The many layers of rock that make up the Grand Canyon's walls are a prominent feature on the Colorado River. Credit: Courtesy of Sarah Sindo

The nylon tent walls and rain fly flapped violently and I wondered if the metal stakes were going to hold in the sand. I managed to doze off for about an hour and, once again, was abruptly awakened by the wind storm that continued to rage outside.

I thought to myself, “What on earth am I doing here? Am I going to make it 21 days out here in the desert?” I continued to drift in and out of sleep.

I woke the next morning to a thin layer of fine sand everywhere inside the tent but, fortunately, the structure and I were still in one piece. I shook everything out and became excited for the day.

It was Day 1 of our three-week Grand Canyon trip, during which our group of 16 people would row five loaded, 18-foot rafts down the Colorado River. Our destination? Diamond Creek, 226 miles downriver.

It was a trip Chris and I had been dreaming about for the entire seven years we’ve been together. Late last winter, a friend of ours extended an invite after he pulled a permit for a private trip, and we immediately said yes.

At the Lee’s Ferry put-in, a ranger from the National Park Service chatted with us about safety on and off the water, river etiquette, wildlife awareness and the tribal lands we’d be crossing through. Next, the witty lady from the river outfitter company schooled us on how to operate the satellite phone and water filter, the importance of hand washing, how to set up the groover (the ammo can we’d be going No. 2 in), and the value of knowing where all the food boxes were located on the boats.

She drove off in the van, and we set off down the Colorado River.

The first five or six days I felt a bit frazzled as I learned all the ins and outs of river life and got used to the schedule. I immediately realized how much work this was going to be!

We spent anywhere between four and six hours on the river, heading to our next campsite. Once there, everyone helped unload the rafts. The kitchen would get set up and then I’d set out on a lively hunt for our camping spot for the night.

After dinner and dishes, and spending some time around the campfire, we’d retire to our tent around 8 p.m. — bellies full of delicious food and souls the most fulfilled they’d been in a while.

A group of whitewater rafters is shown negotiating the Class 8 Granite Rapid on the Colorado River.  Credit: Courtesy of Sarah Sindo

On Day 4, we stopped at what would be one of my favorite spots on the trip — Nankoweap Granaries. The archeological ruins were a short, yet steep, hike from the river and offered, in my opinion, one of the best panoramic views on the trip.

What looked like square windows in the sandstone were actually storage units the Puebloans carved back in 1100 A.D. They’d store grains, like seeds and corn, in these units to keep them dry from floods and protected from rodents.  

The first half of the trip provided the most exciting whitewater. Our biggest hit was on Day 2 at House Rock. A huge, towering wave at the end of the rapid completely buried the raft, leaving me excitedly stunned and shaking water out of my ear.

Our crew had clean runs through all the rapids, which felt really great, especially after the big ones, and were cause for celebratory beverages after the run.

There was an intimate opportunity provided by my surrounding landscape floating the river for three weeks, especially a landscape like the Grand Canyon. Watching the rock layers change and grow from quite small to towering walls hundreds of feet above me was mind-blowing and humbling.

We either passed through or were close to many Native American tribal lands on the trip as well. It made me think of the troubled past and how we’re still working on our relationships today.

As the final days of our trip came and went, I held onto the little, yet pronounced, details: the rich, golden light high on the canyon walls that reflected on the calm eddy water below and how the rising moon was like a curtain of light on the sheer rock walls. Moving from shade to sun brought a simple and deep joy.

Coming back into society, I felt like a circle trying to fit into a square. Life buzzed by so impressively fast, and here I was moving at a snail’s pace.

That’s just one of the grand lessons a river trip can offer you: a chance to genuinely slow down and become present, to unplug yet really plug into what matters, to be with the people surrounding you and work out any details without distractions.

The Grand Canyon rafting trip was truly a trip of a lifetime for me. As the Grateful Dead sang in a song: “Such a long time to be gone. And a short time to be there.”

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Sarah Sindo, Outdoors contributor

Sarah Sindo was locally grown in Millinocket. Her love and appreciation for the outdoors took off after college when she hiked numerous mountains with her brother, Nick, including her first ascent of Katahdin....