There are so many different ways a river trip can change you, some subtle, others more obvious. After having been a river guide for over 2 decades I can honestly say that the river has changed me in ways I could have never foreseen. I have worked in the Grand Canyon for many years and have seen many changes in it’s beautiful walls, canyons, and beaches, some good – some bad, but without change comes complacency. The thousands of people that have touched my life over the years have left an indelible mark and have taught me so many life lessons and humility along the way, for that I am forever grateful.
The river is a constant, there is no drama like you find in day-to-day life outside it’s walls. The parameters that you are required to live within are very straightforward and clear: the sun rises early in the morning, the river flows downstream and in Grand Canyon is cold by most accounts, it is dark when the sun sets, when it rains you will get wet, etc…
These are obvious & simple concepts so why do I mention them at all? River trips in Grand Canyon have the most remarkable affect on people. There is no tv to drown out the kids or “reality show” to entertain you, You’re now starring in your own reality show and it’s amazing if you can quiet the mental clutter long enough to listen.
Every situation has something to teach you if you are open to it; you just need to slow down long enough to hear it. Your fellow travelers teach you humility, respect, bravery, and leadership. The canyon offers the catalyst that forces you to slow down, remove the road blocks that you face in your “other life” and open you up to the possibilities that are right in front of you.
Case in point, when I was still at University, around 20, I had the privilege of taking an older woman (81) down the river for 6 days. She had recently undergone a double hip replacement and couldn’t do the strenuous hike that was scheduled for that morning. I had the privilege of staying back at the boat with her since she was a bit unsteady on her feet. She was from England and was traveling with her adult son, nothing uncommon about that. We spoke about her life as a journalist for the BBC and all the many wonderful experiences she had in rural parts of the African continent and the wild and adventurous events that shaped her life.
She led a very uncommon life that I would never have known about as she was very quiet and conservative on the boat during the day. I found myself hanging on her every word. I shared my desire to travel and see the world first hand.
During the conversation she asked me what I had planned for my life once I graduated. Without a lot of thought I replied, “Probably apply for a job and quit doing this full time I guess”.
She then shook her head in disappointment and looked down briefly while she said, “youth is wasted on the young”. What?! I was taken aback! “What do you mean”? I asked.
She looked me straight in the eye and said these words I’ll never forget: “You expressed a desire to see the world and travel to experience life firsthand, if you wait until you are old like me you will never do it. You cannot see into the future to see what life will bring you. You may not have your health, your children may need you well into your senior years, you may not have the money. Do it while you are young! You have the rest of your life to work and raise a family if that is what you want.”
These words changed my life! When I graduated I saved up my money and travelled for 9 years. I worked on the river during the summers, listened to all the stories of my river guests and inquired about all their travels, what they liked, disliked, wanted more of, cautioned against, etc… I met my husband while traveling in Kathmandu, Nepal, he is Australian. 5 years later we married and 5 years after that we had a daughter who is now nearly 8.
River trips have the unique ability to scale down your life to the bare essentials. Most find it a way of returning to the basics and re-evaluating what is truly important to them: family, relationships, pacing yourself, timing, and clearing the mental clutter that plagues all of us.
It’s never too late to change your life, but get started when you’re still young enough!