Friday, February 24, 2017

Day Nineteen: Mourning

There was only about an hour of light left when we shoved off and much of that was spent adjusting ropes and rigging as we floated along. We puttered along as the light faded mostly lost in our thoughts. I tried to feel some regret of having ditched my fellow clients now probably in their tents back in camp but couldn't. I was leaving in my own way to mourn the end of the trip and what had become a life changing experience. For that I couldn't apologize. When darkness enshrouded us and we could no longer safely travel even with the light of a flashlight, we anchored on a sandbar, I crawled into my sleeping bag and dozed off to the gentle rocking of the boat.

A nearly full moon arose and all too soon, a voice said, "it's time." I crawled out of my warm cocoon, untied the rope and pushed us once again into the current. We had made good time so we drifted for a while and sipped some warming whiskey. The canyon walls were getting lower to the surface of the water the nearer we approached the lake proper and as any group when around the dead, in this case a once free running Colorado River, we talked in hushed tones. There were long periods of comfortable silence and that was all right because we were all men of the same cloth. Words need not be spoken to be understood. After an hour, we started the motor again, retreated back into our minds for silent meditation and motored through the night watching the canyon walls recede into the murky depths.

The moon shining on the walls of a canyon is perhaps one of the most beautiful sights to behold. The canyon then gathers it, molds it, and shines it down upon me, an insignificant being passing through, blinding me. Twenty days ago, I had set upon a vacation of adventure and for a few days on the river, even believed it. But something inside me changed and I knew it had done so in a fundamental way where there was no going back. I first realized it at Phantom Ranch, then again at the helicopter pad along the river and at Separation Canyon. I didn't want to go back. I wanted nothing more than to be frozen in this place and spend my life running this river over and over. Eternity would never seem so sweet.

As the moon set over the rim and false dawn soon began to take over, I was chilled to the bone partly because the effects of the whiskey were wearing off. I was saddened at the thought of what was now behind me. I wanted to just roll over the side and let what was left of the Colorado river consume me. But dawn's light brightened and chased away my demons and the chills that had entered our bodies like a thief in the night. Soon the world was illuminated and I was feeling more at peace with my fate though I still was visually appalled. The cliffs that had been thousands of feet high were now no more than one hundred feet. Their walls were stained with a bathtub like ring of scum deposited by the lake during one of its higher cycles. The emerald green water we had floated on all week was a stagnate dark blue covered in a slimy scum of motor oil, Styrofoam floated everywhere along with other assorted trash that people had thoughtfully left behind for us to enjoy. I fervently wished I could collect it all, track them down and dump it on their lawn among other things that bordered into the land of the illegal.

We crossed the remainder of the lake in silence, like driving through the scene of a major battle only minutes completed and casualties strewn. When we arrived at the takeout, I carried my gear off to one side out of the way and began helping them unlash the raft flotilla of boats and carry the gear ashore. As the last boat was being stowed onto a waiting trailer, a loud nasally whine from somewhere out on the lake snuck into hearing range and soon into the visual range. A sleek jet boat pulled up and disgorged the rest of the passengers on the shore excitedly babbling about how fast the trip across the lake was. They asked me if anything had happened during the night as we slowly motored across and I told them what they would have perceived, that nothing had. The truth was that yes something had happened during the night. I had said goodbye to the canyon that I had fallen in love with and then left her behind.


sage said...

The ending of journeys are always sad. When are you going to go back into the canyon? You need to hike it, to enjoy each layer as you descend into the inferno and then pant as you climb out. I enjoyed rereading your stories of an incredible trip.

Ed said...

Sage - I have one more post on that subject (and an answer to your question) that I will try to get posted next week. I have hiked partway down and up before I took this trip and numerous times during the trip I hiked more than half way up from the bottom and back down again. I might consider a through hike in my future if I can avoid Phantom Ranch, the donkeys and the hordes of people.

Kelly said...

Perhaps premature to says this, since you told Sage you still have one more post... but I've really enjoyed this series. I hope it's been positive for you, too, and not too bittersweet.

Ed said...

Kelly - I actually have two posts left. This is the third time I've posted this series and each time, it has aged a little bit better... like a fine wine. I can still close my eyes and go back in time though I have forgotten most of the names, but I'm okay with that.

Pumpkin Delight (Kimberly) said...

It's been fun to be on this journey with you.