Vail Daily travel trip: 277 miles in 24 days kayaking the Grand Canyon
Upon returning from any epic adventure, society often refers to the act of coming back to everyday life as “getting back to reality” — an idea that all good things must come to an end and we need to get back to being productive members of society.
But what is reality anyway? Before launching on a 24-day whitewater kayak trip down the Grand Canyon, I did not realize how it would alter my current idea of reality. Everyone said it is a trip of a lifetime: a bucket list experience that will change your life forever.
Really? How could this experience be any different than another exotic destination?
Each person who experiences the majestic power of the Grand Canyon deep in the heart of the earth can share a different story. But after months of planning, organizing, packing and repacking, the fact that you are leaving for a month still feels inconceivable.
Questions raced through my head in the final days before we set off, wondering if I had made the right decision. When does anyone have the luxury to shut off life and pack everything you need for a month into a dry bag? When do the concepts of not showering and sleeping on the ground sound appealing? Could I learn to go with the flow?
Upon arrival at the majestic overlook of Horseshoe Bend near Page, Arizona, the night before launch, all my fears and worries blew away with the wind. It was then I could admit that a river trip through the Grand Canyon is one of the most remarkable journeys on multiple levels — this canyon breeds fascination.
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Mother Earth’s artwork
The Grand Canyon — a mile-deep hole in the earth that stretches 277 miles from Lees Ferry to Grand Wash Cliffs — is filled with mystical rocks half the age of Mother Earth. They emit a type of powerful energy. At the canyon’s mouth near our launch site, the Colorado River exposes a dazzling natural world filled with towering rock formations, sandy beaches, dark caverns and sparkling waterfalls that twist around corners deep into the heart of the canyon. As the river swirls around sharp bends in the first few miles, cool shadows mingle with shimmering river light, cutting through a type of metamorphic rock called “schist” that turns the canyon walls dark black.
A few miles later, the walls changed and looked as though they were made of wax melting into the water. It felt like paddling in a giant candle. Even further on in the journey, I saw a burst of lava rock that created art when once it spewed out from the center of the earth. It now lies frozen in time. At closer glance, many of the rocks in the canyon have been molded together, creating a mixture of crystals within the rock.
One morning, I looked up to see a boulder the size of a small car roll down the canyon wall, creating the resounding “SMACK” as it made contact with the water below. It felt as if I had become Alice in Wonderland — a naive child mesmerized by a mystical environment.
Gift from the gods
We often forget about one of life’s most precious gifts — time. In the “real world,” we get wrapped up in deadlines, must-dos, constant chaos and day-to-day routines. Rarely do we step out of this loud and distracting world to remember our true passions.
An extended river trip helps you disconnect from the physical world and slip into a meditative, altered state of being one with nature. Life happens in a series of moments, during which you see situations in various colors, textures and depths, all leading to an environment of beauty, peace, tranquility and energy. The memories created here are like dream states.
Mind = expanded
What does it mean when your mind is blown by an experience worthy of a bucket list?
The Grand Canyon trip was less about what I found or saw, and more about accepting situations as they arose and satisfying inner desires. It’s not always easy to come face to face with your authentic self, but the open-air cathedral of the canyon welcomed those who ventured down that path. The small sliver of sky seen high above the rock walls reminded us what was out there, but it also reminded us that we were real in there, discovering true intimacy with our surroundings. You find humility, and then it’s impossible to hide your true essence. Through this transformation, like the caterpillar becoming a butterfly, your perception of life changes fully and you embrace the wonder in every nook and cranny.
In the real world, we place expectations and demands on each other. We have ideas about why things should be a certain way and force the natural flow to change to fit our ideals.
Here in the Grand Canyon, however, we just are — happy and free from societal norms. We live by our own rules and are happy to be in the place we are. Unlike our technology addictions, a quick fix for happiness and temptation in the canyon doesn’t exist. It’s the ultimate freedom from the distractions of life (and it doesn’t hurt that there’s no cell phone service).
Anyone who ventures into the great abyss comes away with a new perspective on life — a sense of awe, and some newfound wisdom. Only those who understand this will truly know the secret world waiting to be discovered on a river trip down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon. And as I venture back to “reality,” I hope to keep that magic in my heart, remembering what it’s like to be free from the petty distractions of life.
Rita’s two closest peers have climbed the 8,850-meter (29,035-foot) peak 21 times each, but both of them have retired from mountain climbing.