With 225 river miles and 15 magical nights spent under the stars, a rafting trip through the Grand Canyon is nothing short of an expedition—an expedition that holds the promise of unforgettable adventure and life-long memories. But what happens on a more personal level? Do copper sunsets and roaring rapids really have the power to transform someone? Talk to anyone who has ventured into the depths of the canyon and they will tell you, “Absolutely.”
This past September I was lucky enough to witness this transformation first hand, not only for myself, but also for some of the other guests who braved the canyon.
The portraits below, taken on the first day and last day, show what 16 days in the wilderness will do to a person. While their physical transformations are apparent—bronzed cheeks, tousled hair and a stress-free sparkle in their eyes—it’s their personal revelations that are most inspiring.
Meet Connie (60), Harris (27), Sydney (28) and Jovan (62).
Every great adventure starts with the moment you say, “Yes.” When asked why this particular trip was chosen, our guests had a handful of unique responses.
For Harris and his dad, Jovan, they were initially inspired by the book The Emerald Mile. Along with the literary inspiration, Harris felt that this could be a vitally important chance to bond as father and son.
“My parents have invested a lot in me, so I felt like I owed it to my dad to give him an experience that I know he’s been dreaming of,” Harris explained.
For Sydney, she said she didn’t have a choice—this trip chose her. Sydney was a last-minute addition to the trip after her uncle, Sid (her namesake), passed away unexpectedly. There was no hesitation in her decision when her aunt Connie called and asked her to take Sid’s place.
“There’s nothing that would have stopped me from saying yes,” said Sydney.
After the passing of her husband, Connie never questioned if she would cancel the trip. Instead, she chose to use the river as a way to celebrate and honor Sid, with her son and niece by her side.
Even the most adventurous of travelers enter into endeavors like this with at least some trepidation.
Often, these fears arise from concern for safety. On day one, Jovan admitted to having some nerves about the larger rapids, especially knowing that his beloved son would be exposed to the same dangers.
Other times, these fears are more physical or social in nature. Connie, for example, was most anxious that her recently fixed knee might become re-injured. She was an avid hiker who had life-long dreams of exploring every nook and cranny in the canyon. For Sydney, her fear was about group dynamics. This is a fair concern considering putting 16 strangers in a flotilla together is a bit of a gamble. We all know how the show Survivor ends.
So, what came of these fears? They were faced and they were conquered.
Jovan quickly found that his nerves about safety had evolved into excitement and he even found himself, “feeling pumped for the larger rapids like Crystal.”
Connie’s fear of re-injury morphed into motivation – she refused to miss a hike and her knee graciously soldiered on through each and every step.
With Sydney, she admitted that by the end of night one her fears of the group not getting along had completely dissipated. Harris agreed by adding that he was pleasantly surprised by how quickly everyone began to feel like family.
With fear out of the way, all that is left is room to fully give yourself to the experience. This is when you are likely to see the most impactful transformations.
Before the trip was fully underway, I spoke with Connie about her goals and if there was anything she was hoping to learn on her journey through the Grand Canyon.
“I’m leaving myself open,” she said as she explained to me that she wanted to be mentally available for whatever the river had in store for her.
Over the next 16 days, the river worked its magic. The experiences and challenges of 225 rugged river miles gave Connie something she had been needing – independence. She told me on our last morning that since her husband’s death she had struggled with feeling like she had lost a part of herself, like she was “half a person.” This trip made her feel whole again, which she attributes to the fact that, “this type of environment strengthens you.”
For many transformative experiences in people’s lives there tends to be an aha-moment, often at the pinnacle of adventure or excitement. The canyon is different though. It’s in the quiet moments when simplicity reigns that most people feel moved.
For Harris, the brief, although seemingly eternal, time before entering a rapid is when he felt the most inspired—”The silence before the storm,” as he put it. This feeling resonated with him deeply as he began to understand the beauty in appreciating not only the big exciting occasions in life, but also relishing in the journey leading up to those events.
Similarly, his father Jovan told me that many of his most memorable sparks of inspiration came from seeing expansive views of parts of the canyon we had yet to travel. Most notably, the river view from the Nankoweap Granaries. He described these sights as “ribbons of water that are symbolic of beginning and end.” He took this symbolism as a lesson in accepting life in all of its stages.
Sydney’s inspiration came in the form of humility. Surrounded by grandiose scenery, she said it was hard not to feel humbled when she realized how small she was in comparison to everything else around her. In this setting she was able to really slow down and appreciate each moment for what it was—a lesson she hopes will stick with her throughout her life.
A river trip of this magnitude is one of nature’s most special gifts. To this day the river still brings me to my knees, and I watch time and time again as it changes the lives of those around me, just like it did for Connie, Sydney, Harris and Jovan. So, give it chance—say “yes” to adventure. You never know what the river might have in store for you.