Thursday, July 29, 2010

Grand Canyon, preparation, driving, Day 1 and 2

June 21:

I’m starting my drive to Flagstaff Arizona at 8:30am, and I’m extremely exhausted. I think the stuff is finally catching up to me. Here is the timeline of my previous three weeks.

May 28: After paddling the Nantahala, I get a call from National Parks Service and informed me that I have a chance to accept a small group Grand Canyon permit that launches on June 25th. After deliberating with Jade for an hour while driving toward Ocoee, we call NPS back and accept the permit and hoping we can put this trip together in unimaginable short amount of time.

May 30: Hurt my left shoulder on the Upper Ocoee. Now worried about the Chattooga race next weekend and the Grand Canyon trip less than a month away.

May 31 – June 4: Desperately calling and emailing everyone we know to find out who can go with us and really desperate to find people that know how to row rafts. By June 4th, we have a group of eight and an outfitter that can supply us with gear and organize our food for the Grand Canyon trip.

June 5: Run with the Galloway group in the morning, then Jade and I drive to Cherry Creek campground in SC for my 50K. We camp 50 yards from the startling line. The van is too hot for Enzo to sleep so we end up losing a few hours of sleep trying to cool him down.

June 6: I successfully ran the longest race of my life in 8 hours and 47 minutes. Then driving out of the mountains and finally getting cell phone signal, I get the message that my grandma has passed away on the day before, two days before my flight into Beijing. We stopped over an hour at a parking lot super sad then finally getting home at 11pm. I finish packing my trip at 12:30 am.

June 7: We get up at 4am and Jade drives me to the airport at 5am for my 7am flight. I’m lucky that nothing is delayed but I still do four hours of layover in Toronto and another four hours in Tokyo. I get to Beijing at 10pm on June 8th and my dad picks me up and we get to the apartment at 11:30pm. Finally in bed at 12:30am which is around noon at home.

June 9: My grandma’s funeral and meeting pesky family members that I haven’t seen in 25 years.

June 10 – June 16: I sleep no more than 5 hours a day, my family is a mess with a lot people not happy with each other over various issues. I manage to squeeze three runs in the mornings. The only exception to annoying families is my cousin who I grew up with, she’s due with her first baby in a month and I spent two days with her and her husband hanging out and catching up.

June 17: I catch a minor cold the day I fly out. Flight took off at 6pm and arrives at home around 11pm the same day in Raleigh.

June 19: Still haven’t figured out how to sleep more than 4 to 5 hours a day, I do a 10 mile run with the Galloway group at 7am and nearly dies.

June 20: spent all day packing and preparing for the Grand Canyon trip.

So that’s how I end up super exhausted on Monday morning, June 21, driving by myself on I-40 heading west. I stop in Hickory to meet up with Chris and get Chris and Bridget's gear and boats in the van, then another hour later I stop at Joe’s dad’s house in Asheville to pick Joe up. He sees how I look and offers to drive the next shift, and I gladly accept. A few hours later we stop in Knoxville and pick up Caleb who I have not met until now. His wife Ashley has been on a canyon trip before but it’ll be Caleb’s first time. Caleb offers to drive the next shift and I crawl in the back of the van and take a nap.

I woke up still in TN, and drive the next shift into Arkansas. Then it’s back to the bed for another long nap while Joe and Caleb continue across the middle of the country following the Beaver Express truck.

June 22:

My third shift is from western Oklahoma through the Texas panhandle. I pass the 72oz free steak place in Amarillo and was tempted to stop and let Joe have a shot at it. But he’s snoring and drooling on my pillow in the back, so I pass Amarillo and continue almost to New Mexico border. Nap time again. They wake me up just shy of AZ border and I drive the final 160 miles to Flagstaff. We already have reservations at Days inn for June 23, so we try to haggle with them for a cheap room tonight but couldn’t get them to drop the price, but are successful in getting a cheap room at Motel 6. Found a delicious Thai restaurant in downtown. Back at Motel 6, Joe and Caleb walks across the street to Wal-Mart and secure a bottle of rum and some coke. We attempt to watch the required NPS video on Joe’s laptop but one rum and coke was all I need to crash.

June 23:

Waking up at 5:30am, it’s already 8:30 back in Raleigh and who knows what time in China. My body is completely out of sync with every time zone in the world. I go for a run but find it hard to breathe at 7000ft elevation, so the run was cut short at 5 miles. Back at Motel 6, we head over to IHOP and treat ourselves with a huge breakfast. Then it’s time to shop for the last bit of provisions. An hour later, we have 14 cases of beer, two bottles of rum and two boxes of wine in the van.

