Grand Canyon Diary- part 1
Here’s the background. Somewhere in the early nineties (all the younguns amongst us just sucked in their breaths and muttered something about being born around then. Shut up. One day, you’ll meet a kid that was born in 2010, and he’s going to think you’re a fossil. You think you believe that now, but just wait. It still hits you like a truck. I told a cub scout the other day that I was born in 1965. He looked at me funny and said that didn’t sound like a year to him. Years, you see, start with a ‘2’)
ahem. So. Somewhere in the early nineties, my buddy Mike called up and said that he was going to take a kayaking class at the local university and did I want to go, too.
I had canoed with the family as a kid, and my younger brother had stowed his kayak in my apartment for a time. I wanted to get back on a river or two and that kayak had been an attractive nuisance, to borrow a legal term. I’d promised not to take it out and wreck it (It was an old fiberglass Phoenix I think.) but it was a close thing.
So Mike and I took the class. It was once a week, I guess, but as we progressed, the teachers (Hey, Tony! Hey, Jim!) told us about the Bluff City Canoe Club and Roll Practice. The one was a group of paddlers with group trips to various and sundry rivers and the latter was the group’s time at the YMCA (sing!) to practice and perfect our boat rolls. For any non-kayaker reading- when a kayak or canoe flips over in whitewater, you don’t want to have to get out and swim around and dump out the boat and all that. More efficient to roll the boat back over while sitting in it. It’s a lovely skill to have. If you have ever referred to a kayak as “Them boats that roll themselves back up”, then don’t do it again. They don’t.
The upshot is, Mike and I immersed ourselves in kayaking. We were in boats, or meetings about boats, three and maybe four times a week. It was great.
Then, of course, we started going to rivers. As is usual and wise we started small and worked our way up to big. The Spring river outside Hardy Arkansas to begin with, and the Gauley in West Virginia later on with lots of stuff in between. The Ocoee River in the Southeast corner of Tennessee was a distinct favorite.
I’m putting all this in past tense because after ten years or so, I was able to make less and less time to paddle. Raising kids and doing family stuff and career choices moved me steadily away from all that lovely, exciting, time-consuming whitewater kayaking and all the people I loved being with who kayaked.
And then, one day, I became the luckiest person I know.
When you hear what happened, you might think that David LeMay would be the luckiest, but I beg to differ. It was me.
You see, private trips down the Grand Canyon are very limited. They can’t hand one over to anyone who wants one. The river would be clogged with people. I think it would literally be clogged with people and their boats, and were that the case, the people who had wanted to be on the Grand Canyon would no longer want to, and that’d be a shame. Anyhow, with demand so high, the park service limits the number of people they allow. It used to be a waiting list, the length of which was legendary and ridiculous. Another friend, Sonny Salomon, got on the list figuring that when his name finally came up, his grandson- who had not yet been born at the time- would be old enough to go with him. Sound funny? Not so much. The list had gotten to be about fourteen years long, if I understand right.
So the Park Service changed the way they do things. “From now on” they decreed, “we will have a lottery drawing. Those who have been on our list will have more chances than those who have not already been on the list. This is fair.” And there was much talk about it. I’m sure there were many people outraged and many very pleased and some of you never heard a damned thing about it. Sonny was irritated, I believe. He was finally getting close to the top of the list. Sonny has a generous spirit, though, and hoped things would work out well. They did, but not so much for Sonny as for David LeMay.
David, a warm-hearted, good person, about whom I’ve never heard a bad word, had never put himself on the Grand Canyon list. But some nice people who’d had him along on an Idaho raft/kayak trip called up and explained about the Grand Canyon Lottery. There are many rivers in Idaho that are on the same lottery system. You should put your name in. David, then, got online and put his name down in the Grand Canyon Lottery. About two hours before it closed for the season. He put down his first choice of trip dates on a prime couple of weeks, for the maximum number of people, and promptly forgot about it. Until he was notified that he got his first pick.
No kidding. Last minute. First time. New Lottery. Bam.
And that’s why you might call David LeMay the luckiest guy ever.
Except for this: There were sixteen slots open on the trip. Most of them were taken by David, the kayakers that’d introduced him to the Idaho raft group, the Idaho raft group itself, Jason Salomon (Son of Sonny) and Mike who was mentioned earlier. They offered the last spot to me. I’m not fooling myself that I was the only one they asked, but I was asked, and I accepted.
So, you see. I was the luckiest person I know.