Life is, of course, the grandest adventure of all. But it is the smaller journeys, various trips, and meandering paths we venture upon that create the poignant moments and stories that design our lives. For me, nothing captures my life and its recent changes better than the 26-day rafting trip on the Grand Canyon I experienced this past November and December.
It’s no secret that I made changes to my life the previous two years. In 2011, I was stressed, exhausted, overweight, overworked, depressed, and drowning in self-loathing. Long story short, my life needed a drastic overhaul. Whitewater and Wet Planet introduced that personal awakening, gratefully, ultimately leading me to move to the Gorge in April 2013. Yet when I was offered a spot on the Grand trip with fellow Wet Planeteers, I was surprised and shocked. I remember sitting on a couch in the middle of a social gathering, inwardly shaking at the possibility. Can I do this?! What did I do to deserve this precious opportunity?! Am I worthy? Still, the opportunity seemed perfectly aligned with all I had already experienced that first season on the river – beautifully reminding me how far I had come, what I had learned, and what had inspired me to pursue life changes in the first place. Tossing aside various worries and my lack of experience, I snatched that offer and signed up for the trip the following morning.
In the Grand Canyon, I learned, of course, the basics of a multi-day river excursion. This learning process commenced before I departing Washington by seeking advice and procuring the necessary gear (“purchase a puffy!” “take a pee bucket!” “be sure to pack a tutu, and maybe some wigs!”). I also learned how to rig the rafts to flip, set camp, and secure a tent during a 12-hour windstorm. And being with a crew of professional raft guides allowed me to learn heaps about reading water and even the basics of rowing (with a few lessons in patience while maneuvering out of eddies, ha!). This trip was invaluable in making me feel more comfortable on the water and boosting my overall confidence. Gratefully, my professional tripmates were gracious in showing me the ropes (sometimes literally) and answering questions!
There were also many intangible lessons and moments, the ones not easily quantifiable or described.
I have realized that I now crave a sense of community around me. I feel noticeably happier, healthier, and more inspired when I balance solitude while allowing people into my life. In the Grand, it felt good to be a part of something communal, a greater good than myself! This has also meant learning to be vulnerable. Sometimes this meant asking for or accepting help; other times, it was the realization that personal weaknesses cannot be hidden (both of which are really hard, especially when you don’t want to let down your peers!). One day I returned to my campsite to find that my wonky, pathetic tent had been anonymously re-secured. It was embarrassing to realize my poor tent-building capabilities had been recognized, but that pleasant surprise also warmed my heart that cold day; it felt lovely to be cared about.
The beauty in being vulnerable with others, too, is that it also allows for new connections to be made and for personal strengths to shine. One of the neatest parts of the trip was observing the special characteristics and hidden talents of the others – John’s depth of passion for the outdoors and skills as trip leader, Dave’s contagious enthusiasm while rowing, Tony constantly hustling to make sure all tasks completed, Libby kayaking Tapeat’s Creek, Katie and Hannah’s sense of self…There were an infinite amount of snapshot moments of each individual’s magic!
Same goes for myself. Living with only 15 people for an extended period of time, with no technology to distract or separate us (bless it), I found myself often contemplating my social nature within groups. Introverted by nature, I will never be outgoing or feel the need to have my voice heard; at times, though, that means I feel socially invisible. I connect one-on-one, or in very small groups, and it takes time for me to feel comfortable being my genuine and goofy self. But I have learned to value my unique qualities and the personal contributions I can and do attempt to make in these group settings. I also like to think I’m learning to accept myself for who I am, that I am worthy too. Better still, the more I’ve come to realize these ideals, the kinder, more supportive person I am to others.
In saying that, the trip also reminded me of my independence and sense of self. Though within a group, there were moments everyday when I had to go it alone. For example, I generally dreaded making the decision where to set up my tent at each camp. I despised this process and did not enjoy having to make that decision over and over again! But those times – like those fitful nights sleeping, sucking in sand while my tent flapped wildly and I feared my tent would either blow away or be destroyed – were lonely and a little frightening to be sure! Truth be told, each day this past year has been at least slightly terrifying, some days a lot, but being uncomfortable and doing so independently signifies growth and develops inner strength.
One of my favorite memories was near the end of the trip. Hiking solo, I climbed along a ridge that elevated itself like stairs. Each time I reached a new step in height, I stopped, took in my gloriously scenic surroundings (the river far below, the canyon, the blue sky), took a deep breath, and then sang my heart out. It was a moment of pure bliss, physically, mentally, and spiritually! It was, as John described during his final trip talk, the Canyon stare – that feeling, that ability to gaze with wonder at the world, see beauty everywhere, and feel fully awake and aware every day. It’s this feeling that initially captivated me while on the river and is the biggest reason why I feel the happiest I’ve ever been.
Like the Grand Canyon itself, this year of personal growth and change has been multi-layered, dramatic, and immeasurable in its meanings and personal significance. This epic adventure encouraged me to fully process and celebrate all the lessons I have been learning from the river, its community, and myself. Because of my time spent in the Canyon, I feel infinitely stronger, endlessly excited, and genuinely full of joy – ready for new possibilities, more river adventures, and the next chapter in my story in this great, grand adventure called Life. WHOOP-YA!
”When your spirit cries for peace, come to a world of canyons deep in an old land. Feel the exultation of high plateaus, the strength of moving waters, the simplicity of sound, and the silence of growth.” (August Fruge)