"It’s a great challenge in life to decide what’s important and to disregard everything else." — Author Unknown
In the summer of 1998 my dad visited the Grand Canyon.
He was struck by the beauty and vastness of it all. He made me promise that I would take my son, Spencer, there someday soon. Always looking for ways to experience life, I thought why not raft the canyon, sleep under the stars and really get the full experience of being one with nature? How cosmic.A friend once asked me why I do all my "crazy" adventures. My answer is simple. I want to live life as much as I can without regrets. I don't want to put off saying "I love you" to someone, or climbing the mountain, or changing a job that I hate. You have to live now... carpe diem.
In January of 1999, I booked a three-day rafting trip to begin on Saturday August 1, for Spencer and myself with Western River Expeditions.
In April, my dad's cancer, which had been in remission for two years, took a turn for the worse. We cared for him at home with the help of the Calbrini Hospice program. He was given three months to live. I debated on canceling the trip. My dad insisted I go. He said that his final wish would be to have his ashes spread across the Grand Canyon.
On July 30, 1999, my dad was put on the critical list. By then he weighed only 124 pounds, could not talk, could not eat, could not move. As my family surrounded him, we told him it was okay to let go. God was waiting with open arms. You have to be brave enough to let those you love go when it is in their best interest.
I bent over and whispered to my dad jokingly, "Hey dad, if you are going to go, better do it now. My plane for Grand Canyon leaves on Saturday." He raised an eyebrow and smiled a weak smile. Eight hours later he passed on with my sister at his side.
With the help of Charlie, a very caring funeral director, we expedited the cremation and made arrangements to have the ashes with us as we flew the next morning.
Spencer and I flew into Las Vegas and met with the tour group at the airport at 8:15 A.M. We checked in our regulation 14" x 21" bag that contained the recommended supplies from a list that was sent to us along with our trip confirmation. Every means of transportation possible, except maybe mule or llama, was going to be utilized to get us to J-Rig rafts waiting for us in the Colorado River.
Thirty-six people were signed up for this three-day rafting trip, eighteen on each raft, plus two crew members. At the airport our tour guides randomly handed us green or yellow slips that determined which raft we would be on once we got to the river. Spencer and I were in the green group.
From the McCarran Airport we were escorted onto a bus that took us to meet our twenty-seater scenic plane. (Say that three times fast!) After we boarded the plane and listened to the pilot make a few jokes about the airsickness bags being our personal belongings if we used them, we were off on a breathtaking audio-guided tour over the Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon.
Forty-five minutes later we landed at a remote airport. I mean remote--no landing strips, just a dirt road and a wooden sign saying "Airport." Good thing the sign was up or we could have easily have missed it. From there we were loaded onto a van and driven up a bumpy dirt road to a lodge to get any last minute supplies we’d forgotten — things like candy bars, toothpaste, soap, insect repellent … whatever you really had to have for the next four days.
A few feet hundred feet from the last chance lodge was a big mound of dirt. We were told to line up near the mound. Within minutes a helicopter landed. Four by four we were dispersed into the helicopter with our bags. The helicopter rose up, creating a swirl of dust, and then zoomed off, bringing us quickly up and over the ridge of the canyon.
When you first see no ground below, your stomach drops like on a roller coaster ride … then, down ... down ... down you go until you hit your mark in the base of the canyon. We landed at mile 188, known as the Whitmore Rapid on the muddy Colorado River—five modes of transportation later, where we met our Western tour guides. If I hadn’t known better, I would have thought we’d all just participated in the witness protection program, the way they shuffled us around.
I approached the first crew member I saw, Shane Phelps, and pulled him aside. I discretely told him that I had an extra bag with me and that that bag was my dad. Before he could think I was a hit man, I told him about my dad's final wishes to have his ashes spread over the Grand Canyon.
I asked if he could be so kind as to let me know the most beautiful place along the river to release him. He told me about Travertine Falls. He said he would gladly let me know when we reached it. I felt a sense of peace come over me. Spencer occupied himself with a lizard as the waterproof bags, life jackets and camping gear were handed out. After a briefing on safety instructions, we and the rest of the green group got on our raft and chose our seats.
The J-Rig rafts were big—the thirty-seven feet long to be exact. Picture five giant neoprene-coated nylon tubes tied together, with four-stroke motors powering them. In the center of the rig was the storage area for all our supplies, including stoves and toilets for the next three days. If you sat up front you would feel all the bumps and thrills of the river. If you sat in back, you stayed nice and comfy and relatively dry.
Nine of us more adventurous types straddled one of the tubes in the front of the raft in the maximum wetness and excitement -zone. Those not wanting to get quite as wet sat up on the higher part of the rig and behind the gear. Within minutes we heard a howl from crew member Tyler, "HOLD ON! And get ready for the ride of your life."
Read Fran Capo's INside story on writing.
Adrenaline Adventures: Dream It, Read It, Do It (University of New Mexico Press) © 2004 Fran Capo. Used by permission of the author.