Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Rafting Day 1, Part 2

The last blog got me to Lee's Ferry, the parking lot that connects to the Colorado River where my rafting trip began.

Miranda and I got off the bus and lugged our luggage (2 smallish duffel bags, camera bag, etc.) down to the river.



2 large rafts were waiting for our group of 28, along with the four guides for the trip - Bret and Zach, the 2 "boatmen", and Carrie and Brad, the 2 "swampers". (That's what they were called, I don't know why.) (Maybe because when the boatmen are "parking" the rafts the swampers have to jump out the front of the boat and wade through the water with the land lines???) The guides corralled us quickly, keeping us a safe distance from the rafts, and Bret gave us an orientation.


Each rafter was given :
(a) a uniquely numbered water proof bag (blue) that contained a new sleeping bag, a sheet, a piece of plastic and another water proof bag with a number that matched the first bag. These waterproof bags were large enough to fit a small duffel bag.
(b) a waterproof army surplus ammunition can painted a lovely shade of designer light blue.
(c) a small green waterproof bag about the size of a small backpack, but shaped like a cylinder.
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During the day, items in (c) would be available at all times, items in (b) would be available by moving around the boat, and items in (a) would be available only at camp. We were given some advice on packing then told to pack the luggage that we brought between the containers (a), (b) and (c). We were also told that we should wear clothes for getting wet, there were rapids ahead.

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Miranda and I took the (a) bags #'d 21 and 27. We made one of our (a) bags with both sleeping bags, sheets, plastic and pillows (and Miranda's teddy bear - she decided she didn't want Sherbert  to get wet) and we were able to fit our small duffel bags intact into the other (a) bag.

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Some of the other rafters had more of a struggle fitting their larger personal duffel bags into the blue waterproof (a) bags, and many of the larger duffels had to be emptied and stuffed folded in a bag. After we repacked for 20 minutes the guides said that "should we be having trouble fitting items into the waterproof bags, they could put the land shoes in a common waterproof bag". Shoes were a generally larger bulky item, and with this announcement almost everyone was able to get their luggage packed. The (c) bags were for clothing, hats, sunglasses, etc. that you might want to put on and take off, and the (b) ammo cans were for wallets, electronics like cameras, and things that you might not want to get squished.
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What to wear for your first day of rafting ?
An extensive list of clothing had been provided to us, which may be a blog for a much later day. But the choice boiled down to this :
(a) dressing for getting wet where you thought you might get cold when the 48 degree Fahrenheit water hit you, or
(b) dressing for getting wet where you thought the canyon's 80-90+ degree Fahrenheit temperature would make you not care that the water that just soaked you was 48 degrees F.
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Everyone had the right gear, so choices had to be made. As a warm loving person, I put on my full length rain pants and rain coat over my waterproof pants, undies and shirt, I had my wool socks on with my waterproof shoes, my sunglasses and hat, and I smeared suntan lotion on the tiny bit of skin exposed on my face and hands. I immediately started to sweat.
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Miranda bulked at the hat, socks, rain pants, and coat, so I packed them in the (c) bag and set her to putting on suntan lotion all over, which she bulked at too. So we had overdressed sweaty people; and summer loving people in wearing shorts, about 50-50.
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Bret used Miranda to demo wearing and sizing the life jacket. Each life jacket was uniquely numbered, and the guides individually checked the fit of each life jacket (snug! tight! no slippage). You then wore the same life jacket then entire trip. Miranda and I got the 2 smallest life jackets, and we were therefore the only two in our group with yellow life jackets.
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The guides took checking the life jacket buckles seriously. If the National Park Service sees a passenger on a raft with a life jacket buckle unbuckled, it is a fine that starts at $200 per buckle, with ramifications for both the guide and the guide service company. A person with an completely unbuckled jacket could be a fine of $600-$800. You could unbuckle to pull a layer on or off, but then you were reminded to immediately buckle back up if you were slow in doing so automatically. Since the life jackets where properly tightened and buckled, you moved like you were in a back brace - you didn't really notice that you were sitting closely to the person next to you because the life jacket was so snug.

Brad gave a demo of the ways we could be sitting on the raft.
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The "bathtub" was the front facing seats in the front of the raft. Two or 3 people could sit there with legs comfortably outstretched, but the only handholds were behind you. The view from the bathtub was great - only the water and landscape in front of you. When the raft goes down a rapid, though, the bathtub deserved it's name - you felt like you were in a bathtub. The seats would sometimes be literally under a wave of water. Then the water would then sit around you as it slowly remembered gravity and figured out where to drain. You would get soaked in the bath tub.
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The rest of the seats faced to the side. My boat called the front seat on both sides of the bathtub the shower seat, because while you didn't end up sitting in draining water like you did in the bathtub, you got as wet as you would have in a shower. The bathtub got wet when it dipped below the water. The water that the bathtub sailed over splashed up onto the line of people sitting in the side facing seats. The first person would get the full impact of the wave, and generally block some of the water for the rest of the people in the line. In the side facing seats you were holding on to ropes behind you and you were tightly packed next to others on both sides. The drier seats were toward the back.
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The last place to sit was called riding the pontoons. They didn't allow you to ride the pontoons in the biggest rapids (too easy to fall off), but it was a fun place to be in many rapids; and it was a comfortable roomy place to straddle sit if you wanted more space then the side seats offered.

