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(Three people named David on 1 trip is too confusing, so they’re call me Commodore.)
Some noteworthy trip leader observations I have made: I am pleased to report that everyone is respecting my request that they behave appropriately for my 12-year-old daughter. A few off-color jokes aside, no foul language, public nudity nor drunk and disorderly conduct, yet everyone is having a great time. Funny how the presence of one kid can keep us adults in order. (If you are planning your own trip down the Canyon, pay special note of this point. For many reasons I recommend bringing kids. I will elaborate in a later post.)
In general, everyone is getting along well with each other, which is remarkable considering most of us had never met before we gathered in Flagstaff a few days ago. Some examples: The women have all had something to share with Ariel and really included her as an equal. Captain Shu is a great team player. He is always looking to learn and always has a great attitude. He often has something to contribute, yet is never overbearing. He helped me run the water filtration today to filter about 40 gallons of water to refill the 5-gallon water jugs. With Canyon 9 trips already under his belt, he seems to have accumulated everything you could possibly need stashed away in his raft. I also noticed Steve has started stepping it up more as a team player. I have even seen him looking for things to do and stepping in to help other work crews now.
There is still plenty of room to improve our efficiencies, particularly in the mornings. Many of the things the outfitter showed us before we launched the first day seem to have been forgotten, but he did overload people with information. I expect few people if any, took the time to read the primer/meal plan the outfitter sent us a few weeks before the trip so they would already know things like how to use the dish washing system or where everything is located on the rafts, especially where the food is for each meal. The captains should know what they have on their boats and help the cook crew locate it. I expect that will improve as we go.
I am concerned about one person who is not showing strong team skills, seen standing around when work needs to be done unless given explicit instructions to help and sometimes going back for seconds of food before everyone has had their first serving. My concern is for the friction it could cause in the group. If we have a day-12-meltdown, this could be the catalyst.
There are many hazards in the Canyon: falls, cuts, bites and stings, dehydration and hypothermia to name a few. But some are more insidious. Some we bring with us. The term “day-12-meltdown” is used to describe what can happen on wilderness expeditions where people must live and work together in close quarters under stressful conditions with little reprieve from each other. By about day 12, people run out of patience and conflicts can happen. A breakdown in group cohesion can actually be fatal as was proven in the very first expedition in the Canyon, led by John Wesley Powell, at a place that aptly earned the name Separation Canyon. Even a slightly annoying laugh can sound like fingernails scratched on a chalkboard after a week or two. A good trip leader will recognize the signs early and take action promptly to avert such a disaster that can spoil the trip for everyone. It only takes one person to create discord. This is also why I believe a trip leader’s most important job is that of selecting a compatible crew.
Keep in mind that regardless of their experience, everyone on the trip is learning as we go, particularly if it’s their first trip. New people, new environment, new lifestyle; it can all be overwhelming. Everyone reacts to the stress differently. Leading a group of strangers under these conditions can be much more challenging than most anything you’ll ever deal with in the office.
TRIP TIP: If you observe behavior that may damage group cohesion, address it swiftly and discretely. Odds are that the person is unaware of their behavior and if you let it go, it will only get worse. It always does.
(Thank you all for an amazing response to this account of our journey. Wow! If you like it, click the thumbs up. Your public and private comments are great. If you have questions, post them. The dialog adds to the story and many others probably have the same question.)
I woke up at 5:30 AM without an alarm clock. After going out for breakfast we all piled our gear in the parking lot to wait for the outfitter to arrive and shuttle us to the river. Some people made a last-minute visit to the drug store across the street to buy sunscreen, hand lotion, sunglasses, postcards. Our ride showed up at 11:00 AM, right on schedule. We loaded gear into the truck, piled into the van and headed up Highway 89 to Lee’s Ferry.
When we arrived at the put-in, the other group with a permit for that day was already there and rigging their boats.
Unloading the gear and rigging the rafts was quite the team-building experience for us. “Rig to flip!” is the mantra. No matter how gentle the river is expected to be, tie everything in as if you will get flipped. While we were rigging the boats, a park ranger carefully inspects our gear to make sure we have all mandatory gear and it is in good shape.