The personal gear list provided by Professional River Outfitters (PRO) listed edible body paint. We are a bit puzzled by this item. The Wal-Mart cashier is even more puzzled when three guys ask him where this item can be purchased. Finally another Wal-Mart employee comes to the rescue and informs us there is a store in downtown called I Do I Do that carries edible body paint. We find the store just like the guy told us, and it is eye opening.

After lunch we check into Days Inn and took a long siesta. Around 7 or so after some more rum and coke, Joe and Caleb spends two hours on outfitting Joe’s Liquidlogic Session Plus kayak. For dinner we order pizza. I'm suppose to pick up Jade, Chris, Bridget and Marcos at 9pm, but their flight got delayed and I end up getting them around 10. The only person missing at this point is Sean, and he is taking a train to Flagstaff but none of us have heard from him in days, so instead of worrying, we drink more rum and coke.

June 24:

Chris volunteers to pick Sean up from the train station at 5am. I don’t wake up until 6am, which is the latest I have slept in over two weeks. I finally meet Sean in the lobby enjoying free coffee and continental breakfast. Sean had survived a derailing train and jack knifed semi to get to Flagstaff. Lesson learned here, never plan to travel the day before launch date. Rest of the group gradually meanders down and we have a group breakfast of donuts, oatmeal, toasts, coffee and oranges.

Final packing, we empty the van of all the gear and turn the Days Inn parking lot into a gear explosion.

We have a final meal at Crown Railroad Cafe across the road, then PRO shows up with a 15 passenger van and a huge gear truck already loaded with our rafts, kitchen, cooler, and all the group gear. We toss our personal gear and kayaks onboard, and off toward Lees Ferry we go. On the way we see the incredible view of the wildfire that has been consuming the mountains north of Flagstaff. Fortunately for us it’s not blocking the road, so we get a hassle free ride to Lees Ferry.

Beth from PRO warns us about the heat as she opens the van’s door at Lees Ferry, and sure enough, it’s like stepping into an oven. It is 115 degrees, and the black asphalt in the parking lot makes it even hotter.

Rigging time. It’s new stuff for most of us, so we listen and rig and try to remember everything Beth tells us. Ranger Ray shows up to perform our equipment check. When he found out we have PRO’s Painless Private package, the equipment checklist was checked off in about 20 seconds. If I ever need to rent gear for the GC, I’ll go with PRO. This thought surfaced on a daily basis in the canyon as we learned and appreciated their gear setup.

Our very first experience on the Colorado River lasts 200 yards when we pulled into the 2nd boater camp. It was tiny and with tons of bugs. Beth promised it’ll be by far the worst camp we’ll ever experience on the canyon. Trusting her words, we head out to Marble Canyon Lodge for our last pampered meal. The cool AC in the lodge is a welcome relief. Chris sustain the first injury on the trip when he bangs his right elbow with Joe’s theracane which causes a tennis ball size hematoma. Keep that darn thing away from Chris!!!

Back to the camp for our first night sleeping by the river. It’s super warm to sleep in the tent but the bugs are even worse. So I strip butt naked and hope no one dies of heart attack when catching the sight of my naked butt.

June 25:

Launch day! Beth shows up at 7am to go over how to use our group gear and finds us not even knowing where to find breakfast. We’re a sad group. Finally after breakfast, she manage to go over every piece of gear with us, the groover, dish washing, kitchen, water filter, sat phone, etc. She says goodbye and wishes us luck as we head to the 9am briefing with Ranger Ray. After the briefing, back at the camp we have to finish up rigging the rafts with our personal gear. Another two and half hours go by and we’re finally rigged and ready to launch. But it’s also past noon and we’re hungry. So lunch first, then finally at 12:45 we launch! Hallelujah!!!

The scenery is absolutely gorgeous, even though we’re only at the beginning of Marble Canyon and the rim is only 400ft above us. We pass under Navajo Bridge at mile 4.5, the last highway that we’ll see in the next 16 days. We drifted our way to Badger Creek rapid at mile 8. It’s our first big rapid on the river and everyone stopped to scout. Line turns out to be easy, down the center then angle right slightly and avoid a rock in the middle. Chris made the first run and I followed with the rafts behind me. Rest of the kayakers came through as well with Jade winging the far right line on the fly.

