Leaving Las Vegas – Lessons learned in the Grand Canyon

As we get ready to depart Las Vegas, I am struck by the fact that we have spent the last 72 hours in a city that is about as far removed from the heart of the Grand Canyon, where we spent the previous seven days, as possible.  While the kids enjoyed both experiences, I believe that the week in the outdoors is the experience over time they will value more.  It is the experience that challenged them rather than indulged them.  It removed them from the luxuries to which they are accustomed and unplugged them from the over-stimulating technology that is part of everyday modern life.  With only a 24-hour interim between the Grand Canyon National Park and Las Vegas – re-entry was sudden and at hyperspeed.  Both kids took it in stride. In fact, they relished the reconnection, including not only having their iphones and ipads back – but having their necessary reception and wifi.  I must admit, I was both a little disappointed in the ease in which we got “back up to speed” and, guilty myself of enjoying having a Google-capable smart phone back in my greedy little paws.

First of all, let’s discuss the Grand Canyon Rafting trip.  This was my baby.  A week selected by me that I was sure would be enjoyable and valuable.  In hindsight, I think I was correct.  But that is not to say that I understood the challenges that rafting 188 miles on the Colorado River and camping six nights would present to our family. With average August air temperatures in the Canyon of over 100 degrees and the Colorado River water temperature a very brisk 50 degrees – we were faced with some extreme conditions from the moment we climbed aboard the raft at Lee’s Ferry.  We were excited and being fed lots of information that I felt like I was not fully grasping at the time. As we loaded our bags aboard the raft while meeting two other families that were on the trip, we were given drinking cups, carabiners and a pile of instructions. These included where to sit, where not to sit, and what to do if we went overboard in a rapid.  It didn’t help that our Captain, an able-boatman named Jeff, who had made over 300 trips down the Colorado, spoke as if he was just thinking aloud or mumbling to himself.  His dry sense of humor and unique manner in dealing with us, was something we would not understand or appreciate for many miles down the river.  Initially, he seemed distant, disinterested, and frankly, a little strange.  Nonetheless, we departed with some excitement and the early mild rapids and canyon views did not disappoint.  We were on our way!

Detailing the ups and downs (both literal and figurative) of the next seven days would take pages and pages.  It would definitely provide an interesting and hilarious read.  As I haven’t the space or time to write that story, I will summarize a few key elements here.  First of all, the Helmers are not really campers.  While Lee and I enjoyed camping the most, it took all of us out of our comfort zone.  Let’s face it – Anne and I have spent the last 5 years on a Tempur-pedic mattress with imported sheets.   Sleeping on the ground is not very comfortable and can result in cranky and sore 40-somethings.  The fact that we finished the day quite tired and the presence of hot coffee first thing in the morning, got us through the unusual (for us) sleeping experience.  I can say, I got to where I enjoyed camping out and Anne, although she never really enjoyed it, rarely complained.  Laney did make it clear, especially shortly after waking up that, she was NOT a fan of the whole “camping thing”.

Over the seven days we were on the trip we gave up hot showers, a roof over our head, comfy beds, cell-phone coverage – including texting capability and video games for the kids.  In exchange we received refreshing waterfall-fed bathing pools, clear starry nights, sleeping bags, conversations with our kids, extreme rapids, and a new sense of the grand beauty and power of mother nature.  We also learned quite a bit about our abilities to cope and thrive in a new situation.

We especially enjoyed making new friends with the other families on the trip.  It would not have been nearly as much fun without Gabe, Theo, Alex, Andrew and Tatiana and their parents.  We talked, sang, and laughed for almost the entire 188 miles down the Colorado. (There was one period of extended quiet when a lengthy powerful rainstorm reduced us all to silence as we hunkered down on the raft in our rain gear – like turtles in our shells – waiting for the sun to reemerge.)  We also are eternally grateful to Captain Jeff and 1st mate Sean.  They guided us down the river and to special locations in the Canyon that we will never forget.  Jeff’s sense of humor and Sean’s sense of adventure added immeasurably to the experience.

Our favorite past time, not counting extended discussions of how to survive a zombie apocalypse, was sharing riddles.  We remembered riddles we knew and tried to stump one another as we traveled.  This simple game proved challenging and fun.  I guess I knew the trip was a success as Anne and I sat at a casino restaurant Sunday. The wifi was working, cell signals strong, we were literally surrounded by televisions, bells and whistles with a clear view into the sports book with no fewer than 10 sporting events displayed on giant screens.  One of the kids said – “Hey, let’s play that riddle game!”.  And we did.

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