A Gift from the River Gods: Day Three on a Grand Canyon Solo Kayak Adventure
by Sharon Hester
Looking downstream, I saw a pale half-naked body lying along the shore at the Cardenas camp beach. He was as still as a corpse, and there were not any rafts at the beach. I was a bit concerned, but as I paddled closer, it became apparent that the supine man was sound asleep. His bare chest slowly rose and fell while flies lazily jostled for position on the wide brimmed hat pulled down completely over his face. His backpack was hidden in the trees. A pair of dusty, trail worn boots were off to one side, his white feet nearly touching the muddy Colorado River. Suddenly, in a lightbulb moment, I realized that this was the perfect opportunity to masquerade as the omnipotent river-God (or Goddess) known to all river runners.
Three days earlier, on April 16, 1991, at the start of my solo kayak adventure through the Grand Canyon, my borrowed T-Canyon Prijon kayak, already a heavy boat, weighed well over 100 pounds. It was stuffed with all my camping gear and food for only six days. Prior to the trip I realized that if I wanted to stay the entire 18 days my permit allowed, I would have to cache some food along the river. I had made food caches at a couple of locations the previous year on AzRA trips I guided on. Just before departing on this solo adventure, my friend and fellow AzRA guide, Jon Hirsh, said that he wanted to leave me some food as well. He was working an NPS archeology river trip that launched before me, and he said he would leave extra food in a sealed bucket right by the Little Colorado River confluence gaging station. At the time there was a cable river crossing gage station just upstream of the Little Colorado River. I felt I would not need another food cache, but he was insistent and wanted to make sure I had plenty to eat. He said he would hide a sealed plastic bucket near the cable crossing, and one of us would retrieve the empty bucket on our next trips.
But by the time I got to the confluence, I still had plenty of food (except for my prized dried mangos that had been stolen by ringtail cats right out of my sleeping bag with me in it, but that is another story). I was moving much faster than I had planned so by day three of the journey my boat was still well stocked with dehydrated backpacker style foods. True to his word, Jon had left the bucket. I thought it might be a few beers and treats but boy was I surprised! It was an entire 5-gallon bucket chockfull of a veritable feast. Cans of sardines, oysters, packages of crackers, cookies, candy, some cheeses, salami, plus several onions and potatoes. Even a six pack of beer! Where was I going to fit all this fancy food? The big 5-gallon bucket was FULL to the brim, and I had barely dented my 6-day supply of food. There was no room in my small kayak for all these “rafting luxuries.” I could not leave it behind to rot in the Arizona sun. Also, my friend, Jon, was somewhere downstream on the NPS trip and I felt when I saw him, he would be disappointed that I did not make use of his gift. So, I proceeded to try and stuff what I could into my kayak, but I could only fit a few items. There was still a small mountain of food on shore.
I got in my boat, grabbed the food items I had placed right at the edge of the river, and piled them between my legs. My spray skirt bulged upward after I stretched it up and over the pile. The last remaining items I jammed down the front of my lifejacket, which I had loosened to make for more room. A large salami peeked out from under my arm. Looking like a hungry shoplifter gone berserk, I realized that if I accidentally swam, a bystander might think a supermarket had flooded upstream.
My hope was I would find a raft trip and soon! That way I could pawn much of the food off on to them. Sure enough, a few miles downstream, at Lava/Chuar camp, a private trip dumbfoundedly accepted my offering of ALL the cookies and crackers, as I could not keep those dry in my boat. I made a quick dash into the eddy to deliver the goods and they asked where the rest of my trip was. I said I was alone and just had way too much food. I did not explain as I tossed the packages up to a confused-looking fellow, mouth agape, in the back of his raft. I then quickly paddled away downriver.
A few miles from there, I spotted the sleeping backpacker in the shade of the willow trees. Immediately, I realized I had another prospective recipient of my excess groceries. Initially I beelined for him across the river and was going to leave him with a bunch of food, but quickly realized he would not want any extra weight in his pack. Seeing his stuporous state, I decided to change tactics. I quietly changed directions and paddled into the eddy downstream of him. Silently I floated back up the upstream eddy current near shore until my kayak was right next to the soles of his large, pale feet, about 6 inches from the water’s edge. Soft snoring reverberated under the hat; his face completely hidden. Very softly, I pulled out one of the beers from my life jacket and leaning over placed it in the sand close to his left foot. He did not stir. Without making a noise or taking a stroke, I floated back upstream to the top of the eddy and out into the current.
In the current, I looked across the eddy at him as I paddled past, he was still sleeping soundly. Grinning, I chuckled at my river-God ruse, imagining his surprised look when he awoke. But a couple of nights later, after I had finished my 5th tasty and precious beer, I really wondered if I should have left a potato instead.
Featured photo NOT from solo kayak adventure talked about above, but it is of Sharon Hester kayaking the ledge hole at Lava during a High Flow Experiment in March of 1996. Flows were 46,000 CFS. Photo credit Duglan Bremner (RIP).