Pre Canyon Day 1: Leaving Home
So, I woke up late, but then maybe I should have actually set my alarm. Fail. I also should have gone to bed at a decent hour, but when your hot fiancé is ready for some sexy time before you leave for ten days, well, use your imagination. Cursing myself while getting ready, I was sure I was going to miss my 7:40 am flight. The time was 6:45 am when I called the cab company and it was 6:52 am when they showed up (in Key West that’s an eternity). I was sure they wouldn’t let me check in and I couldn’t get on the plane and I would not only let everyone on the trip down, but also myself. I have traveled countless times in my life, but going to a place with no connection to the outside world; A place with no cell phones, showers, bathrooms, chargers, I-pods, Apple TV, or Netflix. A place where, once you are in there is only one way out and that’s at the end of a 278 mile stretch of the Colorado River. Will I be a Katness Everdeen or will I be more like Effie. God, I hope I’m Katness. Though I already feel my wig going flat and my gold eye shadow beginning to fade. My flight woes were my own fault, but with minutes to spare, I checked in, breezed through security, and arrived in just enough time to grab a coffee and a nosh. Katness 1: Effie 0. Vegas here I come.
I’ve been to Vegas on more than one occasion. Always with a group and never sober. Being chosen to be the host for the HE Travel Gay Grand Canyon Rafting Adventure tour, I felt the need to be responsible and seeing as it’s never fun to drink alone, I took a nap. Just before dozing off I put my feelers out on Facebook. “Ok, so I have one night to go out on the town in Vegas. I have no idea what to do or where to go. If anyone has any suggestions, I’m all ears.” A short nap later I have not only received a million suggestions of amazing shows to see that night, but find out that a friend is celebrating his birthday in town as well. I decide, by popular demand, that Le Reve at the Wynn is the show I’m going to see and that my friend Ben and his mom will meet for a buffet dinner and drinks. So I find myself again in a group and heading in the not sober direction. I’m not sure how many of you out there have done a Vegas Buffet, but I’ve now done two in my life. After this second time I’ve decided that they aren’t worth the money. You wait in a cafeteria style line, pay an absorbent amount of money, get the all you can drink booze add on only to discover that it actually is a glorified cafeteria and you can’t drink enough because you can’t get the waiter in time to pour you another before you have to get to your show. I don’t say this to complain, but to warn other consumers. It’s worth trying once if you aren’t a foodie, at least you can say you did it, but shame on you if they fool you twice. The company was the saving grace as well as the pizza and pasta station. After saying goodbye to my dinner dates I entered the Wynn’s aqua theater-in-the-round. Of course I purchased a healthy size plastic cup of wine before the show started and then took my seat.
The theater was stunning. Above the round stage, lights undulate across a purple and gold canopy; while below a cool blue fog undulates masking a stage to be revealed. The lights change, an announcement is made and the show begins. All seems happy and light as our two main characters arrive for a short prelude. A woman’s voice sings a soft melody and asks a question just before the heroine is launched into a dream state of visual wonder and amazement, that I’m not at all concerned some of the scenes don’t seem to match with the opening sequence. The music shifts and the acrobatic feats begin. To say that I enjoyed fit, wet, men half naked performing spectacular stunts would be an understatement. The colors, the lights, the music and the costumes entertained me the entire time. I couldn’t put my phone down at all. I wanted to capture every moment of this show. You could say that I would recommend this show to any and every one when they are in Vegas. Created by Franco Dragone – the mind behind O, Mystère and La Nouba — this is the quintessential Las Vegas show. Tickets were reasonably priced and there didn’t seem to be a bad seat in the house. Going with a lover is definitely recommended. Everyone in the line for the cabs after were very cozy. Angelic acrobats, water and light filled my dreams that night.
Pre-Canyon Day 2:
Orientation day; time to make a good impression. Throughout the day the group trickled in. Each one taking their own different adventures. The hotel staff was well versed in Grand Canyon river rafting trips and they had already made sure that all the guys had a welcome letter with my name, phone number, room number plus the time and place for the orientation. At 6pm I was standing in front of a very engaged group of men ready for action and I jumped in. I had been prepped for this, I introduced myself and had them do the standard what’s my name, where am I from and why am I going on this trip. The guys seemed very excited and asked lots of questions and hung on my every word (well, at least I hope they did). I told them about tipping the boatman and the swamper, that it’s best not to wear cotton anything, especially underwear as it may cause an uncomfortable itch, and that because it was my first trip everyone should hold all canyon specific questions until our meeting with the GCEC (Grand Canyon Expeditions Company) orientation that would follow at 8pm sharp. Once we were done we enjoyed pizza and salad while getting to know each other even better. It was good to see the guys started to mingle and enjoy each other’s company so early on. The second meeting went off without a hitch. People purchased any last minute items they might need for the canyon. I myself bought a rain suit. Spend the money on a rain suit. You will get wet. This is also where we got our ammo cans and wet bags. Once the meeting ended everyone went back to their rooms to try and fit everything they needed into the items given to us at the meeting. Tonight is an early night; we leave at 5 am for a place called Lee’s Ferry.
Pre- canyon river arrival Day 3:
I wanted to be the first one downstairs so I could make sure the group was okay and take care of, so I had set my alarm for 3:40 am. I got up on time, packed the remaining items for my trip and realized, “this is my last day of modern comfort for SEVEN days.” So instead of going down right away, as I planned, I took an extra-long HOT shower. I silently thanked the water as it passed over my body and imagined how in the world I could live without it. I toweled off with a fresh white towel and enjoyed its bleach scent for once knowing that every day that passes will mean less fresh scents. I could see the Effie score rising. Frosted flakes and coffee at the hotel and a toasted bagel for the bus. It’s all I could really muster. Breakfast was basic and seemed to move slow, but when they made the five minute call I felt myself panic. In my head I rushed through the process, “spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch.” A saying my friend Jeff says every time he leaves in a hurry. He would be happy I brought some part of him on this trip.