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The guides would stay dry in the back in many of the rapids. You knew it was going to be a big rapid when the guides pulled on raincoats or layers.
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A cloud of gnats was swarming at this landing, and several of us groaned because we had forgotten bug spray. Fortunately, this was the only place on the entire trip where there seemed to be any annoying bugs at all - Once we got going. (Excluding red ants - which where everywhere but never bothered Miranda or me.)
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Our luggage was loaded and we lumbered like turtles onto the raft - shuffling around for balance and trying to figure out where to sit, how to clip our portable waterproof bags (type c) to the center of the raft with a carabiner, and where to put water bottles, sun tan lotion, etc. I was hot, sweaty, straight jacketed, worried about the bugs, (and the camping) but excited - I had dodged the deadly swine flu making the headlines (so far), the possible plane crashes, and our rafting trip was starting.
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I will blog more soon.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Rafting, Day 1, Part 1 - Just getting there

Grand Canyon airplane view by Selep ImagingRafting Day 1 started on Tuesday, May 19, 2009 at 5:00 in the AM. (In Arizona, there is a 5:00 in the AM as well as the PM.) At 5:45 AM our rafting group was meeting in the lobby of the Las Vegas Desert Rose Resort. I didn't sleep well, and had gotten up at 4ish to check some item in my luggage. Then I either slept through or never received my first wake-up call. The second one at 5:15 AM got me going, but I felt rushed, confused and late (a fairly normal, everyday occurrence). (Waking up in a strange place is disorienting - things aren't where they usually are - like the bed. This is hard for a non-morning person who tries to execute morning on autopilot.) We got dressed and tried to get our luggage to the lobby - conveniently one building down and across a parking lot.
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Miranda woke content and happy, but she wasn't able to carry much more then one bag and a teddy bear. I had split the luggage the night before into 2 rafting duffel bags with the clothing and items we would need for rafting; the camera bag I would be taking on the rafting trip; and the 3 pieces of luggage that we would be paying the Desert Rose Resort to store while we were rafting. Without the hotel luggage cart (you know, the luggage thingy), and with no time to go find one, we carried and dragged the luggage in mini relay stretches to the lobby. I left three liters of Coke Cola in my hotel, planning to run back and get them. By the time the three pieces of luggage that were being stored at the resort had been processed, and the rafting luggage was loaded on the bus, the leader felt there was no time for me to run back to the room. Those three liters of soda became part of a long list of items lost and left behind at various points on the trip, but they were the only items I knew I was leaving behind at the moment I left them. (Someday I might blog just on the lost and left behind items - so many little stories!)
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At 5:45 (again, AM!), or at least before 6:00 (AM) the bus with our group of 28 and our luggage pulled out of the hotel lobby and we headed for the smaller Las Vegas airport - the airport for prop planes and puddle jumpers. (Canyon kamikazes?) Luggage handling is different at this airport. The luggage isn't X-rayed, but the luggage is carefully weighed, and then you are told to step on the scale. The airport personnel (or a computer) balances all the weight and assigns people to seats so they (hopefully) balance on each side of the aisle of the small plane. Our group of 28 people (plus luggage) were all weighed and then split across four flights. Another group used 2 planes, so we had to wait for our flight from among six planes which were leaving one at a time. The business in the gift shop boomed while we waited.
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When our flight was called, I carried Miranda's and my luggage outside to the airplane, and we climbed aboard. All the seats are window seats. Each seat has headphones - big ones, to block out the noise.
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The ride in the prop plane took more then an hour to go about 250 miles from Las Vegas to the landing strip near Lee's Ferry, Arizona. We flew over Lake Mead, and along the Grand Canyon, and I had fun taking pictures of the landscape below us. (Unfortunately, I was on the left side of the plane, and the Grand Canyon was out the window on the right side of the plane.)
(I wanted to cross the aisle to see the view out the right side and take pictures, but I didn't dare, as it might cause our carefully balanced plane to tip and crash.) The end part of the plane ride, was bumpy as the plane flew basically at the height of the canyon walls.

