Friday, February 27, 2009

Day Seventeen: Offloading Before The End Arrives

Saturday, April 22, 2000 - It was clear when I woke in the morning at the bottom of the large oven that is the Grand Canyon in summer time and so it was no surprise that the day would become quite hot. A slight breeze kicked up during the night that literally sucked all available moisture out of me and it continued throughout the day making drinking water a lifesaving event. During breakfast of peach pancakes and fruit, I sensed something was up due to the crew continually whispering to each other off to the side of camp. As we started packing, they told us that Bill, the father of the family of four that arrived yesterday by helicopter, had some sort of heart problem during the night and is cutting his trip short to go to the hospital. Unfortunately, cuttings ones trip short at the bottom of a remote stretch of canyon isn't easy. The crew had called someone who was going to drive forty miles in a four wheel drive truck with a low granny gear down some canyon some miles downstream, the nearest access point of any kind, pick up the family and then drive back up with family riding shotgun in the back. Not very pleasant but the only choice.

We separated their bags out and I helped take down their tent before we pushed off. After Lava falls, the waters just seem tame and even medium sized rapids just felt like ripples. The end of the trip was a burden that was only getting heavier on my mind. We stopped at mile 220 for lunch and did a quick hike up the beach to the high water mark during the 1983 flood of 92,000 cfs. A few of us then walked about a mile up the canyon to explore and kill time before walking back to the boat. It seems wrong to be leisurely taking someone having heart problems to a destination point but we would be waiting on a truck to arrive there so we might as well be waiting here where some scenery was available as there where there wasn't much to see. When we got back to the river from our hike, I was so hot, that I rashly decided to jump in the river. Bad mistake. All heart and breathing functions immediately stopped when I hit the ice cold water that had warmed up to a balmy 50 degrees at this point 220 miles below the dam upstream. I defied all laws of physics as I merely slapped the water and then defied gravity back to shore. Once there, breathing resumed but we would be a couple miles down the river before my heart rate would assume some sort of normal rhythm.

We made it to Diamond Creek around mid afternoon and got the family of four and their gear into the back of the truck. Since they were still strangers to us, there were no tears shed or sense of betrayal but instead cordial handshakes and wishes of good luck. We also took the time to offload a lot of trash and unneeded supplies and picked up some fresh food for the last two nights, our first fresh food since the beginning of the trip. We also picked up some motors for getting across the sewage lagoon called Lake Mead and loaded up one of the dories since it was unneeded now. As a result, we also had to say goodbye to Ote whose husband and owner of the dory company had driven the truck trip down the canyon. It was all I could do to keep my emotions in check as I hugged the lady who expertly oared me through Lava Falls and may or may not have painted me in the nude, goodbye. I would truly miss her.

We pushed off and went around below Diamond Creek Rapid at mile 226 to camp for the night. It was a rocky shore and we had difficulty getting everything tied up so that things wouldn't get beat up on the rocks. After getting camp set up, I had a few beers with the crew until time for a supper of barbeque chicken, broccoli and rice casserole, garlic bread and a fresh salad. After the dishes were done, we sat around the fire telling stores late into the night. Although we have two days left, tomorrow will be the last day in the dories for the clients. As I lay down among the rocks in my sleeping bag, I wished I were dreaming so that when I woke up, we would be just beginning the trip instead of winding down to the end. The crew has started dropping details of how the end will be and as I began to drift off to sleep, I decided how I would like to say goodbye to the river at the end of the trip.

8 comments:

R. Sherman said...

After such an experience, I can only imagine how melancholic you must have felt at the end. It's trite to say that memories last a lifetime, but sometimes that's all we've got, eh?

Cheers.

TC said...

I can easily imagine becoming as much as or more connected to the river as to the people. Sounds like that's what happened to you.

Ed Abbey said...

R. Sherman - My parents once took off four months to ride their bicycles across the United States. When they got home, they were emotional wrecks and it was almost a year before they were back to normal. Perhaps they have never recovered since they have since ridden across the United States three more times. After this trip, I could understand for the first time.

TC - It really was like that. I suppose I might have connected more to the clients had they been my age. I certainly connected with the crew who were closer to my age. Another big factor is that the crew and I thought alike on environmental issues and appreciating a place that is hard to get too and very few people ever see. The clients for the most part were retired wealthy people looking to cross off a place on their list of exploits that they would compare with other wealthy people.

TC said...

Ah, that would be tough for me to swallow too. The canyon is way more than just a place on a list in my world.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Can you imagine having Ote's job? Can one get jaded having an occupation like that? I would think not.

Ed Abbey said...

Phil - I think most of the crew lived for the times when someone like me would come along, listen and truly understand what they were trying to say and do. But in general, I think by the time they got to Ote's age, they were pretty calloused.

Beau said...

Endings such as that are always hard for me, especially the ones you enjoy so much. For all that you invested of yourself in the experience, I'm sure it was a journey of growth that continued well after the trip itself. And I like to think of how we can make life a journey and adventure in itself-

The Real Mother Hen said...

Saying goodbye is usually hard.

I'm very sure that someday soon you will be doing the trip again, this time with Mrs and Little Abbey.