Yesterday was the biggest whitewater day on the Grand. I woke up feeling as if my bowels had turned to butter. 21 miles, 4 of the biggest rapids on the Grand: Horn Creek, Granite, Hermit and Crystal. My morning began with tangible dread. I couldn’t leave my sleeping bag, though I had to pee like hell. The first wiggle out of my sleeping bag meant one wiggle closer to getting in Tank, my raft. Which was one wiggle closer to the quadruplet of rapids that loomed, crashed and thundered somewhere downstream. However life on the river demands constant progress meaning I literally had no time to allow fear to paralyze me. So slowly, as if animated by a force greater and braver than myself, I struggled to get free from my sleeping bag and pack up my campsite: the army issue poncho I use for my ground tarp, bed pad, clothes—all into my giant yellow dry bag.
My friends rose from slumber around me, greeting the cool morning with grunts, yawns and half open eyes. The morning light doused the canyon walls flanking the river in pinks, browns, greens, and golds making the brown river glisten and glow. Numbly, my body continued through the morning routine of breakfast, dishes, group pack up, spiritual prep and boat loading. I barely uttered a noise all morning, my tongue heavy with worry, but the incessant carousel of concern inside my head was working itself into a frothing frenzy: “The rapids…..the rapids….the rapids….” I clambered onto Tank with my crew, taking my place for that day in a rear seat as co-captain. As I sat there, gazing glassy-eyed downstream, it felt like a boa was giving violent, angry birth in my stomach.
As we began down the river, my commitment to quash the fear gnawing voraciously at my innards grew. The river did not care that I had come this far. The river did not care that I was terrified. The river would keep doing its thing without concern, hesitation or flip-flopping. And it would demand me to do the same. The moment of decision, the moment I had to decide to be intimidated by fear or not, arrived when I sighted the rapid Horn Creek ahead of our boat—an 8 out of 10 that day on the Grand Canyon scale of rapid difficulty. My sluggishly accumulating chutzpah was forced to crystallize as the current bubbled merrily toward a gargantuan wave train called Land of the Giants. The line we were going to run. My decision to proceed was made for me. My only task was to choose the mentality I wished to proceed with.
Allowing the fear to be usurped, I placed my trust in a power higher than myself and felt the fear run off of me like water off a duck. Instantaneously, I felt present with my crew, the rapid, the river, the day, and rode and paddled with genuine joy and freedom.