On the morning of Day 6 we left Rattlesnake and headed down river to just across from Vishnu Creek, which would set us up to hit Phantom Ranch the next day. I was still struggling with the group dynamic and all of the excessive crap and chores that camp required. I wished that I was out there with a small group of friends who saw and experienced the Grand the way I did. The simple way, with minimal gear, solid respect for the Canyon and an understanding that all that was needed were the basics. I find is extremely strange that one would need music in the Grand Canyon. Isn’t the peace, the remoteness, the simple fact of just being there, enough? The group I was with loved to bring their own noise to camp and the River each day and I hated it. I hated anything and everything that took away the already perfect moments in the Canyon and once again I found myself stuck with nowhere to go. I knew the next day when we arrived at Phantom Ranch that I could finally leave this group and hike out. Hike out, go home and return with a River group who appreciated the Grand as I did. All night I thought about leaving and hiking out. The next morning, as we packed up I was set on leaving at Phantom Ranch. It was an extremely cold morning, rain was coming and the Canyon was socked in with winter clouds. As we made our way towards Phantom Ranch the rain began, it was freezing rain. The kind of cold that reaches down into your bones and into your very core. A stinging cold.
When we finally arrived at Phantom Ranch I called my mom from the Ranger phone and told her about my trip so far, she knew immediately that I was with the wrong group of people and she told me to hike out. She told me I deserved to be surrounded by others who also shared my love and respect for the Canyon and that my experience sounded terrible. Many people enjoy a party music filled Grand Canyon River experience and would have loved to have been out there with my group, but, I absolutely hated it. After talking to my mom and taking a few moments to think, I still felt compelled to leave. I was struggling. Phantom Ranch is a familiar place to me and I knew that it meant I could go home as long as I was there and if I didn’t hike out there, it would be a few days until I had another hiking out option and after that if I continued and wanted out later the further I went down River the less options of hiking out there would be.
Everyone started packing up the boats, people wanted to get going, the day was only getting colder out and camp was still a ways away. I had to make my decision and live with it. Bo asked me what I was going to do. I honestly, had not truly decided, however, something inside of me, which I still don’t understand forced me to get back into the boat and continue. As we left Phantom Ranch, Zoroaster Temple towered above the River completely covered in the clouds, it was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. I continued to look back at Zoroaster Temple not only because it was amazing, but also because it meant I had made my decision and I was now going down River. When the last view of Zoroaster Temple fell out of sight and the twists and turns of the River no longer allowed me to look back at it, I felt a wave of sadness and anxiety come over me. What hell did I do? Why didn’t I hike out?
The day ended camped at Trinity Creek, it was one of if not the coldest wettest days on the trip! To be continued….
Leaving Espejo Beach the next day I found myself restless, I was looking forward to getting to Phantom Ranch in two days. In my heart, Phantom Ranch was a way for me to go home, a way for me to leave this trip and I was set on hiking out. I wanted to go home, I didn’t want to be in the Grand anymore and for those who know me well, the fact I wanted out of Grand Canyon meant I was not in a good place. I can’t remember a time ever on any trip when I truly wanted to leave the Grand, but, I did then. I didn’t like or enjoy the big group dynamic, or the production each day of packing up and setting up camp. I did not fit in, I did not connect with anyone. I was so very different than everyone. I missed simplicity and peace in the backcountry and that was not being found on this trip. As we made our way down the River, I started remembering all of the trips, summits and routes I had done out there.
We passed Tanner, which was the start of my very first packrafting trip not even a year prior. There in Tanner Rapid, I had flipped my boat, which was completely expected seeing as I had never been in a packraft before and that was the first rapid I had ever run. I remembered being terrified and intimidated by the force of the water. Passing Tanner and continuing down the River helped me work through that fear. I knew that I was more capable now and that the water and I were developing a pretty amazing relationship. I knew that the water’s power would always scare me, but, I was starting to let some of that fear go. My trip from Tanner to New Hance last year had sparked a new love for me and there I was on a full Grand Canyon river trip and despite all of the wonderful feelings, I still felt like I wanted to go home. It is hard to be out there with a group of strangers who you feel are so different than you, it is hard to put your idea of what a trip is supposed to be aside and adapt to a group dynamic that you feel is not good, not right. I was homesick and also walking through my grief, which of course did not help with feeling lonely. I felt stuck in a group that I did not connect with and it was a pretty overwhelming feeling.
