R. Darin Hollingsworth
The Grand Canyon experience is difficult to grasp, particularly without the perspective of having been there. When you try to communicate in words or pictures, neither can really capture the spirit of the place. Since planting my feet back on solid ground I have told so many people that my heart and mind easily drift back to the sights, sounds, smells, memories and friendships of that adventure.
I have said to many that the Canyon is a study in contrasts. The river is powerful and gentle, loud and quiet – rapids and flat-water. There are “white knuckles and three buckles” and on the same raft a few minutes later, a temptation to fall asleep on a side pontoon or in the “tea room” in the middle of the raft. There is the blistering heat of the desert and the cold splash of a rapid or the cool relief in the shadow of the Canyon walls. The rock walls are beautiful with layers and shapes and colors, yet harsh and at times frightening as you traverse them. Side canyons are secluded but wide open, and breath-taking attractions are hidden in the openness. Darkness blankets the interior of the Canyon as night falls but looking up at the rim of the Canyon, the narrow strip of stars or perhaps the moon are brighter than you may ever see anywhere else.
When you experience the trip with a group of strangers there are the contrasts among them as well. There are: singles and couples; familiar and unfamiliar. There is time for aloneness and for wonderful revelry of the collective. There is the contrast from our normal reality of frequently being identified by “what you do,” as opposed to being identified simply by where you like sit in the raft or how adventurous you are on a hike. There is also the replacement of “where do you live” or “who inspires your interior design” with questions about whether you want your bed roll in proximity to the “groover” or the “kitchen” or near the water for the magnificent sound of a rapid and the touch of a cool breeze.
The river guides are another source of distinction. In simplest terms you have the contrast of the Boatman (the professional river guide) and the Swamper (assistant, selected by the Boatman). Another obvious contrast is between the jobs and lifestyle of the passengers and the guides’ spirit for their outdoor work and the life of the Canyon.
Among the things that present less contrast are the friendships inspired by the SHARED experience. Watching raftmates face new challenges and provide affirmation to one another with laughter and lightheartedness creates such an amazing common understanding and familiarity. Having guides who share their hopes and dreams and favorite passages from Canyon-inspired literature fills you with something that you feel both compelled to share and to hold on to tightly, at times almost selfishly.
As you journey down the River, even in the presence of all of these contrasts, you quickly attain commonality with these heart warming guides and your new friends, and any contrasts that may have existed now only serve to punctuate a new kindred spirit that has developed among you.