Balance


   I have nothing to wear on my feet but an old pair of boots in which I cannot climb the mountains and which are my only reliance for portages. On the boat and much of the time in camp I go bare-foot but I have a pair of moccasins to slip on when the rocks are bad or the sand is too hot. I have given away my clothing until I am reduced to the same condition of those who lost by the shipwreck of our boats. I cannot see a man of the party more destitute than I am. Thank God the trip is nearly ended for it is no place for a man in my circumstances but it will let me out of the Army, and for that I would almost agree to explore the river Styx…

   Our camp… is filthy with dust and alive with insects. If this is a specimen of Arrazona a very little of it will do for me. The men are uneasy and discontented and anxious to move on. If the Major does not do something soon I fear the consequences, but he is contented and seems to think that biscuit made of sour and musty flour and a few dried apples is ample to sustain a laboring man. If he can only study geology he will be happy without food or shelter but the rest of us are not afflicted with it to an alarming extent.


   Thus wrote George Bradley at the mouth of the Little Colorado River in August of 1869. There is no mention of the sublime beauty of the Canyon. Bradley’s was more a feeling of growing desperation in the most hostile of surroundings. The magical Canyon experience was lost in the race for survival.

  It truly was the trip of a lifetime. From the comfortable bus ride to the river to the exhilaration of the helicopter ride out, it was all we expected and much more. The food was unbelievable! Who would have guessed we would be gorging (no pun intended) ourselves on chicken cordon bleu in the wilderness! The sleeping arrangements, what with the thick pads and individual tents, were most comforting. And your guides deserve an extra commendation for their skill and courteousness. Their humor kept us entertained from dawn till dusk.

   Again, it was the trip of a lifetime. A hearty thanks from our whole family.

Edna Winston, August 1993

   No mention of the Canyon experience from Mrs. Winston either. Where did she go, anyhow?

   Perhaps in our attempts to lessen the hardships of Powell’s day we have thrown the baby out with the bathwater. In our well meaning endeavor to cushion the wilderness we have begun to bring the very things with us that we went on the river to escape. We have begun to insulate people so thoroughly from the experience that they no longer know where they are.

   Last spring I watched two young ladies during the course of a trip. Each night they would spend close to an hour setting up their tents and arranging the sleeping gear inside it. Then they would crawl inside and remain there until hors d’hourves were served. You cannot see Grand Canyon from inside a tent. It wasn’t raining. I’m not kidding.

   An extreme case, I admit, but it was all company gear, that we supplied them with, that had become their Canyon experience. We as an industry seem to be in the position of either supplying or recommending ever more high tech gear to our clients. Why? Because it’s there, it’s all the rage and we don’t want to seem behind the times. Have you looked at a Recreational Equipment catalog lately? Everything is designer line. The BMW-and-Perrier crowd has taken over the outdoor experience.

   The question is whether we, so called purveyors of “the best possible river experience,” want to buy into this mentality. This humble boatman’s opinion is, hell no! We don’t! “The best possible insulation from the river experience” is not a valid reason to be in Grand Canyon.

   Now I’m not saying that we should go back to wet tattered blankets and moldy flour. I’m just looking for a balance between the extremes, comfort without loss of contact, feeding without fattening, facilitating the Canyon experience rather than competing with it. Consider a few questions.

   Does it make for a better trip if everyone sets up an individual tent? Did the old plan of having a big group tarp actually make for a more meaningful, if less comfortable, experience on the rare night that it actually rains?

   Should the crew spend three hours cooking a gourmet feast or one hour cooking good food and two hours hiking somewhere with the folks?

   Should passengers’ prime concern be dealing with all the material comfort items that they or we have brought along? Should they spend the rest of their waking hours expecting to be entertained? Or should they be encouraged to spend more time exploring, savoring and pondering?

   Should we hold people’s hands full time whether they want it or not? Or should we encourage them to push themselves a bit, discover more of themselves, and have guides there to help if they really need or want it?

   Should we set up that abominable potty tent every night or should we encourage people to savor one of the great joys of life, taking a dump in the great outdoors?

   Most of these questions don’t have a black and white answer. Many of them are not up to us but are dictated by company policy. But the bottom line is that the character of a trip is determined by the way we present it, and company policy doesn’t change unless we push for it.

   Let’s put Grand Canyon back, first and foremost, in the Grand Canyon river trip.

Brad Dimock