Once we arrived at Rattlesnake, where we were camping, I hiked up towards Tabernacle, I had to get some breathing room. I had to just be there, in my favorite place, without anyone else, without all of the stuff at camp. I needed the Grand and me to have some time together. The ridge up to Tabernacle is awesome, slightly exposed, views every which way it is hard to chose where to look and what to take in. But, I needed that!! I needed the Canyon to overwhelm me with it’s beauty and peace, it’s magic. So I hiked until I wanted to just sit and watch the Grand. Watch the River turn, watch the birds play in the sky, and be still among it’s grandeur. There was no influence from the outside world, the music blaring from camp was not able to be heard, the quietness and peace was wonderful. Me and the Canyon and that was it, just the way I like it. Nothing else was needed, nothing. Time stood still and for those moments I was able to in a way recharge. I cried when my mind drifted to Martha and all that she was missing, all that we were missing without her here. I smiled when I imagined her sitting next to me and then laughed when I thought about Martha ever doing an adventure like this. Yeah right, Martha, she would have never ever done that, but, for some reason, I felt her there next to me, like a good friend, sitting there with me in total silence, soaking up the moment. Then, I cried again when I realized I had to go back to camp and was again reminded Martha was gone. I wiped the tears from my face and headed back to camp. To be continued….
I laid awake all night, my mind spinning with thoughts, ideas, worries and anxieties- sleep deprivation is a pretty consistent reality in my life. I often spend nights laying awake, pondering, reflecting, planning things or struggling with my own thoughts. This reality makes daily life a challenge and it wears on me, especially, during the times in my life where I am out adventuring and consistently pushing myself physically and mentally for extended periods of time. It never matters how tired I am, most nights my brain refuses to turn off, despite anything I try or have tried, it is in the late hours of the night, the hours where the world sleeps and becomes quiet, that my creativity and inspiration comes alive. In the dark of night, my tired thoughts create my best writing. My best photographic ideas. My greatest adventure ideas. Under the stars, quiet, and with everything else at rest, my creativity lives. It is both a gift and curse. I have learned to live with it and to stop trying to fight it. It is just how I am. Who I am. The morning light came through my tent and it was time to get up and start the new day.
Day 4 on the Colorado River had begun. After breakfast, a group of us hiked up to the Nankoweap granaries. These amazing sites were once used as storage for foods such as corn and pumpkin seeds for the ancestral Puebloan people; about eleven hundred years ago it was a thriving agriculture community. Can you believe that? These historic people once stood there and looked out at the very River I was paddling, the very place I loved more than any other place on earth. They saw the River and the Canyon in its purest state, in its best state. Not like it was now, controlled by government and overrun with people. Overrun with the modern world. Long ago among those very cliffs; people, families and communities lived an extraordinarily difficult and wondrous life. Their stories still hung around there. Their struggles still surround that area and their artistic talent for building dwellings and such lives on forever. Sitting there looking down at the River is a special experience, you can feel the time lost and imagine time to come. Imagine your wildest dreams, for, the Grand Canyon is the keeper of all dreams.
After about an hour it was time to hike back to the beach and go down River. I could have stayed there forever, but, the River was calling. I got into my packraft and paddled away from Nanko. I was struggling with fatigue and grief all day. I was finally allowing my body to feel the pain associated with losing my sister. I was leaning into it for the first time. I was no longer pushing it away. This was the day I began the true journey through my grief and everything it encompassed. I was finally allowing myself to physically feel it. It was worse than anytime I can remember of being sick. But, it was my journey and I couldn’t exactly blurt it out to everyone. It didn’t matter how physically sick it made me feel, I had to walk through it or at least start the walk. And, there at the bottom of the Grand Canyon is where I would stop being scared of my grief and instead, no matter how painful it was, I would start to welcome it. Throughout the day, I ran Kwanguant rapid, 60 mile rapid and Lava Camp rapid and I stayed in my boat all day; I was proud of that. The eddies were terrible the entire day, they were exhausting. We finally ended our day at Espejo, a camp that sat below Espejo Butte, which was a fun and memorable climb for me. I remember climbing Espejo Butte in early 2019, as my partner and I made our way back to the Rim a rainbow shot across the rock, it was one of the most magical moments I have ever had in the Grand. I was happy to camp there, knowing that memory hung above me at camp. To be continued…
We stayed at Hot Na Na beach our first evening, it was there that I came to dislike the production of raft trips. It is normal for rafters to carry so much crap, so many things that just seem so opposite of why I enjoy and crave the backcountry. We had tables, chairs, more dishes and cookware than I owned back home, coolers full of meals that required a lot of preparation and time. We had an excessive amount of stuff and unloading it at the end of the day and reloading it every morning and then dealing with it all at camp in so many ways I felt robbed us of just being there in the moment, of just taking it all in. I am a very simple person and I was not used to bringing modern day comforts into the backcountry. I was not used to having more than a backpack in the backcountry. I knew the very first evening that this trip was not my style and it bothered me. I remember feeling like, “can’t we just be here on this beach and enjoy it, enjoy the simplicity of where we are.” Why do we need all this crap? Why do we need constant music? “Isn’t the Grand enough by itself, why do these people feel like they need to add their own noise to it”?
