Day 40. Engulfed by good Juju

I don’t know what it is, but I have been overwhelmed with so many good things in the last couple of weeks. I don’t even know how to express my gratitude. Maybe it has something to do with me releasing some things that were occupying my mind. Letting go of whatever created pressure and expectations. I consciously did that right before I entered into my days in the desert, hiking around Cataract Canyon. Maybe it has something to do with whatever began to dawn within me when I stood in awe, looking down into the haunted Maze. But maybe all my luck was granted, when I touched the horns of Malcolm Love’s wish-granting unicorn goat back in Boulder :-).

Whatever it was, now even my biggest wish is becoming a reality: Going down the Grand Canyon on the river (instead of hiking it) in a dory-boat, which is the most special, elegant and unique way to experience the River. But it gets even better: I will not be a passenger (I would hate to be shipped around) but instead I will be working on this dory-trip as an assistant, or “swamper” as they call it here.

Ahead of me now lay 18 days of Grand Canyon exploration. Whenever I talk to anyone who had done a trip through the Grand Canyon before, their eyes would start shining brighter, they would pause for a moment, smiling somewhat dreamily and then say something like “it will change your life”… When I then go on to say, that I will be going down the river on a dory trip, the faces lighten up even more. I am envied and at the same time everyone is very happy for me to get this once-in-a-lifetime chance.

Now for those of you, who don’t know what a Dory is, it is a large wooden boat, that is painted in beautiful colors. It has one set of oars and is rowed by some of the best boatmen and boatwomen in the world. Since I myself have not yet experienced how special this is yet, I will quote Martin Litton’s explanation of this boat. As one of the first masters of dory-boating he must have known:

“Something about those boats, their elegance and symmetry and balance, seem to dovetail exquisitely with the Canyon itself. They fit together in a way that is difficult to articulate but impossible to ignore. Perhaps because each seemed to frame and perfect the other. The river imbued the boats with context and purpose, while calling forth their dexterity and grace. In turn, the dories provided a visual metaphor that distilled the essence of the Canyon. It’s seductive bliss, it’s vulnerability, it’s aura of timelessness and classicism.”

I would like to warmly recommend to watch the short film “Martins Boat”. It features Martin Litton in it, and shows parts of his last run down the Grand Canyon when he was 84 years old. It is just beautiful to watch the dories kissing the waters.

How this worked out? Well, apart from all the above mentioned measures of following the good fate and trusting that everything happens for a reason, I have “Bronco” Bill to thank for that, who has put in a good word for me. He is one of the legendary dory-boatmen at the just as legendary river running company “Oars”, that has been running dories down the Grand Canyon since 1968. And then it is also due to the fact that I am writing a book about the Colorado River, which gives me the chance to promote the company that is taking me on. And this will be an easy one, as all I have experienced and learned about Oars this far is straight out awesome.

As a “swamper” I will be assisting at whatever needs to be done. Helping to set up camp and kitchen, cooking and cleaning, being helpful and alert for the customers needs at camp and during the hikes and whatever else comes up. There will be four dories and three baggage boats (18ft regular rafts) on our trip. The crew consists of the four dory-boatmen, the three people rowing the rafts and three assistants. There will be 16 clients, which is four on each dory.

Today we have rigged the boat and early tomorrow morning we will be heading to Lees Ferry, where we will be launching before noon. Only after 8 miles we will be hitting the first rapids and I can’t wait to watch the dories dance through them and to feel the rush, not only of the boat I am in, but of my excitement when heading into the wild waters.

For this Blog it means, that from the 3rd of April to the 19th of April I will be way down in the Grand Canyon and far from any internet. I will surely be writing, but I won’t be posting anything. So you won’t be hearing from me until I am flushed out at the far end of the Grand Canyon, from where I will then continue, solo again, on my trip down Colorado River to the Sea of Cortez.

