Rowing the Grand Canyon Part 1: I’m Pretty Sure This Won’t End Well

 Oar Rig for Rowing the Grand Canyon

Give Me The Fish (GMTF): This is the start of my series on rowing the Grand Canyon. It was a hell of a trip and one I would recommend to anyone who is willing to put in the time.

“I feel like I should be more nervous”, I quietly think to myself. I’m standing in the sweltering heat of Lee’s Ferry, Arizona. Lee’s Ferry is the last point at which a road reaches the Grand Canyon for the next 225 miles. And, I’m listening to a woman named Beth talk about how to set up an oar rig along with the rest of the equipment we are renting from her company. The equipment is for our rapidly approaching rowing and kayaking trip. Our trip for kayaking and rowing the Grand Canyon.

Who Says You need to Know Your Gear

As is typical for a private trip going down the Grand Canyon, we have rented most of the gear for our upcoming 16-day adventure. Besides this being the first time we’ve ever seen this gear, it also happens to be different then any gear we’ve ever used before. 

Knowing that our lives will literally be dependent on this equipment, and it being one day before we head out, most of us are listening rather intently.

The rest are aimlessly wandering around. I’m not sure if they are bored, have poor survival instincts, showing signs of heatstroke (most of them are not from the desert), or if that’s their normal appearance. Regardless, I’m not really interested in their outcome at the moment. I have this18 foot, 1,800 lbs. oar rig to figure out.

You Should Only Go With People You Trust

I only know half of the 16-person trip, and even the half I do know, I don’t necessarily know well. But I have no doubt I will know them soon enough. The only way out is 225 miles downstream, or by hiking out across the open desert. We will learn about each other soon enough, whether we like it or not.

After 7 hours of lectures, inflating rafts, loading food, coolers, and other miscellaneous gear, we tie off the rafts and head out for one final meal on a Hualapai Indian reservation.

Throughout dinner, and into the night you can feel people’s excitement and nervousness in the air. We are launching for our trip of a lifetime rowing the Grand Canyon the following day.

Day of The Launch, Finally

I get woken up by a man named Dean the next morning and silently swear to myself. Mostly because it’s pitch black, I’m floating on my raft ( I slept on it overnight), and it seems really freak‘in early. Dean leans over and says, “do you have the coffee in your boat”. I mumble a confirmation and start rummaging around. My grogginess starts to subside and finally look at my watch. It’s 2:30 in the morning.

There is no freaking way we are getting up this early.

I look over at Dean, “You know its 2:30 in the morning, right?”

He looks back, “…No, it’s 5 o’…oops, I guess I shouldn’t be making coffee yet”

“Yeah, no kidding”

I silently crawl bag inside my bivvy cover and go back to bed, quietly wondering, “if you die in the desert and there is no one there to see you, do you really die?”

 Yes, yes you do, and I’m really starting to wonder what I got myself into. Then drift off to sleep.

Final Checkout

I wake up for the second time that morning, finally, get coffee, and start another series of lectures, safety inspections, and final checks led by a National Forest Ranger. He is trying to be friendly and crack jokes, but I’m relatively sure no one cares. He is the last gatekeeper stopping us from beginning our trip of a lifetime rowing the Grand Canyon. For some of which had been waiting close to two decades to get a chance to experience this.

Especially because, if you were not aware of the rules at this point, such as packing everything in and out of the canyon (to include human waste), don’t mess with animals that can kill you, and you don’t know that there will not be any help from outside to save you, you probably shouldn’t be here and probably wouldn’t be. To even get a permit you have to prove your group has the experience to do this type of trip. But, here we are, the land of liability. Finally, he wraps up and we start loading up.

Finding Independence

As we begin our final preparations and I finish strapping down all the gear in my raft, I realize I feel at home. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s all the time I spent in the desert while in the Marines. Or maybe it’s the numerous personal backpacking trips and other past adventures, but either way, I feel calm and ready.

Finally, I untie the bowline, jump on the raft, and grab the single set of oars and take my first stroke.

As I hit the main current of the river, I realize there is no going back. Not for the first time, I wonder if this trip is going to go well. Despite that thought, I’m still strangely calm and I finally realize why I feel so at home. At this point, there are no rules, no one looking over my shoulder, and few things anyone can do to me besides my group for the next 16 days. I have truly found a piece of independence and freedom in the modern world.

*To be continued as part of an ongoing series throughout my journey of Rowing the Grand Canyon.

**If you want to take this trip yourself forneither kayaking or rowing the Grand Canyon, head to the Grand Canyon National Park Service Website.

***This Grand Canyon Guidebook is essential if you decide to take the plunge.