After dinner and setting up camp, I remember lying in my tent realizing that this was going to be an extremely different experience for me, one that would test me in ways I never thought would occur in the backcountry. I would be tested in a social way- Could I deal with all of these strangers, with all of their personalities that were so far from mine. Could I deal with the daily and nightly music and chores that ripped me away from the actual experience of the Grand? Could I find a place in this group and on this trip? Could I make it to the end? I wasn’t sure!! Feeling all of this and then letting the idea of what I thought this trip would be die off made me feel lonely, like I did not fit in and to be perfectly honest, I didn’t fit in.
Day two started early, just as the new light appeared. It was cold out and I was not feeling like paddling my packraft. I rode in one of the bigger raft as we made our way down River from Hot Na Na to Nautiloid Beach. I felt so out of place all day. I was so out of my comfort zone being in a big group, until this trip I used to think 4 people in a group with me in the backcountry was a huge group. I preferred being alone or being with one other person. I started to feel the urge to plan on hiking out at Phantom Ranch. I knew Phantom Ranch was coming up and that it was a way out. A way home. I was so unsettled inside and I felt so lonely. I felt like, this is freaking GRAND CANYON, don’t you guys get it, don’t you see what I see, feel how I feel? It was so foreign to me to be in the Canyon with such a big group and have such a different manner of camping, setting up camp, etc.
The next day (Day 3) we were headed to Nankoweap, one of the coolest places in all of Grand Canyon. I knew that area well and I was excited to get back there. A few miles from Nautiloid Camp was a beach called, Martha’s Beach, this pulled at my heart strings and I felt that I had to stop there, even if just for a few minutes. This is when my grief started to creep into the trip. I remembered how my sister, Martha, was always my biggest fan and then I thought about how I really hadn’t processed her death. Logically, I knew she was gone. But, I had yet to allow myself to work through it, to truly feel it. I had written about the pain of losing her a million times, I had talked about it to those I loved, but, I had not walked through it. I had not felt it. So I did not care what the condition of Martha’s Beach was, I had to stop there.
I got in my packraft and headed down the River, trying to stay close to Matt one of the kayakers because he knew where Martha’s Beach was and I did not want to pass it. The first rapid of the day came- 36 mile rapid and I successfully ran it. I continued to try and stay close to Matt because I knew Martha’s Beach was coming up, after a few more miles of easy paddling Matt pointed it out to me, it was a small beach on River left, mostly washed away and not very welcoming. I did not care. I wanted to get out of my boat and stand on that beach. Allison who was in her ducky boat pulled over with me and kindly took my picture. Not because it was a stunning beach or a Grand Canyon must see, but, because it meant something to me. I wanted to stay there for awhile, but, I knew I only had a few minutes. I tried to think of what the right thing was for me to do there, but, I didn’t really know, so I just stood there, looking up at the Canyon walls that seemed to go up forever and I pictured Martha. I pictured her smile, I pictured all of the encouraging and supportive things she had told me and for a split second she was there right next to me on the Beach. I then smiled and got back into my boat.
The next handful of miles were pretty uneventful, until we got near President Harding rapid and I got a rundown about how to run it, I was told to make sure that I avoided the rock and the hole. I went for it, scared and still knowing absolutely nothing about water or how to read it. I had a successful run; I was relieved I stayed in my boat. Actually I was surprised I had stayed in my boat. As the day continued and River miles came and left, I began to get tired. Nanko rapid was to be our final rapid of the day, and it is a long rapid, not crazy big, but, long. Approaching Nanko rapid I began to feel really wiped out, we had paddled 18 miles and I was tired. I was also fighting back my grief. I setup for Nanko rapid, paddled into the first set of waves. I kept my boat up and fought through the water, until a little over half way in it and I gave in to my fatigue and flipped. My boat went one way and I went another. I then got into a bigger boat and stayed in it for the last few minutes of the day, until we arrived at Nankoweap Beach, where we were camping for the night. When we arrived, the sun was still shining and we all took solace in the remaining afternoon sun. Three days in now and we were at RM 54. To be continued…
It is early in the morning of January 12th, 2022, maybe 5:45 am. I am in my cold dew covered tent a few hundred feet from the Colorado River at Lees Ferry. As I crawl out of my tent, all I can see with my dull headlamp is my breath that is creating circles in the early light of the day. I struggle to stand up and leave my sleeping bag. But, the day has started and I must get up. I am filled with anticipation, excitement and anxiety about the next 21 days. Today, in just a few hours I will paddle away in my packraft from Lees Ferry and head into the Grand Canyon to run the length of the most magnificent and magical place on earth.
I am with a group of total strangers and I am already feeling homesick. I try to stuff my homesickness inside and prepare for the day ahead. The big rafts are rigged, my packraft is ready, the kayakers are ready, but, for some reason I do not feel ready. I feel scared. I feel lonely and yet, despite all of that, I also feel strong and consumed with my never ending desire for adventure. After our NPS ranger talk and packing up the final things from Lees Ferry I put my pretty little hot pink Alpacka packraft in the River and started to paddle. Matt, Zac and Ed were all kayaking and they had decades of experience. As for me, I had only ever run a single rapid in my packraft and I had flipped in it. Water terrified me, absolutely terrified me, especially, in the Grand and after flipping in Tanner during my first packrafting trip in 2021. I was happy to run flat water all day and when I decided to bring my packraft on this trip I assumed I would paddle it a few times, but, I had zero idea of what was to come and how over the next three weeks that little boat and I would really get to know one another. I had no idea how I would change along the miles on the River.
