The Great Unknown: On The Grand Canyon and America's future

August 13th, 1869:

We have an unknown distance yet to run, an unknown river to explore. What falls there are, we known not; what rocks beset the channel, we know not; what walls may rise over the river, we know not. Ah well! We may conjecture many things. The men talk as cheerfully as ever; jests are bandied about freely this morning; but to me the cheer is somber and the jests are ghastly.’

                                                                        - John Wesley Powell

On November 10th, 2015 I embarked on a trip down the Colorado River into the Grand Canyon. The trip was comprised of three boats, two kayaks, and one rubber duckie (inflatable kayak). There were ten people on the trip, including myself and we were about to depart on a trip down 225-river miles of some of the most insane water in the United States. Some of the rapids in The Grand features waves that are as high as eighteen feet and water temperatures consistently sit near 50-degrees, which is not warm. I wouldn’t consider the trip to be dangerous per se, but it is a river that has claimed the lives of the unprepared, and the ill fortuned. Without cell phone service your only chance of rescue in extreme circumstances is to use a satellite phone, and hope that you can get service to call in a helicopter. Needless to say, you need to be with people that you can trust.

When I departed on this trip I only knew three of the other nine very well, Alan, Fran, and Trevor. I had met Taylor, and Eva just once, as we passed through Glacier National Park. We had gone on several hikes, camped, and chatted over beers. The remaining four I met for the first time the day before we were to depart. These were the people who I was entrusting my life. If shit should hit the fan, they were who I had. Keep in mind, I only knew 33% of them at the beginning.

On the first day I decided not to ride in one of the rafts and instead opted for the duckie. A duckie is an inflatable kayak, your legs aren’t covered, which means that you will easily fall out when you hit rough water. As I am not a kayaker I didn’t have the necessary equipment. Jeff, one of the people I had just met threw me a pair of spare gloves to keep my hands warm. At the end of the first day my shoulders ached, my hands were a bit raw, but I hadn’t fallen in the water and I was happy.

That night I wrote in my journal: ‘It is so nice to be back on the river, I truly thought that this would be a once in a lifetime experience. To be back on the river so quickly is an incredible blessing. The people. The feeling of being small. It is quite wonderful and I consider myself lucky.’

We are living in a divisive time. Half of our country is celebrating the election of Donald Trump, the other half is in mourning at Hillary Clinton’s loss. The fact remains that we are about to begin a trip down the Grand Canyon.

John Wesley Powell wrote on August 13th, 1869 that ‘We are now ready to start on our way down the Great Unknown. Our boats, tied to a common stake, chafe against each other as they are tossed by the fretful river.’

We are tied to the common stake of freedom, liberty, and democracy. We are about to depart on a trip that takes us into the Great Unknown and as we are tossed about we will chafe against each other in this fretful river. Like one year ago, when I descended into the Grand Canyon, I am surrounded by people that I do not know. As you will you come to find through the story of this journey, those people are some of truest friends. They are the people that I call when I need advice and the people that I can always count on. I didn’t know them before last year, and so I encourage you to take this trip down the Great Unknown with the openness of realizing that while we will certainly chafe each other, we have the opportunity to come out stronger on the other side.