This is my face when I heard that I will get on the dory trip…

Day 38 and 39. Training Seminar with the Grand Canyon River Guides

If anyone asks me, what my favorite part of this trip has been so far, it is impossible for me to answer that. Because there have been so many different “favorites” of all different kinds up until now. I am about halfway down the river, and I can only imagine how many more favorite moments I will be having. What I can not imagine, and that is the best of all, is what taste, shape and color those upcoming faves will provide for me…

However, today I want to write about a new favorite, that is sucking me in this weekend. And it doesn’t just provide some literally great tastes, but also wonderfully colorful people and a rich variety knowledge.

I am participating in the Grand Canyon River Guides (GCRG) annual training seminar for River Guides. A full weekend with talks and presentations on the current, historical and future joys and challenges of the Grand Canyon, which is the upcoming very special stretch of the Colorado River. The immeasurable information was provided by scientists, Native Americans, river runners, NGOs and park service representatives and I am amazed at how intelligently it has been programmed by the GCRG.

I am particularly fascinated by the amount of love and kinship that reverberates among these people of the river. There is a strong sense of community and I am instantly being welcomed in, as if I was one of them.

Day 37. A sacred place

The day starts with another challenge. I have never been good at looking the other way and shutting up when I see injustices or rude behavior happen. Especially when I am on a trip, I get more emotionally sensitive by being by myself so much. Shortly after waking up and taking down my tent, I begin to hear the Fotograf her lash out at her boyfriend, yelling and screaming over a minor incident. I have never heard another person use the word “fuck” so many times within every consecutive sentence during a raging fit that lasts over half an hour. Actor Christian Bale’s infamous fit that went viral on YouTube a while ago pales in comparison… The photographer is angry, essentially about water and sand, seemingly natural ingredients of working in the outdoors. But her anger is not directed at the elements, but at another human being, and a very sweet and calm at that. It wrenches my insides having to listen to it and I feel relieved when our ways finally part.

However, I get the best chance to recover from all of this today. I meet with Rick, my 99-year old friend Lizie’s son and a resident of the town of Flagstaff, and his character, kindness and humor are like a healing balm. Rick takes me to the confluence of the Colorado River with its tributary called the Little Colorado, on the lands of the Navajo. It takes us a while to get out there, as there is not one but many dirt roads, meandering across the vast lands.

The confluence is a sacred place to many Native American tribes, and it is still at risk of being destroyed by a developer who wants to turn it into a touristic circus complete with a cable car running down into the canyon from the rim. The incredible efforts of the people have succeeded to turn this proposal down for now, but it still needs much more work to preserve it for the future. Please read more about their efforts on the website of “Save the Confluence”.

To give you a faint idea of the magic of this sacred place, that I had the chance to witness today, and of its vast surroundings, I will share some pictures. But it will take me some time to process this experience until I can actually come up with the right words to describe how this place has affected me.

For more moving images, created by Pete McBride for the Grand Canyon Trust, you can watch the beautiful little film Desert Cathedral.

I particularly fell in love with the Agave plants and I will have to research them more. They point their stems high up into the sky like fingers. Up there are their seeds, that can then be flung across the vast lands by the wind.

I am grateful to have shared this very special day with Rick, who is another kindred person. We share the passion for the outdoors, the humble respectful approach, the urge to move, and I am glad we will get to spend some more time when I get to Flagstaff on Sunday.

Day 36. Glen Canyon Dam

We cook a great breakfast at the “glamping” cooking site of the Kokopelli crew and I am sooo happy to get eggs into me.

Then I go into the town of Page, to get a tour of Glen Canyon Dam, the first really huge dam on the Colorado River coming downstream. The dam is a federally owned facility and starting the tour we are passing through a metal detector. Armed guards are in place everywhere. This is strangely fitting, as the whole structure is so brutal, such a radical structure cutting through this rivers life and literally cutting it apart.

In the evening we go out on the lake for another photoshoot in the sunset.

