Issue #167 – “Epiculous” – April 26th, 2010

-In 1994, my friend’s father applied for a permit to whitewater raft the Colorado River. Sixteen years later, his name finally reached the top of the waiting list. When my buddy asked me if wanted to join the adventure he and his dad were planning, my first response was, “Absolutely…not.” After all, I’d never been camping, I hate the outdoors, and there’s no way I could survive for long without cell or Internet service. But after being subjected to weeks of pleading, cajoling, and taunting, I finally succumbed and agreed to go. And go I did. Earlier this month, I actually spent nine nights and ten days in the Grand Canyon. When asked to describe the trip upon my return, I was at such a loss for words that I had to create a new one – “epiculous.” Yes, the trip was both epic and ridiculous. I survived. But rest assured, I will never go outside ever again.

-This was a privately organized trip with no professionals or tour guides, just a handful of hardcore outdoorsmen who invited their friends to join and essentially serve as human ballast. There were sixteen people and four rafts total. We set up camp and cooked for ourselves every night, and broke everything down and rigged the boats every morning. As a hardcore indoorsman, I brought nothing to the table except witty banter and obsessive compulsiveness. I quickly learned my place. I could not help with rowing, knot-tying, or scouting rapids, but I did have four different types of Purell handy at all times.

-Since our rafts were each fairly large, it was unlikely that one would capsize during a rapid. Nonetheless, every single thing on board needed to be secured just in case. The number of straps and ropes and carabiners was astounding, and tying everything up took forever. Plus, between the sun, the corrosive river, and the sand, your fingers soon begin to split open, making handling the straps extremely painful. After about a week, though, you become desensitized to the pain and embrace the system. I even began to have dreams about life jackets and straps and ropes – like some kind of aquatic dominatrix.

-Bathing on a trip like this is another adventure. Here’s the protocol: get ass-naked, dive into the ice-cold river, come out, lather up with soap, dive back into the water and rinse, then run out before you freeze to death. It took me until day four before I finally worked up the nerve to do it. I stripped down, dove in, and promptly dislocated my shoulder. As I mentioned in Ruminations #158, I first injured my shoulder at a wedding last year. Since then, it has popped out twice more during what I can only describe as two of my more memorable one-night stands. Luckily, two of the guys on the trip were doctors, and after my shoulder popped back in on its own, they fashioned a sling out of one of the straps from the boat. When I finally returned to our tent, my buddy Rob was shocked to see what had happened. “Didn’t you hear me screaming in pain?” I asked. “Sure,” Rob replied, “but I just figured the water is really cold and you’re a pussy.” Thanks, pal.

-After going to the bathroom, you can’t just bury the results in the Grand Canyon, otherwise every campsite would be full of, well, buried shit. Instead, you sit on a portable contraption and go into a box, then carry the whole thing with you. Seriously. It was just one of many indignities on the trip that I never thought I would suffer. But the truth is, you adapt. I went from putting band-aids on my fingers to wrapping them with duct tape to just crazy gluing the cuts closed. I eventually began bypassing the toilet altogether and shitting right in the river, like a fucking animal. On day eight, after I had gotten the hang of bathing without injuring myself, my buddy Justin, an accomplished camper, spotted me emerging nonchalantly from the water clutching soap and a toothbrush in my lacerated hands. Smiling, he said to me, “Look what you’ve become.” My metamorphosis from indoorsman to outdoorsman was evidently complete. I promptly retreated to my tent and rubbed myself down with Purell.

-As always, here are some random things about camping in the Grand Canyon I’ve been ruminating about lately…

-We made our own drinking water by purifying river water through an arduous process that I avoided helping with for as long as possible. When my turn came, my water was deemed “barely drinkable.” In order not to waste it, we mixed the water with about a pound of lemonade powder and then mixed that with alcohol. So, mission accomplished.

-Whenever the rafts approached a large whitewater rapid, we would go ashore and scout it first. Basically, the boatmen would stare at the rapid for twenty minutes and discuss strategy while the rest of held our dicks. Then we’d row into the rapid and immediately be doused with waves of freezing cold water. Apparently, the strategy was to get me as soaked as possible in retaliation for complaining every time we stopped to talk strategy.

-Rob and I shared a tent we borrowed from a couple that used it to climb Everest – a feat made even more amazing when you consider how complicated this tent was. Every night we were left with extra poles and zippers that wouldn’t close. Eventually, we scrapped the tent and just slept in sleeping bags under the stars. That’s as close as I’ve ever been to nature. One morning Rob found a tick near his groin. We decided the tent wasn’t so bad.

-On the first day, we spotted someone in the water and made an emergency rescue mission. It turned out to be a basketball with a face drawn on it like the Wilson volleyball from Cast Away, and he became our mascot. Another time, someone dropped an unopened Bud Light into the river, which we rushed to retrieve. In fact, only one guy went overboard during our trip and he was able to swim to safety. So we ended up expending more energy rescuing a basketball and a beer than we did saving an actual person. At least this group had its priorities straight.

-And, finally, with a few days still remaining on the trip the group made a horrific discovery: we had run out of alcohol. My friend’s father had not budgeted properly for the seven thirty-year-olds who took part and promptly plowed through all the beer and box wine. Everyone seemed resigned to continue the journey sans booze. This of course was unacceptable to me, and I resolved to take action. Here was one arena in which I knew I could add value. The next day, I commandeered a raft and an oarsman and we rowed upstream and waited. When other boats passed, I accosted them and bartered for alcohol. I returned to the campsite several hours later with a handle of Jack, a Nalgene of tequila, and a case of beer. I basked in the glory of a hero’s welcome. But my friend’s dad, who had waited sixteen years for this trip, looked upon my acquisitions with a hint of contempt. Seemingly unimpressed, his attention quickly shifted to my makeshift sling. “How’s your shoulder?” he grumbled. “A little better, I guess,” I responded. Then, without a hint of compassion, he said, “Good. We need that strap back.” Fuck me.