We see this huge rock formation 1000 ft high and looks like it’s blocking the river’s path at mile 11. To the right is Soap Creek and left is Soap Creek Rapid. There is a nice camp on the river right just above the rapid and we decide to make camp even though it’s early, only 4:30. We figure with our knowledge of gear, better give ourselves a lot time on the first night.

It’s a good thing we stopped early. It takes us 3 hours to prepare dinner. We split the group into four teams that rotate jobs each camp. The cooking team for this camp is Marcos and Sean. Jade and I are cleaning team, Joe and Caleb are groover team, and Chris and Bridget has the night off. The arrangement simply doesn’t work and it takes the cooking team a long time to get everything they need from the rafts to get dinner going. A quick shower in the middle didn’t help either. At end of night we decide to change the rest team’s role to helpers instead, helping in general with any kitchen duty as needs arrive.

I take my first river bath and it is quite cold. We pitched the tent for this night, it’s not hot at all, actually end up using the sleeping bags.

June 26:

Sean wakes up early and runs Soap Creek in the ducky first. I get up around 5:50 and see an amazing view looking back upstream of the river in the shade with sun rising behind the rim, so I scramble to find the camera and take a picture before the sun rises further. We eat a gourmet breakfast of bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon. Yum!

Everything is back on the raft and we launch at 9:25. First thing is Soap Creek, which is an easy run down the middle over some good size waves. Joe gets to the ducky at bottom first and takes it for a spin striding. The big rapid of the day is House Rock and the plan is to make to Shinumo Wash camp at mile 29 to camp and hike Silver Grotto. There is nothing significant until we get to House Rock rapid at mile 17 and we all get out on the river left beach to scout. It’s an easy rapid for a kayak, simply avoid the top river right hole, then angle right and avoid the two crashing wave holes on the bottom left. Chris already had two beers by this time and bangs his head on a rock during the scout. Injury #2 for him. I lead Jade, Chris, Marcos and Bridget down the kayak line. Bridget flips twice and rolls up both times. Joe decides to paddle his Session Plus and catches an eddy near top river left, tries to catch the first crashing wave hole but flushes out, then catches the bottom wave hole which promptly strips the paddle out of his hand and toss him over. Two hand rolls and he chases down his paddle in the big river left eddy at the bottom. Sean and Caleb rows the raft down exactly the way they envisioned, no issues whatsoever.

We stop for lunch at a beach immediately below House Rock on river left and Chris gets attended by Bridget over his wound. Just below we can see a small rapid. After lunch Chris and I head down first wondering if there is a good surfing wave with eddy service. Lo behold, there is a nice wave train with eddies on both side, and the first wave is the perfect long boat wave, and the third wave is the perfect short boat wave. Chris, Joe, Marcos and I stay there for about half an hour surfing and I have by far the best surf ever in the Green boat. Joe in the mean time is doing blunts and cartwheels and loops a few waves downstream of me. Sweet!

We scramble downstream to catch up to rest of the group and find three big horn sheep on the river right, totally not bothered by our presence. From mile 20, the action starts, and it seems like rapids come at us non-stop. Approaching horizon line, line up down the extremely long tongue, hit the waves square, squirts through the whirlpools and boils at bottom, and then do it over and over again. It’s definitely the best action so far, and maybe even the most tightly packed stretch of river for the trip.

It’s 6pm and we find Shinumo Wash camp already occupied by a commercial group. We tie up at the beach anyway for the hike to Silver Grotto and plan to camp at the next camp about ½ mile downstream that’s visible. The route Joe, Sean and Caleb picks starts with a 10ft climb up a cliff then down some granite slides. Six of us make the climb, but Chris and Bridget decide to not try. The next slide looks mighty iffy, and Jade Marcos and I decide to turn around. Marcos has a bit difficulty getting down the 10ft cliff but we eventually got him down ok. The commercial group trip leader is not exactly happy with us since we tied our boats up near their groover. However the damn groover is right on the beach near the top of the eddy, which doesn’t give us many other options for beaching for the hike.

Chris is volunteering to row the kitchen raft to Island Camp, ½ mile downstream on the river right. We can see it but can’t tell how strong the eddyline is and Chris has only an hour of rowing experience from earlier in the day and he didn’t exactly shine. I paddle down first and decide that the eddy is long enough for him, but marginal. I wave him down, but just in time Sean comes back and takes control of the raft to make sure we don’t miss camp. Island camp is a nice beach against the cliff, without many critters. Jade and I make pork stir fry with Marcos and Sean acting as helpers. This system works and dinner takes only an hour to prepare. Jade and I again pitch the tent on top of a dune. Wind is strong and almost blows our sleeping gear away.

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