By Angela L. Keith
I am underwater. Two seconds ago, I was in a bright red paddle raft entering Fossil Rapid on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon. Now I’m underwater, hearing muffled current and crashing waves. I’m under the boat. Then I’m not. I’m back underwater, sucked down for what seems like minutes. The boat is next to me, and I hang on.
Two people on top of the upturned boat scutter across to pull me on. As they help me onto the raft, my drenched river shorts slip down my legs. Moon crisis averted. My brain rushes through adrenaline, fear, excitement, and activity.
Three of the seven passengers are now on top of the raft, running Fossil Rapid, one of the longest in the canyon. Though it is a different — even exhilarating — experience running a rapid on top versus in a boat, at that time, I’m not sure I would have recommended the experience to anyone. I was a little (a lot) anxious about topsy-turvy river action, and here we were, flipped by a lateral wave at the top of Fossil.
This was not an experience I wanted to have. I was still getting my river legs on my first trip coordinating for Grand Canyon Youth and trying to decide if GCY was for me. River trips weren’t my comfort zone back then. I was learning they can be hard on the body, everything I knew about camping at that time didn’t quite work on the river, plants were spiny, and rocks were sharp. I was also learning how powerful a river trip experience can be, what being out of your comfort zone truly meant and how it can lead to insight and personal growth.
Since then, I have been a diligent volunteer for GCY. I’ve coordinated 15 or 16 trips. I am a member of the Board of Directors, and they have even entrusted me with my own little blue baggage boat on some San Juan trips. Every trip came with unexpected moments: a flipped oar raft in Hermit, hiking into a trip exchange where everyone on the upper half suffered from the Norovirus, helping the National Park Service rescue a commercial trip stuck on the rock garden in Crystal, dealing with significant sunburn, managing homesick youth, slicing the very tip of a finger off while helping with dinner, navigating group dynamics in an environment outside comfort zones, hurricane storms blasting down river in Grand Canyon, the “W” blaring up canyon bringing oar rafts to a halt, fears of water and heights… the list goes on.
There were the moments of awe when a youth saw the Grand Canyon for the first time; the crystal blue of the Little Colorado; then visiting again and again seeing the water gray, brown, or white; new friendships forming within moments; water fights; costume parties; watching individuals defeat their fears; exceptionally stupid, hot hikes to amazing places only a fraction of the population gets to see in person; live music while floating; waking up to the sounds of the river, ultimate frisbee in Redwall Cavern; having the honor of watching the youth I had on GCY trips grow up and mature to become stellar individuals, sometimes even working or guiding for GCY, becoming your trip leader, giving back… again, that list goes on.
It’s an amazing metaphor for our current state of affairs. My assumption is that if you are reading this blog, you are aware of GCY’s decision to cancel the 2020 season. I’m also assuming you have had it up to the gills in people telling you how a pandemic has changed or canceled life as we know it. I’m not really here to be a broken record, or use the river metaphor for our current state of affairs (though I would argue we are currently in the Land of the Giants in Hance Rapid or heading for the cheese grater rock in Lava).
My true point is to remember: to remember GCY on the other side of this, how the organization changes lives, provides priceless experiences, creates community, honors our natural world, and just offers a plain old good time. GCY is going to need us more than ever. And, in all reality, we might need a little GCY right now more than ever.