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The landing strip was across the highway from the Marble Canyon Trading Post, the restaurant where we had our last meal. (last meal before rafting, I mean.) (OK, our breakfast) The view was pretty, but I was groggy and too anxious to look around. Miranda and I did last minute shopping. (Again, business boomed as I bought a dry bag for my camera, coke cola for the raft trip, and post cards.) (More to lug, Ugh.)
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Marble Canyon Trading Post by Selep Imaging
I took a (partial) group picture where everyone seemed a bit tired.
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Wilderness River Adventures then loaded our group and luggage into a bus for the ride to Lee's ferry, several miles down the road. Miranda and I were trying to write a set of post cards to send to the boys to replace a set of post cards Miranda had written earlier to send and then had lost in Las Vegas. I was in a "woke too early in the morning" haze, trying to view scenery, take pictures and write post cards, while balancing soda and my camera on my lap. The scenery passing by was amazing - like something out of a road runner cartoon.
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We arrived at the spot where the Colorado River meets a parking lot - Lee's Ferry, although it is hard to find using map quest. This was the point where we met our raft. That will hopefully be in another blog. (Chapter?)

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Back from Vacation...

I am back from my vacation - 180 miles of rafting down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon - and it was fabulous. The trip totally exceeded my hopes and expectations.
Wilderness River Adventures
I didn't miss any planes, I had no airline security horror stories and both me and my daughter Miranda were upgraded to 1st class(!) (on a 4 hour flight too! HUGE bonus.) The planes didn't crash, and both Miranda and I traveled well, even in the little prop (propeller) planes that bounce their way into the Grand Canyon. (And bounce they did, now and then... air currents are apparently tricky near the canyon.) Bonus roller coaster sensations! [Did you ever notice that as you get older it's a lot harder to get the whoosh sensation in your stomach, like when the car goes over a rise and down a steep hill? My children get them all the time, and me - hardly ever anymore.]
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My 10 year old daughter loved the trip, which was a huge relief. I was worried she would become bored after a day or two, but I am now convinced she could probably outlast me by several weeks. (And we both outlasted our budget, which ended well before we boarded the first plane.)
Wilderness River Adventures
The raft trip scenery was so spectacular that it can brainwash you - I can hardly remember anything negative about the trip at all.
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Supposedly, I guess we had unusual weather for Arizona. (Which is to say - that we actually had weather, and ...gasp... rain.) I don't buy the line now that Arizona hardly ever has rain. Since it rained nearly daily while I was there, I now believe they want to advertise that they only have hot sunny days to lure you in, but they have a shameful little secret that actually, like the rest of the world, both rain and "weather" occurs in Arizona as well.
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But since I'm from Wisconsin, I'd probably find constant sun a bit boring, so the rain only really bothered me one night.
Grand Canyon Colorado River Jeanne Selep Imaging
[Friday night - After a rainy day and cold soaking rapids with no sun to dry us, I wanted to curl up in my damp sleeping bag in my wet tent that I set up in the pouring rain, as the river turned a muddy chocolate brown. I wanted to skip dinner, go to sleep and deal with the wet in the morning, in the light of day. I wanted to lay in my little tent and worry about "flash floods" while I waited for sleep.
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Miranda, however wanted to eat dinner. I expend nearly all my energy to get my freezing little child warm and dry, and she wants to go back out in the rain for dinner! So I sent her to dinner, and she kept coming back with news reports and updates, in the process getting the few corners of the tent that were drier - wetter! Eventually I resigned myself that I wasn't going to get any sleep until "after dinner". I got up and went out (the rain had "let up") and ate dinner. Of course, dinner was one of my favorites, really rich spaghetti and sauce with meatballs and mushrooms, probably made with leftover ground up strip steak, for all I know. I'd missed the garlic bread, but my main regret was that I missed whatever the appetizers were for the day - and the appetizers were always so good.
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We got back in the tent and went to sleep - and (no surprise) things were brighter in the morning.]
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[[OK, safety note here. I did carefully analyze our camping location with everything I didn't know but could imagine about flash floods - campsite height above the river level; where mud, sand, soil and rock types were around us; width of the canyon at this point; locations of rapids above and below us; plants and shrubs locations near the tent, etc. I determined, (with my extensive computer background and no college geology classes) that if I were going to be a flash flood, I would not choose to reach or race through the location I had chosen for my tent. Plus I had already seen some of what and were the water would flow in a heavy rain. (Like in the Colorado river which had been busy soaking me most of the day already; and in the Chocolate water fall photo which I intend to post someday.) So I did consider safety when selecting my campsite.]]
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Well, back to getting on topic. The vacation was wonderful. I took thousands of pictures, and I will be blogging about this vacation possibly all summer long. I'll be sharing more as I can, (photos coming soon!) but for now I need to catch up on real life and get the kids through the last week of school before I can devote much more time to vacation photos or blogs.
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Has anyone waded through this entire blog post? God Bless you if you have.