I guess coming from a rural area, I am not wise to the ways of the outside world especially when it comes to tipping. A few days before, another client had approached me and asked how much I planned on tipping the crew. Up until that point, it hadn't even crossed my mind that a tip was even expected of me. So as the last of the clients climbed into the passenger van waiting to take up back to Flagstaff, I dug my wallet out of the bottom of my bag, cleaned it of all bills, and gave it to Bronco. I'm not sure if it had been too generous or insulting low, but it was all that I had and it had been worth every penny and then some.
I climbed into the back of the van and my body shut down. For some reason, an intense weariness as if I had survived some extraordinary ordeal overwhelmed me and I didn't even fight it. I fell asleep only waking once at a gas station in Boulder City where we dropped off a few of the passengers. The other clients were still babbling and perusing the cheap plastic trinkets on display as I exited the bathroom. Not having any money and more importantly not caring anymore, I just went back to the van and quickly fell asleep in the back of the van. As evening fell, I was dropped off at Days Inn and for all practical purposes, felt like I had just arrived from Mars.
For not wanting to return to civilization, the hot shower never felt better. I hacked off my beard that I had grown and then walked to a drugstore for a tube of antibiotic and box of Band-Aids so that I could treat my dozens of wounds that had never healed in the arid climate of the canyon floor. I can't imagine what the store clerk had thought seeing me looking like a mugging victim. I intended to write in my journal filling up pages of thoughts but managed only a few sentences due to the sadness of having recently broken up. Instead, I completed my indoctrination back into reality by ordering a pizza and watching the movie "The Matrix" until my weariness returned. My dreams were all of water and torture.
Not wanting to chance meeting any of the other clients that were still around, I passed on the free continental breakfast, checked out and with my duffel bag of gear walked to a hole in the wall restaurant for breakfast. After a long breakfast, I asked the waitress if she could call a cab for me giving her the card of the one that had picked me up at the airport a lifetime ago. When he arrived, I threw my gear in the rear seat and climbed in. As he whisked me to the airport, I couldn't help but think of our first meeting when I had been so full of adventure and bravado. Now I was beaten down and sad. Fortunately for us both, he just drove in silence.
I was a lost person for quite awhile after getting back home. I had anticipated taking a few days off to catch up on errands and other things before returning to my job but in reality, I needed it just to get my emotions back into control. Even then, I felt like such a phony whenever asked about my trip and I role acted the excited adventurer as I told them tales. It had been exciting and it had been an adventure but it had been so much more than that to me. Even now, nine years later, I still occasionally dream of sitting by a campfire sipping cognac and watching that full moon hypnotize me along the river deep in the bottom of that canyon. I still feel those emerald green waters tug at me from a thousand miles away and it is all I can do at times to not leave everything behind to dash toward that siren song.
A month would pass me by before I had the courage to transcribe all the addresses from the back of my journal to a letter that I mailed to all the clients and crew. I think at the time we had written them down back at the camp above Phantom Ranch, we all had visions of reunions and frequent communications back and forth. Perhaps my separation from the canyon had been more complete than others for I never heard a word back except a packet of photos from Jorge about two months later. I mailed a packet of photos back to him and another to Lee, the baggage raft oarsman whom I guess I most admired and enjoyed on the trip. Perhaps six months would go by and Mary, the cook's apprentice, would send me an email and to this day, we still communicate once a year about this and that, mostly about our family, but never about the river or the trip. Of all the people, crew and client alike, I think she probably suffered as much as I did upon her return to reality.
A year and a half later, four planes would end up in the two towers of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania and I would lose my job and my ability to save up unlimited amounts of vacation time and could only take vacations no longer than two weeks. Among those ashes rose a new life centered around a beautiful lady who would become my wife and later a beautiful daughter. My dream of returning to that river to take up where I left off has been sitting on a back burner but is still simmering back there after all these years. The day will come when fate will allow me to return to that river, this time on a trip full of friends and family and not people whom will betray me or I them. Perhaps I will be oaring a dory of my own creation. Perhaps the next time, I will find a way to stay and never return and my blog will grow silent. Let us all hope.