The first set of rapids are – Badger and Soap. In my mind I could hear my friends telling me how running Badger and Soap rapids would be scary, especially, if I flipped and swam. Matt and Zac tried hard to give me advice about how to read the water and what the best lines would be through the riffles and rapids. Approaching Badger was hard for me, you could hear the roar of it. My heart sank, I was frozen with fear and anxiety. I wanted to get in a big raft, but, there I was in my packraft with these crazy experienced kayakers and the big rafts were a good distance behind us. I followed Matt into Badger rapid, it was a wild ride, I was so scared, but, I managed to stay in my boat. It was a real rush and I couldn’t believe that I had a successful run in it. Badger was the second rapid I had ever run and I stayed in my boat 🙂 I felt pretty proud of that. A few miles later the raging sounds of Soap rapid echoed up the Canyon. I ran Soap and ended up flipping and swimming it. I was instantly reminded why I was terrified of whitewater. Why I preferred flat water. Being bucked out of a small packraft and into a freezing powerful swarm of whitewater is intense- water forcing itself into your mouth, up your nose and swimming/floating through big waves is intimidating. It disorients you and it terrified me. However, at the very same time, another part of me was learning to love the power and rush of whitewater, I just didn’t know it then. I wasn’t able to self rescue during Soap, but, Matt and Zac assisted me in getting back in my boat. My drysuit was not sealed and I was now completely wet and cold. The adrenaline rush was exhausting and draining. I was again becoming homesick and just wanted to get to camp. We paddled on to Hot Na Na beach and setup camp for the night. What a hell of a first day it had been!
Tonight, I was walking back to my 4runner that was parked downtown. I let Zoroaster in and then walked to the back of my vehicle to get something out of it. A white truck pulled into the space behind me and proceeded to try and park. I waited for him to park before going into the trunk. He got very close to my bike rack on the back of my 4runner, I told him to please be careful and not hit my bike rack. He smiled at me, then drove right into my bike rack, breaking it, then reversed, then went forward again and hit my bike rack again. I told him he had just hit my bike rack, he heard me, his window was down. He began to call me a bitch, ask me, “what the fuck I wanted,” on and on he continued swearing at me and being scary aggressive. He then got out of his truck with his girlfriend, I told him that I was calling the police. He seemed to be intoxicated. He would not stop swearing at me while I was on the phone with 911, at one point he threw money at me and told me to fix my car. Even his girlfriend was trying to calm him down. He then drove off and told me what bar he was going to. A short time later, the police arrived and they did their report, they went over to get him at the bar he was at and cited him for criminal damage and disorderly conduct. Thankfully, a man sitting a way aways from my vehicle saw it all happen and gave a witness statement to the police. I will have to go to court and get restitution to pay for the damage.
But, the worst part is, that being put in that situation really impacted me emotionally, it brought me right back to the times where my ex husband David Beckley would threaten me, get drunk, call me a fucking cunt and a bitch, become violent, intimidate me, break my things, etc. The times when I would freeze and not know what to do or what to say. The situation tonight triggered all of those bad memories of the abuse from David and it took a huge physiological toll on me. I felt sick, I felt trapped, I had a headache, my heart rate went crazy and I couldn’t think clearly. I wanted to break down and cry, cry about all of the abuse from David, cry about all of the times he made me feel sad, scared, alone, worthless and less than human. Even months after divorcing him; I still very much live with the damage from what he did. I find it hard to protect myself, defend myself or believe in myself. I second guess myself on every decision. I don’t trust men. I am jumpy. I am hurt inside in ways that I am not sure I can or will recover from. The things David did to me were beyond cruel and tonight was a strong reminder that I have not processed the abuse. It was a reminder that the abuse still lives in my body, in my brain and it comes to life again whenever I am triggered. It is terrible, it makes me feel awful, it makes me feel weak. Weak because I can’t control the triggers, I can’t stand up to them- I give in to them. I am blindsided by them and they are so much more powerful than I am. They knock me over and just like that any progress I have made is gone. I remember so clearly the night David raped me. I remember all of the times he broke my things, drank, all of the name calling. I remember the day my little sister passed away and how he refused to come to the funeral with me, how evil he was to me in the days following my sister’s passing. I hold so much sadness and hurt from it all, from all of my time with David. I try to live each day and focus on the good parts of life, on my future and all, but, then I am right back at the bad moments and my life starts spinning in circles that make me so dizzy it seems impossible to get control of things again. Having a normal balance or routine seems impossible. I believe many other people deal with this sort of thing, with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other chronic stressors or issues. We need to talk about it more, we need to encourage others to share their stories, to talk, to work towards processing and healing because we all have hurts and we all need a little more compassion and love. I chose to write. To be open and raw. For me writing is therapeutic and calming. It helps regulate me. Hopefully from my words others will feel understood. I am aware the triggers will come and go. I am aware I have terrible days, bad days and good days. I only hope in time my depression, anxiety and triggers will ease up. That they will cease to control my life and fade away to become just a part of my life, but, not the entirety of it. I do my own personal work towards that. I immerse myself in the wild, in adventure, I stay away from most people, because I find peace just by myself. I know myself and what I need and I work hard to allow myself those things even when it makes “normal” life harder or even when I have to be different, live differently. I still try. It would be easy to call it quits and give up, that is a constant thought in my head, but, then I would just be letting my past win. It is a daily battle, a battle I never wanted, but, have to fight.
