyon. Time doesn’t matter down there. It just slides by. The shifting of light and shadows marks the phases of the day. It is possible to live down there and not be ruled by the clock. A group on a trip will often fall into a pattern of eating when they are hungry and resting when they are tired. It is so refreshing to lose the watch and not care what time it is, or more so, not even to know what day of the week it is. Progress is marked by which day of the trip it is-day 5, day 10, or day 18-rather than by whether it’s a Monday, a Wednesday, or a Saturday. And it doesn’t really matter, because no one knows or even cares.