On May 9th, Paul and I completed our first five years of marriage. To celebrate the occasion, we decided upon a rafting trip down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. That’s where we were while on hiatus from blogging, e-mail, and all other modern forms of communication. We had a utterly fantastic time.
Due to time constraints, Paul and I opted to oar and paddle down only the lower half of the canyon, along with six guides from Canyon Explorations and eighteen other people. Our first major task was to meet up with the full canyon trippers, swapping places with the upper canyon trippers, at the bottom of the Bright Angel Trail. The trail is 7.5 miles long, with a one mile change in elevation; our packs were about 25 pounds.
Honestly, I never knew that I had bad knees until that hike. At the mid-point (Indian Gardens), they were so wobbly and pained that I wondered whether I would be able to make it all the way down to the river at all. Thankfully, while taking a breather at Indian Gardens, a lovely older woman suggested that I turn my toes in while walking, as that helps stabilize the problem ligaments. It worked, enabling me to hike the rest of the way down, albeit still with a substantial amount of pain.
That night, my knees were killing me, so much so that I could barely walk. The next morning, my knees were fine, but my calves and thighs were so bad that I still couldn’t walk. My muscles slowly improved over the course of some days, although they weren’t fully back to normal until the last day of the trip. The first few days, any muscle use was painful if not impossible, including merely standing up. Although I did some running, weights, and hiking before the trip, surely that was not enough. In retrospect, I also think that the wobble in my knees contributed to the later muscle pain, since I was using those muscles in order to keep the knees steady.
Our trip was a “hybrid” trip, meaning that our group had five oar boats, one paddle boat, plus two inflatable kayaks or “duckies.” The variety of transportation enabled people to do more or less work propelling themselves down the river and through the rapids depending upon their energy level. On the oar boats, which held two to four people, plus the rowing boatman, plus lots of food and gear, we mostly sat back, chatted a bit, and enjoyed the sights of the canyon. Traversing rapids generally required little more than merely hanging on so as not to go for a swim in the very, very chilly water. Towards the end of the trip, I did row one of the oar boats for a bit, which was quite fun, not to mention physically demanding and perceptually challenging. (Reading the current was a far more subtle and important perceptual skill than I had realized.) In the paddle boat, which required six people plus the boatman, we had to work a bit harder, particularly through the rapids. The greater responsibility generated greater pride though… and we did enjoy the occasional “power relax” in quiet water. The duckies were great fun, particularly given the dangers of swimming if hit by a wave from the side through the rapids. I spent a delightful albeit tiring afternoon in one.
In addition to the rafting, we stopped to hike in side canyons almost every day. Paul and I tended not to opt for the “death march” hikes, but instead more slowly made our way to some pretty little spot with waterfalls, bathing pools, and shade in order to read, relax, and in his case, nap. Happily, my painful muscles only caused me to miss one hike. As soon as I could adequately control my muscles so as to not be in danger of falling off some cliff, I started hiking. (Those hikes actually diminished my soreness by moving the lactic acid out of my muscles.) It’s amazing how little pain matters when sloppy footwork means death.
One of my major concerns about the trip was the plethora of unknown persons. Although my philosophic life is rather public, my real life is designed to be quite solitary and secluded. (That might seem contradictory, but it’s not. My public life on the internet allows me to find and bond with the sort of people I like more quickly, easily, and reliably than mere in-person contact allows.) Most days, I’m perfectly happy sharing my time with only Paul and the beasts. In contrast, I’m quite miserable vacationing at a resort, for that requires sharing beaches or pools with random strangers. I have little tolerance for forced and idle chit-chat with mere acquaintances over hors-d’oeuvres. I’m happy with my far-off neighbors, but would prefer them to be wholly out-of-sight, nice though they may be. My concern is not with my privacy in the sense of other people seeing my goings-on. Rather, my aversion is to the ways in which other people’s lives impinge upon me in unwanted ways.
Somewhat to my surprise, living in close proximity to more than 20 other total strangers didn’t bother me much. On the oar boats with just a few people it was often very quiet. Much of the conversation concerned our common interest, namely life in the Canyon. (I particularly enjoyed talking to the guides about their work in the winter. Some of my conversations were even rather interesting exercises in philosophical detection.) Once we choose a camp site for the night, we were often so busy taking care of the necessities of life (e.g. washing clothes, bathing, setting up bedding, and so on) that conversation fell into the background. The trip was long enough to get to know people a bit, such that their regular lives became of interest. Paul and I also tended to go to bed early, so we didn’t get worn out with the night-time conversations. Of course, it also helped that people were also quite friendly and affable. At the end of the trip, it was interesting to notice just how different we all were, yet how well we got along.
Happily, the weather was fairly cool, even chilly the first few days. I only got a bit of sunburn towards the end of the trip. We didn’t have any rain, so Paul and I never bothered to get out a tent, but instead slept under the stars every night. Oh, and I should mention that the food was scrumptious. We had glazed pork chops, carrot cake, thai beef, grilled chicken breasts, chocolate cake, lasagna, and so much more. Yummy!
Overall, the guides were wonderful, the people friendly, the food fabulous, the rapids invigorating, the weather fairly cool, the hikes fun, and the stars plentiful. It was a great time. Perhaps the best I can say is that Paul and I hope to go back in a few years for the full canyon trip.