I’ve been avoiding revising this draft for months. At some point , you just have to say enough is enough and let go. Unclog the blog. Even if it may ruffle some feathers among people I respect and enjoy.
Sitting in a lounge chair on the beach at Schist Camp, nursing a cold beverage, I’m wondering if I should be having more fun. And I wonder if I should blame Ed that I’m not. Wine and stories flow freely, laughter echoing from the canyon walls, but try as I might I cannot ignore the helicopters overhead, one or two of them at any given moment thwopping their way from rim to rim, giving sightseers a look at Crystal Rapid below (said sightseers drowning out their own noise with stereophonic music through Bose headsets, I understand.) Abbey pesters me with his unequivocal vision of canyon visitation:
HUMAN BEINGS WELCOME; MACHINES KEEP OUT.
Damn straight. “Can you believe the helicopters?” I ask one of my companions. He looks at me with surprise, listens for a moment. “Gosh, I hadn’t noticed them,” he says, and now I feel guilty that my gift of awareness has shattered his peace and quiet, too. Or maybe not—he returns to the food table and the enormous pile of nachos our guides have cooked up. They do look delicious.
Later tonight the overflight procession will come to an end, and the stars, endless depths of stars, will come out. Belinda and I have set up our tent “just in case” but plan to sleep out in the open. The nachos are good. The first bats flit past, taking care of any interloping mosquitoes. The river slips on downstream as the shadows deepen.
Heat and unrelenting sun. Dehydration headache. Mid June in the depths of the canyon. Midday. Pulling over for a riverside lunch, we all clamber off the boats and scurry for cover against the canyon wall like cockroaches, slathering on more sunscreen and picking at dry and cracking lips. Quick-dry clothes redefining themselves. Perhaps a quick swim in the river to cool off?
Not on your life. For the river is an icy tomb, issuing from cold storage upstream.
Ah yes, that dam. That Glen Canyon Dam, and the 180 mile lake behind it that boatmen call Lake Foul. In all of the Rocky Mountain, Inter-Mountain West, no man-made object has been hated so much, by so many, for so long, with such good reason, as that 700,000-ton plug of gray cement, blocking our river.
The only time on this trip that campsite discussion touches on environmental politics (and I keep my mouth firmly shut, thank you very much), we talk about said dam. To my surprise, the conservative talk radio host’s position firmly agrees with Abbey’s. But then again, he’s done this trip several times already, and the Canyon ecosystem is no longer mere abstraction to be reduced to the usual reflexive ideological battle. You think about these things a little differently when you know and care about a place. Just ask the endangered Humpback Chub.
Anyway, by the time it reaches us, the dam’s 46 degree effluent has warmed maybe to 50. Despite the desert heat, we spend our time on the rafts improbably bundled in fleece and raingear, casting a wary eye at every upcoming wave and hydraulic not for any danger factor but instead dreading the unpleasant icy slap that is sure to come. Shivering through the rapids, baking on the flats, we have yet to shed our Goldilocks sensitivity, inevitable consequence of a climate-controlled life.
The river at least looks like a desert river should, the color and consistency of chocolate milk thanks to recent rains over the tributary canyons bringing in the silt that no longer makes it here from upstream. Whitewater that isn’t.
The rapids? They’re huge, I guess. Hard to tell from where I sit, on a motorized s-rig so big it doesn’t bounce over wave crests but smashes them flat. No chance of flipping one of these suckers (well never say never, I guess). I hear Abbey laughing at me:
For myself, I would rather paddle a washtub through the storm sewers of Los Angeles than merely ride along, one among a huddled pack of hapless passengers, on a thirty-three-foot motorized neoprene jumbo rig wallowing down the corridors of Grand Canyon. There’d be more satisfaction in it; greater spiritual rewards.
Ouch. Ed hitting me where it hurts. My kayaking ego hasn’t recovered from its bruising on the Futaleufu over New Year’s; now my devolution is complete—I’ve become raft baggage. I’m pretty sure I’m shouting out “whee” like the rest of us as we barge through the hydraulics. I should be ashamed of myself.
Boortz and Belinda mugging for the camera at the helm . . . if anyone could flip an s-rig, these two could.
We cruise past occasional pods of private boaters, oar-rigs and catarafts and kayakers wearing trip-of-a-lifetime grins—the rapids mean a lot more than annoying cold splashes to them. I miss the whole familiar routine: stopping to scout a drop, speculating about the cleanest line, watching others go first, putting aside the butterflies and peeling out into the current, struggling to find moments of focus amid the chaos, eddying out at the bottom, feeling like you could eat nails . . . maybe someday.
The private boaters smile and wave at us politely, tolerating our motor noise for a few minutes. We race on ahead; they linger behind and disappear, in no real hurry. (Why are we?)