For my birthday this year I wanted to do something that would be memorable and make a statement. A statement to myself that I was still capable of pushing my own limits. The day before my birthday I thought about going skydiving over the Grand Canyon. However, I found myself struggling to book the jump because I was too scared and not sure if it was the best decision, despite how intriguing it sounded. Years ago I had been skydiving 🪂 in Boulder, Colorado and remembered how terrified I was, how the adrenaline rush from it was overwhelming. I thought about how I had an extremely sensitive nervous system and POTS and how my body was more vulnerable and sensitive to extreme situations. But, I am no stranger to putting my body in extreme situations- liking bicycling across the country, thru hiking thousands of miles and undertaking challenging adventures in the Grand. Maybe I find strength in doing extreme things because I know all too well that my body has health problems and I want to overcome or compensate for those issues by forcing myself to do the extreme. The morning of birthday, I woke up super early and called to book the jump for 11 am. I spent the morning biking with Zoroaster and then around 945 headed to the Tusayan Airport.
My mom called me during the drive and was not too excited to hear that I was going to go skydiving, but, my parents have gotten used to my crazy adventures and ideas and in some ways it probably wasn’t that much of a shock to them. Upon arriving at the airport my nerves began to act up. As I got all geared up and ready my anxiety grew my nerves were screaming. At the LZ I met my tandem instructor and within a few minutes I was walking towards the plane.
There was another guy and his instructor with us in the plane. They were going to be the first pair to jump. As the plane flew higher and higher the view of the Grand Canyon filled the sky, the sky was sort of hazy, but, it did not matter, the view was spectacular. Thousands of feet above my favorite place on earth I began to tear up, I was so scared! I was crying and quietly trying to justify to myself what I was about to do. The door of the plane opened, the first two guys jumped and then disappeared from sight. My tears began to come faster and faster as we scooted to the open door. My heart pounding. My hands shaking. My stomach feeling sick. My brain too scared and too frozen to think clearly. My instructor asked me if I wanted to go back down. A big part of me wanted to go back down and forget this silly idea. yet, another part of me wanted to jump, wanted to feel the fall of racing towards the ground. I let him know I was good to go. BUT, I wouldn’t say I was GOOD to go 🙂 I titled my head back on to him and dangled my feet out of the plane. Seconds later we were free falling, my brain couldn’t process what was happening, neither could my body. I wanted to close my eyes as I did the last time I jumped, but, I kept my eyes open as we fell towards the earth. The rush was insane. Every single part of my body felt it. We were falling towards the earth so fast, I felt as though I was going to die, but, I couldn’t truly process or understand that feeling while it is happening because I was so out of control, doing something that is so unnatural and scary. Then, 45 seconds later, the parachute deployed and that is the very moment the experience became all worth it. I was safe, I was okay, now all we were doing is floating through the sky while taking in views that usually only birds are privileged to see. My body was still trying to understand and make sense of the free fall. I could feel the toll it took on my body, but, I wanted to stay in the sky all day. I did not want to land. A few minutes before landing the Grand Canyon was no longer visible, the San Fransisco Peaks grew smaller and the LZ was in sight. We landed smoothly and before I knew it, it was over. There are no words that can truly do that experience justice, it made me feel SO ALIVE. So incredibly alive!!! What an amazing way to start my birthday off. I thanked my instructor and headed back to the main office with the other jumper. He was so kind, he bought me a birthday jump shirt and we chatted for awhile. I could still feel the rush. My body was exhausted and anxious, still, even after being back on the ground. I left the airport with this unique intense feeling inside and called my parents.
