Last week we began our series of “river love” stories with the historical and infamous tale of Bessie and Glenn Hyde. This week, we are happy to feature a story written by Arizona Raft Adventures’ friend and guest Charles Flynn, which details his very own “river love” experience that has lasted a lifetime.
by Charles Flynn
We took our first Grand Canyon trip in September 1986. It was the start of a lifelong commitment. Katherine and I had known each other for years, and worked closely together for many of those years. Then in 1985 our good friend Rick (who, to my knowledge, had never slept in a sleeping bag in his entire life), came back from a trip to Idaho on which he had taken a day raft trip on the Salmon River. He could not stop raving about the fun and the food, and suggested forcefully that the three of us should take a raft trip somewhere. Although there are at least three different versions of how we decided, we finally agreed that we would take a raft trip through the Grand Canyon, and elected to go with Arizona Raft Adventures. It was the first of many fortuitous decisions.
Katherine is an “includer”, and by the time we set off, we had five long time friends, none of whom had ever been on a raft trip. Everything about the trip was memorable, starting with our paddle captain. Suzanne of the flaming red hair and indomitable spirit certainly put the fear of god, or at least her, into us, especially on the left run at Lava. It was close enough to see China down through the mists of the ledge hole. The hikes were memorable, although we quickly learned that when Joel suggested we go for “a little scramble” that the normal meaning of English words had been suspended, and that we should prepare for an expedition. Then watching Lorna (who we did not yet know) have her picture taken for the cover of “the book.” The food was wonderful and plentiful. One of the permanent memories of that trip is Rick (who had quickly adjusted to the sleeping bag) and the other Alaskans volunteering to cook dinner on an evening when it was pouring down rain. The rain did not hurt the stroganoff, and we have been suggesting ever since that they put it back on the menu. Finally, laying in the sleeping bag on a moonless night, looking at the stars. Most of us have few occasions to see the unfiltered power and glory of the cosmos. It is an experience worth losing sleep over.
Above all, however, we learned one of the enduring lessons of the Canyon. Most of the campsites and much of the rock is sand. We learned that sand works on people, much as sandpaper works on wood. After a few days, the veneer comes off, and you get an unvarnished look at the person underneath. Usually, that is a good thing.
In our case, it was a wonderful thing. On the last day of the trip, one of our friends volunteered the opinion that Katherine and I had gotten along so well, “why don’t you just go ahead and get married.” So we did.
In September of 2011, we returned on our eighth trip, for our 25th wedding anniversary. By this time, the group was almost entirely made up of friends, plus one of our grandchildren who was along as an assistant guide. John, Martha, Greg, Paul and Somer made it incredibly special, even preparing a sit down dinner (with bottled wine, no less) in the middle of a thunder storm at National Canyon. I could not help thinking of Rick cooking stroganoff in the rain during that first trip.
There have been more wonderful experiences than we could ever count. The view from the top of the Tabernacle, the deafening stillness of Surprise Valley, the clean (and warm) water at Clear Creek, the slot at Deer Creek, watching the kids jump at Havasu, and the tension of scouting Chrystal or Lava. Most of all, it has been the sharing. We have been blessed to share this experience with our six children and twelve of our grandchildren. We have also been blessed to share it with many friends, old and new. The sand is still there, and still uncovering new and unexpected aspects of our personalities. And we still consider ourselves the luckiest people on earth.
Wonderful story. I especially like the sand analogy. By the end of these remarkable journeys few of us resemble our ‘real world’ selves. And I agree with the Flynns, that this is mostly for the better.