When I was invited on a 28-day Grand Canyon rafting trip in 2013, I knew I had to take the opportunity: I hardly knew anyone who was interested in whitewater, which made it unlikely I’d ever be invited on the biggest river trip in the U.S., or as I started calling it, “The Mt. Everest of Raft Trips.”
We had six rafts, an experienced captain for each boat, four kayakers, and a bunch of other folks who had lots of whitewater experience, guiding and leading trips on other rivers. And then me. I brought nothing to the trip besides enthusiasm, some decent jokes, and willingness to carry heavy stuff on and off boats twice a day.
In the months leading up to the trip, as planning e-mails popped up in my inbox, I decided the best thing I could do was volunteer for the least desirable job on the trip: groover duty. Yes, I would handle the assembly, disassembly, and cleaning of the groover, every single day. No matter how useless I was at reading whitewater, pulling a boat into an eddy, or even staying on board as we went through a rapid, people would like me, because I made it possible for them to go the entire trip without dealing with the groover. They could do their thing and walk away, for 28 straight days, because Brendan would take care of it. It was grunt work, a little gross, and put me in a position to be uncomfortably intimate with the human waste of the 15 other people on the trip.
But my first few days, I figured out a way to make it fun. I would take a photo of every groover view, and collect all of them. I am not a talented photographer, but I sure know a scenic place to take a dump when I see one.
At our second camp, Lower North Canyon, as everyone else set up tents and rolled out sleeping bags at their campsites for the night, I wandered the camp looking for a place for the groover. A few steps up North Canyon, there it was: a boulder to obscure the groover user from the rest of camp, a view directly ahead looking up at the burnt-red walls of the canyon, and close enough to the river to hear the soothing rush of Twenty-One Mile Rapid just downstream. The next morning, before I took down the groover, I ran back to my dry bag to grab my camera and snap a photo of the toilet seat perched on top of a rocket box, with the scenic backdrop behind.
Each evening, when we pulled the boats off the river at that night’s camp, I bolted around the camp, looking for the groover spot. I needed a balance of three things: privacy, ease of access (not too close to camp, not too far, easy walking over flat ground), and a great view from the toilet seat.
Night after night, I strived for the best groover placement. Some were easy, obvious. Others took a half-hour of walking, or an arrangement of rocks under the groover so it didn’t tip over. I also began to develop a fourth requirement: it had to make a great photo. I shot photos of as many groovers as possible in our 24 camps. Some were OK, some were beautiful.
A few friends on the trip found out about the photography project and asked if I needed someone to sit on the groover during the photo. I said, “No thanks. The groover is the star here.”