Floating the Grand Canyon

Clearing the Clutter

From Great Outdoor Store
Clearing the Clutter

Right now my head is nearly as cluttered as my living room. In less than two weeks my husband, Rob, and I will be pushing off from Lee’s Ferry on a 21-day noncommercial rafting trip down the Colorado River through the entirety of the Grand Canyon.

I’m in the stage of packing and repacking; our living room is littered with gear. I’m second guessing myself—do I really need this piece of gear? Will I regret it if I don’t take? It’s not like I can pick stuff up along the way. This trip isn’t booked through a guiding service or a packaged deal. I was fortunate enough to win the permit lottery 14 months ago. Since then, I have been working with my friends in the rafting industry to put together a team of 16 handpicked members, courting gear sponsors, and sorting through paperwork for the National Park Service.


But it’s close now.


I’ve been a part of projects like this before. From circumnavigating Martinique on a standup paddleboard to guiding groups through Central American rainforests, there’s a certain energy that picks up before a big trip. You feel excitement and risk and nerves and anticipation and your head runs through a thousand little checklists trying to make sure you’ve got it all just right. I’ve memorized the map, every twist and turn. I can talk about man-eaters like Lava or Crystal. I could talk about how mean The Jewels are and advise you not to take Hermit for granted. The truth, though, is that despite all the best planning, you never get it all quite right.


When you are on the water, with just a rubber raft between you and 100,000 gallons of water per second rushing under you, you try to set yourself up to hit turbulence perfectly. You steer your boat so that you connect with a line just so, and then expect to pop out unscathed downstream. For as many times as it goes right, there are hidden currents and unexpected obstacles that are always eager to knock you off course and send you reeling into the water. That, no doubt, is part of the experience. We make our plans, we set a course, and then something else happens that redirects us all together. Yet so often we hang onto these plans and get battered around simply because we forget how to be flexible or resourceful. We fail to recognize the grit we’ve covered up with pretty, convenient routines. Something about being away, floating through the bottom of the Grand Canyon, away from wifi and blue screens, reminds you how to go with the flow.


Regardless of the reason, you’re going to get worked, and that is nothing short of sacramental. I look forward to the sunburns and the sore muscles. There’s something special about the moment you stop planning and finally start doing. The nerves melt away and all the planning you’ve done is put into action. For me, far-flung places like the Grand Canyon are the great ego deflators. Their enormity reminds you that you too are flesh and blood, and that you are a small and humble part of the long arc of a much, much bigger story. You can look up at the stars and realize how silly so many of your worries are in the long run––how useless your clutter––because at the end of the day when the boat flips and you get thrown into the deep stuff, you may get banged around a bit, but you also get clean.


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