Five hours. That’s how long the bus ride is to Lee’s Ferry. It’s interesting that it takes seven days just to get back. I wonder what the quickest way is. I should remember to ask the guide. The bus is quiet this early. The other tour who’s not a part of our group is mostly asleep and so is most of ours. I could sleep, but I don’t want to miss out on something. What that is, I’m not sure; since the only thing surrounding the bus is dessert and mountains in the distance. As the sun rises in the distance ahead of us I say a little prayer while writing in my journal. Life is a truly amazing adventure; don’t forget to breath and relax and slow the moments down. The coffee’s power begins to fade as I enjoy gazing out at the world. Sleep creeps up to my eyes like the cool mist of the ocean air of my home town. As I begin to slip further a small voice whispers to me, “When you wake up in the morning, Pooh, what’s the first thing you say to yourself?” “What’s for breakfast? What do you say Piglet?” “I say, ‘I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today.”
We make two stops on the way to Lee’s Ferry. One is more of a stretch your legs and grab a cheese burger kind of a stop, but the second one is at Jacobs Lake. At this point we’re in the middle of the woods on a mountain. The GCEC liaison tells us that the cookies here are amazing. Everyone gets them, but me. Mistake. However, I enjoy looking at the handmade jewelry and other Native American made items around the store. Being there reminded me of my child hood. The registers were about 15 years old and there weren’t televisions everywhere and cell service was non-existent. Those things mixed with the cool, crisp, mountain air just brought me back to a time where things were simpler and I could feel myself begin to relax. We piled into the bus and made one more stop, which was to pick up our guide, Adam. At first glance Adam looked like a long haired, gruff, 6’7”, 250 lbs., mountain man. A giant you wouldn’t want to mess with. All the stereotypes that rush into your mind when meeting someone new flood through. “Focus on getting to know this man” is all I could think to get past the exterior. Little did I know what role this giant would play in my life.
Once we arrived at Lee’s Ferry our two groups divided, brought all our bags out and found our boats. Adam prepped us on how we would load the boat. If you don’t know what a zipper line is, learn. It makes moving a lot of stuff fast and efficient. Once the boat was packed, we boarded and started down the great Colorado River. In the distance a storm front moved in and just before we made our first stop on the river for lunch, it started to rain. The first few hours after lunch were a bit cold and wet, but from the storm, not the river. I prayed that this wouldn’t be the whole trip, but I rolled with it. No one controls the weather and I wasn’t about to let a little fall of rain hurt me now (yes, that was a Les Mis reference. I’m gay. Musicals come up). We arrived at our camp, set up and paired off for tent mates. Most everyone was capable of putting up the tents and getting their mini camps all set up. I met up with Adam to discuss our plan going forward. He offered me a shot of Jameson. Now, I’m not a huge whiskey drinker to begin with and I almost choked on the shot he gave me, but this is how straight men bond and gauge how much of a man you are. Thankfully I managed to pass the test and we began the first of what would become a nightly tradition. I almost forgot to mention that at the beginning of our rafting we met our swamper, Vaden. Imagine Adam 20 year’s younger, short hair, 5’5”, and 150lbs. A mountain man in his infancy. While Vaden and Adam prepped dinner, I got the bar sorted out. The guys, already seemed so comfortable with each other that it was hard to believe that they had only met 24 hours prior. After dinner most of the group headed to bed. It had been a long day and once the night crept up on us, sleep seemed unavoidable. So far Effie hasn’t reared her over stylized head and I relax into my sleeping bag and dream of adventures to come.
Canyon Day 1:
Today was amazing! Rock formations towering above and all around. I felt like I was in an episode of Game of Thrones. Every formation seemed to take the shape of a palace made of rock. It was a patchy day of rain and sun. The rapids were very cold, and I was thankful to have my rain suit. I decided on this day that I will continue to thank my rain suit. We stopped for lunch at the Red Wall today. At first glance it just looked like another giant canyon wall, but once we arrive at the mouth of the cave I could see it was so much more. We docked the boat and piled onto the beach and began to explore the enormous cavern that lay ahead of us. It seemed to swallow the group whole, each person making sure they got their picture taken in some way or another. It was amazing to be under the weight of this massive rock wall and not be crushed. This was a great spot for lunch, not just for the site, but for the shelter from the rain. This was a highlight of the day, the rest of which was mostly cold ending in more cold.
On the raft I took a vote and it was decided that tonight would be margarita night. A lot of the guys really came out a bit more, even Adam joined in with the group and shared a really personal moment. Turns out his father had been gay and died a few years after coming out to AIDS near the beginning of the epidemic. Adam expressed that he felt a closer understanding of who his father was by being able to share this time with us. Adam became family tonight and to celebrate we made a camp fire, which apparently isn’t allowed in the summer unless you bring your own wood (insert obvious gay joke), but the wood had already been gathered. Vaden also brought out his guitar and harmonica. I don’t know where that kid had been hiding these things, but the level of our experience went up tenfold. It was a big highlight of the night as was the cake we made to celebrate a few of the guys who had anniversaries on the trip. 20 years is a long time and I couldn’t help, but think about spending more time with my fiancé when I got back home and how excited I would be to bring him to the canyon someday.