Monday, December 12, 2011

The Simple Life... Grand Canyon Self Support

Carpooling to Lees Ferry (the put in) my mind was racing; "Do I have everything I need? Will my body agree with paddling 20-30 miles a day? Do I have the mental and physical strength to paddle 280 miles to Lake Mead?" Eight hours later, I realized that all my thoughts would become reality in less than 24 hours. No more questions, time to enjoy the trip and stop planning.

Back in September I hurt my shoulder flying off my mountain bike, so I was a little nervous about my shoulder's strength. I, however, kept in shape by running, pilates, and lots of bodywork on my shoulder. The river was running 20,000 cfs so I knew I could always just go with the flow and use the water to get me down. Luckily my intuition was right, and my body felt strong as soon as I put my paddle in the Colorado River.
The weather was absolutely perfect; 60 degrees and sunny. I almost felt overdressed in my Kokatat dry-suit with built-in booties over my fleece outfit, but as soon as we hit the first rapid, Badger Creek, I was happy that I had a sweet Gortex suit dry-suit protecting me from the cold big water. I was glad to have a pee zipper on the back. My first Grand trip I had no relief zipper, and it became a 20-minute adventure of taking off the dry-suit. A back relief zipper takes less than one minute.

Full of anticipation on what the Grand was going to offer us, we stopped at mile 17 to camp. The days in November are short, so I scrambled to find that perfect spot for the tent. Opening the dry bags for the 1st night is somewhat nerve racking. The question, "Do I have everything?" popped into my head. I started setting up my tent, sleeping stuff, and pulled out dinner supplies. Yes, I remembered everything, at least I thought. Having a big group is always a pro to a self-support trip, because there is an option to trade supplies and food. The freedom of kayaking or hiking when and where you want is grand, however supporting others in the group is priority in having a successful trip.
Having a group that you can trust is key; looking out for others paddling is important on a long self-support trip. At times the rapids actually felt easier than the big boil lines that like to pull the stern into the vortex of the tornado-looking water. Staying healthy and strong is also huge in paddling 20-30 miles a day. I have come to realize after 10 years of paddling, that most kayakers are humble and trust worthy people. I was happy that the group of gals and men on this trip were amazing people. Having 5 other gals to talk to about our past paddling adventures gave us an instant bond.

As the days passed by, the routine of getting up, pooing, making breakfast, packing up the kayak (takes about 20 min), and paddling another 20 miles to a badass hike or camp became a zen-like experience. The simplicity of a self-support trip made me fall in to rhythm of what my ancestors may have experienced. No cell phone, no drama, no deadlines, just pure living. I started to notice the rocks, the walls, the animals living in a complete present time. Looking at the stars between high canyon walls, with absolutely complete quietness made my mind silent for the first time.
The night before Lava, the group brought out many drinks to share, we had treasure hunts stashed for our group so we never ran out of merry drinks, and water. Whenever, I ran out of water I simply purified the water from the Colorado, and so far I feel great. On chilly nights, I put the boiled (purified) water in a nalgene in my sleeping bag for instant warmth. In the morning the water was cool enough to drink. Hydration is key to stay healthy and strong.
The next day we started paddling downstream to the well-known rapid, Lava at mile 180. Having 3 people in the group who have paddled the Grand before, brought old stories back from this rapid. Yet at the same time, the past seemed like a fuzzy dream. Most of the group skirted the left, and a few went right. We had one swimmer, and she kept her paddle, and boat together. She, stayed warm wearing a dry-suit, and the river's power humbled our souls. we paddled a few more miles and came upon a rafting group hanging out on a sunny beach. They were about to have some bootie beers (an old boater tradition, if you swim you must drink a beer from a bootie), we decided to join them. Our group of kayakers and rafters enjoyed cold drinks for at least an hour together.
The next few days, blew by. The rhythm of packing, and unpacking our kayaks became effortless as space opened up in our boats. I realized, after the 9th day that I over-packed food, since I still had a full dry bag of dehydrated beans and rice. The only things I finally realized I forgot were tortillas and socks. I traded gorp for tortillas, and luckily my good friend Lana, let me use a fresh pair of socks for a long hike.

I also figured out the easiest way to pack my boat. Here is a quick rundown...
Put the big yellow dry bag in the front (sleeping bag and thermo rest), shove canned chicken, purifier, and pan behind the foot pegs.
-Put groover in next and press with all my strength against the other dry bag to fit my water bottle in.
-Pack the back crevasses with fuel, canned food, and sandals.
-Put tent and poles into the back hatch area, along with 4 other small dry bags. Press hatch down with full strength.
-Put plastic box with day supplies in the back of the seat as well as, two other small dry bags that contain day supplies (food, hiking shoes, camera, sunglasses, first aid kit, and hair conditioner that I applied daily before paddling).
-That's it, takes about 15-20 minutes and a cup of coffee to load about 80 pounds of gear.
The last 2 days we had 40 miles of flat water, I was excited to see the Lower Granite Gorge past Diamond Creek. The rapids that started off the canyon, were beautiful and long. As soon as we hit the flat water, we realized the impact of Lake Mead: 10 foot silt banks, lined the river walls, and rapids disappeared. Looking for the last campsite became and adventure due to rain and no available campsites. I learned patience is a true virtue. We luckily found a campsite that sat upon about a 20-foot bank. We pulled each kayak up with a 75-foot rope, and it became a team effort that made us appreciate each day we had a perfect campsite and sunny skies.

Finishing off most of the drinks and food that night, we all had a feeling of true accomplishment.

A week later, I look back at this trip and, ask myself, What is the purpose of a self-support kayaking trip? I realize that my life can be claustrophobically filled with drama, cell phones, computers, TV, and Americanized material things. The irony of feeling opportunity and openness in between the deep narrowness of the Grand Canyon walls answered my question.
The answer is...Simplicity of life brings true joy of survival.

Cheers-Lisa Marie

*If this is goal of yours, to self-support kayak down your favorite river, go do it. Plan, save, and achieve. It's well worth all the effort. I suggest starting with 2 days down your favorite river with a loaded boat. Then check out new rivers for extended days. Protect, share and enjoy! :)