Swimming the Grand Canyon
When Whalen said nonchalantly, “coming up next is one of the rapids you can swim,” I thought, “you can choose to swim in the rapids?” That never even crossed my mind before; I had been doing everything I could to stay in the raft and not swim. Before I could decide if it was sane, Helen responded “I’m in!” So in solidarity, I followed with my own ‘In!” And eventually everyone in the boat volunteered – We were basically all abandoning ship on Whalen!
Luckily, he didn’t take it personally and mentioned it was a good idea early in the trip to voluntarily learn to swim a rapid, a ‘training swim’, just in case you involuntarily got ejected from the boat later in the trip. He gave us some tips on how to breathe in the whitewater; which didn’t totally make sense to me.
Too late! The whole boat jumped in and floated swiftly downriver; a bunch of heads bobbing like corks as we drifted steadily towards the rapid. You don’t really swim, it’s more about treading water and keeping your head high and facing downstream.
I gained speed and hit the first wave head-on, and went straight through the middle of it. I was stunned, gasping for air, flailing my arms. This was totally full-on – I asked myself… Is this supposed to be fun?!
Then I remembered the advice The River Buddha had given us and quickly gulped a big breath before I hit the next wave. This worked much better as I started to get into the rhythm of the water. I tumbled through the rest of the rapid with a big grin on my face; Wait! This IS fun!
Before I knew it, I was at the bottom and was hauled unceremoniously onto a different raft. There were people scattered all over the river, and we worked together to pull some other crew mates on board.
I finally spotted Helen. She had been swept over near the rocks, close to another raft who hadn’t seen her; she was having a harder time. She adeptly kicked off the rock wall bank and latched onto the back of the raft before it pinned her. She clinged on for a ride until they were able to get her in. She had apparently lost a contact lens and she is completely blind without them; so thankfully she was only half-blind!
Now we were still missing one from our raft. We maneuvered across the river and plucked our final crew-member who was trapped in an eddy upstream and finally we were all back on board together, soaked yet exhilarated.
Whalen mentioned there would be more chances to swim other rapids later in the trip; I’d have to think on that. It didn’t take too long. Despite the fact I had just drunk a gallon of the Colorado River; Obviously, I was in.