Out there I think of my new friend, the firefighter Abbey, who gave me this very cool hat from her firefighting flight crew. After a few socially challenging days with the photographer, I appreciate it even more to remember how easy and full of trust and companionship my time with Abbey was. I am hoping she will come along on a part of my trip further downstream.

Day 35. Lone Rock

Today I am out on the western end of Lake Powell near Lone Rock with the Kokopelli crew for a photoshoot. We paddle into a beautiful canyon.

I also get in my first swim of the season, and it feels incredibly good to be moving inside the soft clear element.

I set up my camp as far from the RVs and cars as possible and it actually is a beautiful site in the sunset. Then I go join the photographers for my first (of probably many) bonfires on this trip.

Day 34. Looking down into her depth

I slept so well in my new tent. Abbey, Jordan and I do Yoga together and I love sharing the practice with such fabulous people.

Then they go to work and Abbey lends me her bike to go explore the area. And I do. I find some more silent spots to look down into the Grand Canyon. Uplifting, is an expression that comes into my mind, for lack of a better word. Just looking into the depth creates an inner feeling of flying. But generally I can never quite find a connection to my natural surroundings, when they are spoiled with masses of concrete and bright colored and noisy people. And the Grand Canyon National Park has certainly made this place into more of a Circus of tourist attractions, then a place of peace and contemplation, as the nature would suggest.

On my way back to Page I see another beautiful sunset. Then I set up my tent in the dark, not noticing all the cactuses around, resulting in the first hole in my sleeping pad…

Day 33. Native Americans and a native friendship

I go to the John Wesley Powell Museum in Mount Carmel and talk to Paul Bingham. He shows me his exhibition of some of the very first images ever taken of native Americans in this region. It is a controversial topic, as many of the pictures are obviously posed and supposedly the fotografier tried to fit the “objects” into what he wanted to portray as the “savages” suiting his imagination. I am glad I get this insight and food for thought.

Then I go to Palm Springs National Monument where I have the chance to talk to Autumn, a member of the local Paiute Tribe. Everything she tells me is not only very informative, but also moving and I take many notes for my book.

My favorite detail is, that she tells me how she shows her gratitude to the earth. Whenever she would take something from it, like a plant to use for anything in her life, she would also give something back to it in exchange. I love this very simple and obvious gesture and I will take it with me and practice it on my way forward.

Then I am hitchhiking towards Page, where I will finally be picking up my boat again. A Sprinter stops and the moment I get in I know this will be good: Abbey, named after Edward Abbey, is obviously a creature of the outdoors. Her ride is full of gear and I soon learn that she is a firefighter in Grand Canyon, heading there for the summer season, after working on ski patrol (like most river guides) in the winter. When she invites me to spend the night with her and her friends, lend me her bike to explore the touristic parts of the Grand Canyon National Park in the Morning and then show me around the helipad, I do not think twice. It’s the beginning of a friendship. I can feel it.

Day 32. On a flat earth to Bryce Canyon

Hitchhiking with Sidney, who told me that the earth is flat and that Jesus said the US will be destroyed by Iranian nukes on the 14th of May this year.

Standing in awe after hiking into Bryce Canyon.

Strolling through the town of Kanab and taking in the sun on a calm afternoon.

Day 31. Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument

On my way out to the headwaters of the Esclante River. Yes, there is tourism out here, but it’s developing in a mild way. There are no Fast Food Joints or Best Western Hotels anywhere. It is just too remote, fortunately. So the region remains to be one of the last where one can truly wander in wilderness. “Desert Varnish” will never seize to amaze me, and I stand in awe, feeling how I am finally falling in love with the browns. Because it is not just one color, it is an incredible array and a richness of tones with different characters, showing thousands of years of the earths history. The dark vertical stripes come from the activity of living organisms, microbes oxidizing iron and manganese in humid conditions, while the orange is caused by arid and dusty conditions. Learning to read these books on the walls, spending hours out there with no rush, I am finally beginning to listen and see in a more profound way. Calf Creek Falls