When I explained to my dad how alive it made me feel, he said jokingly to me, “I feel alive when I wake up in the morning, skydiving is nuts.” I don’t think I will be skydiving with my dad anytime soon 🙂 I drove into Grand Canyon and tried to calm my body and relieve the nauseous feeling of all that adrenaline. I got some chocolate milk and lunch and then found the wild horse herd on the rim. I sat with them for awhile and watched them graze. The day was warming up and I still wanted to go for a big hike, so I headed towards New Hance and packed up my pack for a long hike. I only made it a few miles below the Rim before I had to stop. My body was still very much feeling the impact of skydiving, so I decided to not continue to the River. Usually, I would be angry with myself for wimping out and not going too far, but, for some reason I did not judge myself that day. I just sat down on the Trail and enjoyed the view, the peace, the Canyon. I thought of the past times I had been down and up the New Hance and about other Grand Canyon trips, trips that had changed my life, carved me into who I was. I thought about how for the last handful of years, my life had been obsessed with the Grand Canyon and it’s magic. How I was never ever going to be ready to leave that place and find new adventure grounds. I reflected on another year, another birthday and I thought about how much I missed my sister, how I wish I could have heard her say, Happy Birthday, and how I had so many things to tell her.
I found myself just sitting there, thinking, reflecting, planning, questioning and grieving. Grieving my sister, my marriage, the years long gone. I reflected on my life up until that day, on my hopes, my dreams, my failures and all of the wasted time I had not used well because I was stuck in depression or anxiety and not focused on living, but, rather focused on just making it through the day. I thought about how skydiving made me feel ALIVE and how I had missed that feeling. I sat there for around 2 hours and then slowly made my way back up to the Rim. I drove out to Lipan Point and scrabbled down off the viewpoint to watch the sunset. It was one of the most beautiful Grand Canyon sunsets that I have ever seen. The colors were perfect, they lit up the horizon, the earth was still and warm. Moments like that are what my soul craves and what continues to sustain me as a human being. To most the Grand is a pretty day drive of visiting viewpoints or a beautiful social media picture. For me, it is home, it is anything and everything that I could ever dream of. Ever wonder about. It is all of my reasons for adventure, for creativity and inspiration. It is a place every single part of my body needs. I ache for it when I am not there. As the final colors of the sunset faded and the sky began to go dark, I looked up into the sky and smiled, proud of myself for jumping out of that plane and experiencing how the sky felt, how the earth looked from the sky. I was content and then cold, the warmth of the day was gone. The day was over. What a perfect birthday it was.
I finally made it into Pie Town about 20 minutes before dark. I stayed the night at the Toaster House, a place that welcomes hikers and bikers and provides showers, places to sleep and good memories for travelers. I met a few hikers there and we shared a night filled with good food, laughs, stories of our adventures and our lives. I appreciated that night so very much, since, I had spent most of the Divide alone, it was great to connect with other like minded people and share in one another’s adventures. I slept well that night. In the morning, we all made the short walk to the restaurant to eat pie. I filled up with pie and a huge breakfast. I struggled with what I should, should I stay the day and take a day off or should I get back on my bike and continue onwards. Around noon, I decided to pack up and head out. I filled up my water bladders, bought one more piece of pie, made sure my phone was charged, said goodbye to my new friends and climbed back onto the saddle of my bike.
I was very reluctant to take up my friend, Steve’s invitation for a packrafting trip in the Grand this past month. In fact, I tried almost everything to get out of it. I have an incredibly deep rooted fear of water. I hate it. I have had so many scary moments in water-being swept down stream in a cold Sierra Creek losing my trekking poles during my PCT thru hike, falling out of a raft on the Arkansas River in Colorado during a training class over a decade ago, and being always afraid of what was beneath me in the ocean and other bodies of water that I had been in during family vacations and such.
I was up the entire night before our trip was supposed to start, I didn’t sleep at all. This is a very common thing for me, I don’t sleep. I am too anxious to sleep and it does not matter how exhausted I am. I texted Steve around 6 am that morning and told him I couldn’t go into the Grand being sleep deprived, being anxious and all kinds of stressed like I had been for months leading up to that trip. He told me it was okay if I didn’t go and that he would be Flagstaff in a few hours if I changed my mind. I hadn’t even gotten my groceries for the trip, I needed to take Zoroaster to the dog sitter. I was a mess, I was exhausted, my eyes burned from the fatigue and my brain was all over the place. But, something inside of me forced me to run to the grocery store, take Zoroaster to the sitters and go on that trip. Steve and Kieran arrived at my house around 10 am and I loaded up my gear, not knowing that this very trip would change my life. We drove the two hours to Lipan Point on the South Rim, I met all of the other guys that were coming along (Dave, Donald, and Brian) They were all very nice and that made it easier to focus on rest of the day. We loaded the lose gear into our packs, we talked for a bit and within an hour or so we were all headed down the Tanner Trail. I could feel my body wanting to shut down, fall over, I was tired. So tired. My pack was extremely heavy, way heavier than I am used to carrying in the Grand. The Tanner Trail is beautiful, open views of the Canyon, rocky trail sections, jagged buttes, and views of many of the summits I have stood on top of. Each mile I felt more tired, more, wasted. By the time we reached the final mile or so I began to hallucinate, my footing was clumsy and my entire body was done. We arrived down on the beach before sunset which allowed for us to get our tents up and setup camp for the night before it was dark. I ate and made some small talk with the guys, but, I found myself tucked into my sleeping bag early. I was proud of myself for overcoming being sleep deprived and for going on the trip. I have unfortunately learned how to push myself physically and mentally when I am sleep deprived because that’s just how it is, I don’t sleep, but, I always desire these big adventures and physical challenges, so I have had to learn how to endure the torture of sleep deprivation and how to put it aside and get what I need to done. The stars that night were epic, they were like diamonds in the sky incased in canyon walls with the relaxing sound of the River echoing throughout the beach. It was paradise. It was perfect. It was everything I loved. I fell asleep and was able to get a few hours of solid sleep. In the morning it was cold, we waited until the sun warmed up the beach and then got ready to head out. The guys decided to put in at Tanner Rapids (River mile 69) to begin our trip. I had never been in a packraft before and I was fearful beyond my normal level of fear when I am doing dangerous things in the Grand. I am no stranger to dangerous activities(scrambling in the Grand, climbing, hiking off trail, etc), but, adding water to the picture made me feel so much more scared of the Grand, the place I so love. I felt so intimidated. I was so damn scared. I asked all the guys whether or not I should attempt to run Tanner Rapids, most said no way or sure, you’ll be fine. I hiked over to see the rapids and get the down low on how to nagivate them- come into the tongue and then paddle left I was told. I kept anxiously asking the guys what I should do and finally I made my decision. I was going in. I was going to paddle Tanner Rapids with absolutely no experience and extreme terror.
