Rafting the Grand Canyon

With this paddle, I thee wed

March 4, 2011 1 Comment by Nikki Rekman Spring 2011 issue

This isn’t every girl’s dream honeymoon. But could it start a trend?

A paddling honeymoon – I certainly did not have dreams of this as a little girl, I can assure you, but then again there are a few of those dreams that thankfully were never fulfilled.

When Mark and I finally decided we were going to take the plunge into matrimony I figured there would be nothing traditional about our wedding. Heck, I was just thankful we were finally getting to this point. But to my delight and surprise this is the story of a paddling adventure that exceeded a little girl’s expectations.

On Oct. 9. 2010 Mark and I were married. It was everything I had hoped for and much more – not a huge affair but one that was representative of who Mark and I are, shared of course with the important people in our lives. But Mark had his own idea of how to celebrate our life-long commitment – a paddle down the Grand Canyon for our honeymoon.

Here is where the adventure begins. On October 11 we left our home near Vancouver, BC, and headed south to Flagstaff, Arizona, where we were to meet up with the crew from Canyon Explorations/Expeditions for a 15-day paddle down the Colorado. Also on the trip was our friend Lynne from Western Canoeing and Kayaking in Abbotsford, BC. So there we were, the three of us, at the put-in at Lee’s Ferry on the north shore of the Colorado. There was definitely the excitement of exploring a new river. And not just any river, but one that winds its way through the bottom of one of the most remarkable geological features on the planet: the Grand Canyon.

Over the course of the first few days it was amazing to me how we lost our inhibitions with the total strangers we had only just met and ultimately became our own little river tribe. Picture the girls going upstream to pee and the boys going downstream – on the Colorado to adequately handle the number of people that visit each year you pee in the river and haul everything else out in sealed ammo boxes (also referred to as “the “groover” for the grooves left in your behind from the boxes before some river guide genius thought of using a toilet seat).

I wasn’t sure at first how it would be unwinding all the craziness of the wedding and end-of-season work for me (I’m a sales representative in the paddling industry). It was work – the paddling, the river life, all the people and the weather – but the 225 miles were some of the most amazing paddling days I have ever experienced.

I had never been on the water for that many consecutive days and had certainly never planned a trip where you had to take down camp every morning and set it all up again later in the day. However, you get into a routine and it is very much a part of your experience of being on the river. Finding just the right spot to quickly set up your tent for the night (remember we were paddling in October, so the days were shorter) became something to look forward to – a type of nesting, really. Ah, I love it.

Evenings were spent cooking, visiting with fellow paddlers, debriefing the day and planning the next. Did I say there was some work involved? I love the river life. Crawling into the tent, feeling certain that your sleeping mat was four inches thick and not 1.5 inches because you could feel the relaxation in every muscle in your body as you lay down.

The river is most certainly a good analogy for married life. It winds and meanders and with its mighty flow makes many of the rough spots smooth – over time. Mark is my best friend and our most significant meeting place is the out of doors and particularly paddling. Some might think a paddling honeymoon could be the beginning of the end (we heard from one guide a story of a couple that decided to get divorced on a trip at about the half-way point). Mark and I fared much better. We work stuff out better on the river than we do at home. I think this is mostly because things are simplified on the water. You need to make so many miles, eat, sleep and with those objectives we each know what we have to do to get those things done successfully. We established our roles on paddling trips many years ago. At home we call these departments. Mine, for example, is cooking and his is dishes.

We paddled the river at 8,000 cubic feet per second (CFS – think 8,000 basketballs passing by you each second – isn’t that a visual!) and during the summer months the river is typically at about 20-22,000 CFS. The features of the river at 8,000 CFS are more exposed because of the lower flow. This allowed us to paddle the inflatable kayaks with greater success, which essentially means less swimming. In addition to the two inflatable kayaks, we had five oar boats and one paddle boat. I had never paddled in water as big as this and it was thrilling – and at one point frightening – after being eaten by a huge hole at Horn Creek rapid. How happy was I to eventually pop-up downstream only to see the big eyes of my betrothed saying, “I’m glad that’s over.”

The highlight of the trip in terms of the river for me was successfully running Lava Falls, the largest rapid on the river, with multiple features and must-do moves. Mark and I, having demonstrated some degree of competence while sitting comfortably in our drysuits, were honored on the one hand, but also quite petrified that we were selected to be in the front of the paddleboat to run Lava. We had an opportunity to scout before we ran and looking down from our vantage point I was pretty sure I was going to either puke or cry. That thing was big (even at 8,000 CFS)! I was not the only one with anxiety. The entire day before and that morning we were all praying that we wouldn’t have an out-of-boat experience. And it was important for the guides too, as this was their last trip of the season and they too seemed eager to end on a high note.

As it turned out no one swam Lava Falls – the river had mercy on us this particular day. The next stop was Tequila Beach for a night of celebrating with some liquid libation which our guides’ called a “bucket of stupid” (need I say more).

I would be remiss if I did not tell you that the canyon is more than just the river. The geology is mind-boggling and touching rocks that are over a billion years old, well, that’s pretty impressive. The hiking is incredible in the side canyons and although I am not much of a hiker I was so glad that I did them because those tucked-away places that you can’t see from the river were gorgeous.

Many people have gone before us on this amazing river. Some are famous, like John Wesley Powell, and some infamous, like Bert Loepper, and their stories and others were such an important part of our own journey down the river. If you get a chance to visit this magical place, you won’t regret the time it took or the money it cost – we sure don’t and more specifically a paddling honeymoon is one that you will never forget because who does that?

In the words of a paddlesports colleague, what a fitting trip as Mark and I start on our grand journey together.

Nikki enjoys sharing paddling adventures with her husband, Mark, and is a sales rep in the canoeing & kayaking industry.


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