Jay volunteered to load his boat with all of the beer. His boat looks awfully heavily loaded! While I have more whitewater experience than most everyone on the trip, of the 6 oarsmen, I probably have the least experience rowing an 18′ raft. So I took the groover boat. I figure if I flip it, we just get a lot of wet shit. Better than wet food. Made it all fit, but wow, it feels like I’ve got too much gear!
Seems like a great group of people on this trip. Ariel is making friends with Kathleen and Elizabeth already.
After rigging and loading the boats, we moved downstream a few hundred yards and set up camp to prepare for our launch tomorrow. Bryant, the guy from PRO Outfitters, showed us how to set up and use the kitchen gear. Then we all piled back into the van and went a few miles up the road to the restaurant at Marble Canyon Lodge for the last indoor meal for 3 weeks. Kika, Natalia, and Captain Shu are staying there for the night. Seems silly to me at the moment…unless it rains…
My hands and lips are already getting dried out. Glad I bought extra lotion! After dinner we picked work crews. I wanted to be sure everyone was on a team with people they don’t already know. It makes it more enjoyable for everyone. You get to meet new people and if you’re there with a partner, only one of you is busy on a work crew at a time so the other can be packing or unpacking. The only exception seems to be David C, Rod, and Elizabeth, (and Sandie when she joins us later in the trip). They really want to be on the same crew so when they aren’t cooking, they can all go on hikes together. I’m not thrilled with this, but OK. It should be fine. Ariel is with Kevin, Kathleen, and Jay. Dave Shu, Steve and Chris are all on a team. Craig is with Natalia and Kika. I am with Gary and Lucy. Hmm. Should have swapped one on Craig’s team with one on my team. Oh well, it will all work fine.
I bought Ariel a big blue broad-rimmed sun hat at the lodge. Kevin bought dinner for me and Ariel again, just to show his appreciation for all the work I’ve done as trip leader. He knows it’s hard work. (Thanks Kevin!)
The water temperature is 57 degrees instead of the usual 45. Sweet! It’s because they had so much snow this year that they drew a huge amount of water out of the lake. That caused a temperature inversion, so all the warm water on the surface went to the bottom of the lake where they let it out of the dam. The air temp is warm tonight too, about 70 degrees. Amazing! I am finally ready to relax and enjoy the trip. Just need to get my gear organized better in the boat. That may take a few days to get it just right. Tomorrow we head downstream!
Today was a sunny, warm day. We made a short detour to visit Bryce Canyon National Park. Mildly interesting from the rim. Did you know it isn’t really a canyon? It’s an escarpment. Then we drove on, crossing the Colorado River by Lee’s Ferry. We will be back here tomorrow! Lots of cool places to check out in Southern Utah and Arizona, but we didn’t have time. Gotta get to Flagstaff. Got to the hotel by 4:00 and carried all of our gear to the room. In all the shuffle carrying gear I misplaced my wallet! It’s gotta be around here somewhere. I can’t get on the river without an ID! I’ll have to look for it later.
Followed Brother Craig to the airport to drop off his rental car. Everyone met in the lobby at 6:00 PM to go to dinner. Everyone was there right on time. That’s a good sign. Hopefully everything will go as well on the river. This is the first time we have all met. It looks like the leadership and hard work put into the planning and communications with the group to get us to this point have paid off. Now I should be able to relax a bit, enjoy the trip, and focus more on being Daddy for Ariel. Wow, is she ever excited!
Dinner at The Cracker Barrel. Afterwards we stopped to get some postcards to be mailed from Phantom Ranch that will be carried out by mule. Made some last-minute reorganizing of the gear. Bought extra skin lotion. (You can never have too much in the desert.) Found my wallet under the bed in the hotel room! Yea! Now I can sleep easier. Just need to send a few final emails and go online to renew the library books we have so they aren’t overdue when we get off the river. Shutting down the laptop and unplugging for 22 days! I will leave the laptop in the care of the front desk until we return in 3 weeks. The outfitter will be showing up tomorrow morning at 11:00 AM to pick up us and our gear and shuttle us to the river. I feel the bonds of civilization loosening already.