I suited up, we got all the rafts ready. Steve went down to be ready to play safety and I went with the other guys to put our rafts in. I got in my packraft and started paddling, my fear began to increase, my anxiety was raging. After a few minutes we all headed towards the tongue of the Rapids, I remember looking back at Brian and asking if I could get out. I was terrified. There was no turning back. I could hear the Rapids screaming in front of me. I was told to follow Kieran and I did. I paddled up and over a few big Rapids, clenching my paddle for dear life. I was so scared, but it was so exhilarating, so exciting, then all of a sudden another rapid hit the side of my packraft and I went overboard in the Colorado River, swimming, being bashed into rocks and bouncing up and down in the water. I was terrified, but, I did what I was told to, I held onto my paddle and did not let it go. I saw my boat float away and after a few minutes when I could finally see the Canyon walls around me and I knew that I wasn’t going to drown, I actually became amazed at how beautiful the view was from the River. How even though I was terrified, I felt a sort of peace I had never felt before in the Canyon. You probably wouldn’t have thought that was what I was experiencing because of all the little girl, horror movie screaming that I was doing 🙂 I handed my paddle to Kieran when he paddled near me and attempted to crawl in his boat. But, Donald came by and I grabbed his tow strap on his boat and I was towed to the shore on the North side. I remember getting out of the water and just releasing everything and every emotion I had from that swim. I was cold. I was terrified, but strangely calm at the same time. Donald left me there on the shore and went to get my packraft so he could tow me back to Tanner Beach where everyone else was. When I was finally alone sitting there on the rocks and looking at the beauty around me, I started to cry, I wanted to call my parents. I remembered why I hated water and how powerful it was. How scared it made me. Donald came back and towed me across to Tanner Beach and then we all took a break. After about 30 minutes, we packed up our rafts and headed towards Unkar. The water for the rest of the day wasn’t crazy like Tanner Rapids, there was some “riffles” but I stayed in my boat and enjoyed the views. I felt so humbled, so small- I was a speck in the Colorado River at the bottom of the most Grand place on earth. Everywhere I looked there was wonder, beauty, magic. I could see summits that I had climbed from a different view, I remembered all of the moments that I had spent in the Canyon, moments that encompassed every emotion and challenge, moments now gone that are only etched in my heart. I had a smile the entire day. I was like a little girl on Christmas morning, it was overwhelming. It was a completely different perspective of the Grand. A perspective I fell in love with that very day. I was hooked. I was stoked. I was terrified as hell, but at the same time, I was so intrigued and happy. I knew then, that packrafting was in my life to stay. We arrived at Unkar and set up camp, we hiked up to see the ruins and as we made our way back to camp the sunset turned gold, the glow on the Canyon walls was magnificent. The views couldn’t have been more magical. We ate dinner, laughed, talked about life, ate more food, and prepared for a cold rainy night. The sky turned dark, the stars faded away, the temps dropped and it eventually started to rain. I slept alright that night- between the pidder patter of rain and the sound of the River it was a beautiful concert of sound. In the morning, we were all slow to get going, the sun seemed as though it would never come out. It was freaking cold. We could see the snow on the rim and then it started to snow on us 🙂 Yay, snow on a River trip 🙂 It didn’t last too long and though it didn’t really ever warm up, we had to get going. We had to paddle to Hance, our destination for the night. We got into our boats and head down the River. The wind found us and began to challenge us and make every single paddle harder. I was just worried about falling out again and not knowing what was ahead on the River. I became better at paddling that day, I started to find my groove. I was so cold though and so was everyone else. The wind made the cold worse, but, the views, oh my goodness, the views. Not even the coldest day could take away the amazement of that place. I was mostly smiles and a little bit of shivering. We decided to pull over and warm up at 75 mile canyon. We needed to warm up and eat something and assess the rest of the day because of the cold weather. We pulled our boats onto shore, we left our gear tied to the boats and found a nice break spot to eat and put warm clothes on. We then decided to not paddle the Rapids there and instead portage our boats down River.
