Night one. Mile 18. As I walk away from the campfire and circle of chairs, I gaze up at the stars and dark canyon walls. I can’t imagine how much taller these walls will get, how much further we have to travel.
I look down again and turn on my headlamp. The bright glow reveals where others are sleeping. I’m cautious to walk around them, my steps uneven in the sand. I can hear my dad snoring as I grow close to our family’s spot for the night, a mini bluff above the river.
Near my tarp, I dig my journal out of my dry pack and scribble, “Can’t believe how far in we are and how far we have to go.” A generic comment. I’m tired, don’t give it much thought. As I settle into my sleeping bag and let my head sink into my pillow, I continue to study the stream of stars above.
The dark canyon walls provide a focused view of a sky I’ve seen many times in many places. In the coming days and nights, I’ll realize my time in the Grand Canyon is also providing a focused view of me.
Before the beginning
To be honest, I hadn’t given the trip — six days of rafting, hiking and camping in the Grand Canyon — much thought. It wasn’t for lack of enthusiasm, and it certainly wasn’t because I’d rather be doing something else. This was a bucket list trip, the adventure of a lifetime.
In the weeks leading up to my family’s time on the Colorado River, I often found myself working 10+ hours a day. Every time one project ended, five more seemed to start. My brain was fried, my energy lacking. I was looking forward to the clean break from everything, but the long workdays and my dwindling energy left me uneducated on just what was to come, how incredible and unforgettable the experience would be.
I’d been rafting, hiking and backcountry camping before so felt I didn’t need to prepare 100%. I’d embrace the moment and soak it all up once I was there. I’m typically a planner, so it was nice going into something with no expectations.
What I wish I’d prepared myself for was the idea that such a trip could change me, could shift my perspective in so many ways. I wasn’t prepared for that in the slightest, so the experience shook me. Hard.
Floating and finding
We set out on the Colorado from Lees Ferry on Sunday, and as our days on the river passed — each one faster than the last — and we floated further into the canyon, I became lost in a world I’d unknowingly been craving, lost in a space with myself I’d needed more than anything. Somewhere along the way, I came to find my peace.
I found it in the first light of each day, in the simplicity of our daily routine, in the same old dirty clothes I wore days in a row, in the conversations I had with strangers who, in six days’ time, became friends. I found it in every ounce of my experience.
Even when it was cool and rainy on the second day and we were going through rapid after rapid in a section of the river known as the Roaring Twenties, getting soaked in more-than-refreshing water, my soul was happy. For the first time in a long time, I was living in the moment. Truly living in the moment. Not worrying about the past. Not worrying about the future. I wasn’t even worrying about the present. I was simply living in it, reveling in it.
It wasn’t until I was so far in that I became honest with myself, opened up to the feelings that’d been lingering in my life, the thoughts that’d been lingering in my mind.
They’d been there for weeks, perhaps months, but I hadn’t taken the time to recognize them, to acknowledge their presence. Stepping away from people, society and technology gave me perspective. It gave me a chance to talk with myself.
It wasn’t until I was in between two towering walls of rock on a burnt-yellow raft with a bunch of strangers, so removed from everything I’d grown accustomed to, that I was able to understand myself clearly, understand the turbulence I’d been feeling. It was the first time in months I’d opened up and listened to myself.
Moments that matter
The experience, everything about it, changed me. Has made me see myself and the world in new ways. I feel as though I’m a new person. But really, I don’t. I think I’ve just scratched away the surface and rediscovered what really balances me, where I really feel at home and who I really feel at home around.
My week in the Grand Canyon was refreshing in more ways than I can describe. Marveling at the night sky from my sleeping bag feet from the Colorado. Seeing the mightiest meteor I’ve ever seen.
Basking in the warmth of a sunny day. Sprawling out on the front of the raft. Breathing in the immensity of the Grand Canyon, the scale of it in size and years. Reveling in the stories and history of such a remarkable place.
Jumping into the bone-chilling Colorado and catching my breath as I bobbed under the icy water. Taking on new heights to take in beautiful, sweeping vistas. Sharing stories, laughs, meals and music with my family and new friends.
Unwinding in the glow of evening fires. Climbing into bed and never wanting to close my eyes, never wanting to “turn out the lights.”
Not thinking about anything other than where I was and what I was doing. Soaking it all up. Living, laughing and loving in the moment. Everything I ever wanted. All in one place. One simple, yet complex, place.
February 28, 2016