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  • Writer's pictureKatja

Rafting the Grand Canyon: The Long Goodbye

Updated: Aug 26, 2021

Day 15+ (July 29th & 30th)

Believing this to be the last day I would spend on the river, I intended to write a two-part entry in my journal: part one as we set out on our last day, and part two when we landed at Pierce Ferry Landing. Part one is as expected, and will be shared below. Part-two came the next day as the rest of that final day transitioned from a long float through calm waters to a final storm experience that left me too exhausted to write until the next morning.

Part one, from the journal:

So we begin our final stretch to the end. We anticipate floating 20 miles today, stopping in the afternoon to escape the predictable headwind and heat, and hopefully try to nap for a few hours. Then after we eat, we will float the final 27 miles out to Pierce Ferry where the cars will be delivered by the shuttle company and they will take out rafts away. I love it out here so much but I can feel the very near end of my energy and stamina. We are doing well and it is very timely to be wrapping this journey up in the next 24 hours. Now, onto my fifth and hopefully final tube of sunscreen for this trip. I hope it will last all day!

Part two, from the journal:

Yesterday went way different than expected, but most likely for the better in the end. We were in the initial 20 miles around lunchtime and doing well. We had tied the boats together with John's dory's nose parked between the rafts so we could share the burden of rowing and help each other out. We were making good time and decided to eat while we floated, making sandwiches of the remaining salami in the now warm cooler.
We were enjoying the day, playing cards, talking a lot, and even having a dance party while we floated along.
Then a storm started forming upriver of us. It had all the usual features--lightning, dark clouds, etc. The wind was different though; instead of coming up-canyon towards us, it was behind us, and suddenly our average speed jumped from 2.5 miles per hour to 5, 5.5, and 6 miles per hour. We were flying!
Huge wind gusts came up and blasted chunks of sand off the eroding banks and drove us towards the shallows. Logan and I hunkered down, winding our arms in the straps to keep from being blown off, while Max and Steve fought hard to keep us moving and away from the hidden sand bars that we watched catch and hold two large commercial rafts.
We flew down the river and our estimated time of arrival went from the next morning to the middle of the night to sometime before sunset. This was unheard of! When I wasn't fighting to stay attached to the raft, I was glued to the maps, shouting out mileage every few minutes as we had to be sure and certain where we were and when the ending would arrive. Missing the takeout comes with a deadly consequence--a huge rapid down around the bend that is said to be unrunnable and has sunk 30+ foot rafts. So much for a relaxing leisurely float to the end.
We were finally blessed with calm skies and slower water in the last three miles. The sun had dipped behind the canyon walls as we left them behind and officially floated out of the Grand Canyon. We had separated our boats by this point to make sure we could all maneuver into shore as soon as we saw the boat ramp. The final half-hour was a blessed chance to unwind and begin to process the transition out. We had made it, we were done!

Our schedule was so messed up by the end, landing at the boat ramp over 12 hours ahead of when we intended to, that we broke with traditional practices and slept right there in the dirt and on the rafts beside the ramp, our gear in piles onshore. I thought it would be more peaceful to sleep on the raft for the last night, but the fact that there was a boat-eating rapid downstream made every moveme too of the raft beneath me seem like the introduction to a horror movie. That, and in our infinite exhausted wisdom, we had already disassembled the oars and there was nothing left in the boats to help us navigate back to shore should we come loose in the night, a fact that apparently hit all of us around the same time in the middle of the night. I don't know what John in his dory or Steve on his raft decided to help them fall back asleep, but I know that I made the quick calculation that I could always jump off the raft and swim to shore if I needed, and that helped me enjoy the gentle rocking of the current and lulled me into a deep sleep.

We had a beautiful sunrise that morning and slowly began organizing our gear for the pickup and pack-up to return home.

From the journal:

We are sitting on the sleeping pads and chairs on the dirt ramp beside the paved boat ramp, sipping the last of the camp coffee and nibbling on leftover cookies and pop tarts.
John, Max, and Steve are talking about life, children, and fatherhood. I am going to miss those three. I am leaning against a packed bag with my feet on the dirt, Logan seated beside me coloring, reflecting a little on the trip but mostly beginning the mental transition off of this amazing adventure and back to daily life.
I feel so many changes and areas of growth yet to be explored, and I am looking forward to what I will discover and what comes next. But for now, I am satisfied to relax and rest and chase away the flies who insist on exploring the battered flesh of my legs. This trip will also leave scars, physical ones and deeper ones, that may never heal. Yet for all the wounds, this has been an amazing few weeks. What a gift. We are blessed and favored, indeed.

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