After an hour or so we began to find the motivation to portage our boats down the beach and then we headed back to our boats to start the tiring process. My boat was gone!!! GONE! NOT THERE! I asked Brian if he knew where my boat was, he said that he thought Steve had carried it down the beach for me. So I started hiking down the beach and ran into Steve. I asked him if he had portaged my boat down the beach, he said no he hadn’t. My loaded boat was officially missing. We all kinda freaked out and ran up and down the beach thinking maybe it got stuck in the rocks somewhere. I felt terrible, I had lost the boat Steve let me use. We were all looking for it when Donald noticed it was up River tipped upside down. The wind had taken my fully loaded boat and blown it up River. Thank goodness I had strapped my life vest to my pack on the boat. Donald kindly paddled up River to recover my boat, everything was perfectly attached to it still, just all wet. When my damn boat finally came back we all portaged our gear and boats down River. We were all exhausted and cold and stressed from the events. But, without events such as that, the adventure isn’t complete. We then hiked up 75 mile and enjoyed the twists and turns of the walls and the beauty that trapped us down in there. Everywhere you looked you could climb or explore, you could get lost within its slots and live down there forever, if you wanted to 🙂 After our hike, it was time to get back into our cold wet boats, at least we had all of our boats now 🙂 it was around 2 more miles of paddling before we reached Hance beach. The water was calm and the wind came in and out. The sun began to set above Hance Beach lighting up the summits of the towering temples with the last of the daylight. The day was coming to an end, we filtered water, we dried everything out, we ate, we laughed, we talked about future goals and Grand dreams. We talked about how we were dreading the 6.5 mile hike up to the Rim with our heavy packs. We talked about our trip, about the memories we had created in only a few days, memories with strangers, who were now friends. We talked about what a wonderful life it is to be lost in the Grand, to be able to adventure and live life to the fullest. We ate more food and then all headed to bed. The wind echoed for awhile on the beach, the cool air and the Canyon vibes put me to sleep. What a day it had been.
In the morning, we packed up pretty early and got ready for the hike out-4,000 plus feet of climbing in 6.5 miles with ridiculously heavy packs. The going was slow up the New Hance, we all had a rough go getting to the top. The hike isn’t usually hard, but with the added weight of packrafting gear it made it more challenging. I brought 5 liters of water and was out around mile 4. We stopped around 1.5-2 miles from the top and feasted on the rest of our food. It was like a Thanksgiving dinner- tortillas, avocado, apple, candy, bell pepper, hummus and pretzels, gum, chocolate, peanut butter- that gave us all a little bit of a boost. I took a million breaks along the way up, always being impressed with where I was, what I could see. Even though I had seen it many times before on that very same trail, it never get old, the shadows, the colors, the feeling is new each and every time I see it because I am different each and every time I see it, different because of my experiences in the Grand, because every experience in that magical place changes me, inspires me, makes me see the world and life differently. It is a true blessing. It is all the magic I have ever needed in my life. It is all of my dreams and all of my aspirations. It is my heaven. It is the greatest gift I have in this world. As we got closer to the Rim the trail became snow and the warmth of the day faded off. I was pretty wiped when Donald and I got to the top. Steve was there waiting for us. Steve and Donald went to get the other car which was at Lipan Point and I waited for Kieran, Dave and Brian to finish the hike. I sat there alone on the rim next to the road on my pack, looking at the yardsale of gear around me, thinking about what I had just done, what I had overcome, the fears that I faced dead on, what I had learned and what I had almost missed out on because I was nervous and scared. I was so proud of myself for making the trip, handling a terrifying experience with grace and pushing through it. For learning something totally new and scary for me. And then, my mind and my heart filled up with ideas for future trips, of what raft I would buy, of when I could be back on the River. I started to miss the River, I started to miss the views and perspective of being on the River. Then, my hunger and fatigue kicked in and I became really cold. I changed out of my wet sweaty clothes and put warm clothes on. A few minutes later I heard Kieran cheering as they arrived at the top. Kieran, Dave and Brian were out and everyone was safe, that’s always the main goal of any trip. We ate pizza outside of the Park and then headed home, filled with inspiration for adventure, new friendships and a handful of great memories. This trip was a big deal for me, I cannot tell you how many opportunities I have refused because of my anxiety, because of my worries. I have kept myself from many things because of my struggles with anxiety and I am so glad I did not do that this time. Another wonderfully, crazy and perfect adventure in the books.