Grand Canyon practice run

I’m back from our 12-day practice run of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. This trip was a test run for myself and my team to assess whether coming back to kayak all 225 miles is a real possibility or just a pipedream. Now that I’m back and have had some time to reflect, I feel I have a good shot at pulling this off. Starting off the trip, I listened carefully to the advice of my friend, Harlan Taney, who has kayaked the Grand over a hundred times. He told me, “Hey, you have to get to a point where you have fun in these rapids. If you're not having fun, you won't have the motivation to stick with it.” I wouldn’t say I’m quite there yet. Getting in my boat each morning, I was filled with anxiety as I listened to the huge roar of the rapids below and would have trouble keeping down breakfast. I'd try to push back the nerves with some rhythmic breathing and stretching. Heading into each huge rapid, I knew in the next two minutes of intensity there were three possible scenarios, each getting progressively worse: coming out at the bottom right side up, flipping and having to roll back up, or attempting a roll unsuccessfully and having to bail out and swim. I've never done a sport that demands so much in such a short amount of time. All brain neurons are firing at maximum, especially without eyes and relying only on what I'm hearing from my guide and what I'm feeling under my boat. On this first experience, I'd kayak for two or three hours before I was mentally exhausted, and I know endurance is going to be a key factor on the next go-around. We had my best kayak team yet on this trip, starting with Fred Thevenin from Arizona Raft Adventures (aka Azra), who ran the 36-foot motorized raft that carried all our gear. My support crew included my oldest kayaking partner Rob Raker, who taught me to kayak and got nicknamed “Papa Duck” as the elder statesman. Chris Wiegand, a kayak coach who runs an outreach program called Sportainability, is also a longtime partner who helped with guiding. Harlan was a new member of the team. I first met Harlan six years ago on the Grand. He was the safety guide for a group of blind teenagers I was leading down the river. Harlan had some of the blind folks paddle down some of the easier rapids in inflatable kayaks and at the end of the trip. Afterwards, he told me I should think about coming back some day and kayaking the whole thing in a hard-shell kayak. Not sure he knew I'd actually take him up on it. Harlan was amazing to have along because he knows the Grand like no one else and as he guided me from behind, he was able to pick perfect lines through the rapids! Another new addition to my team is Timmy O’Neill, the director of Paradox Sports, a non-profit that helps the disabled get outdoors. Known by many as a wildman climber and comedian, Timmy is also a super talented kayaker who has been paddling for decades. Before the put-in, we had a team meeting to develop a plan of action. My primary guide paddles just behind me and uses the intercom to give me directions so we call him the “Squawker.” We have another guide behind him who acts as a backup safety boater, so he gets called the “Hail Mary.” Sometimes we have a person out front picking the line if we’re on an unfamiliar rapid. And then there are two other safety boaters who get prepared to pickup the carnage is if someone takes a swim. The other big part of the “team” is our Neptune intercoms, which finally solved our radio problems. Without a reliable communication system in the deafening roar of the rapids, this adventure would be flat out impossible. After two years of experimenting we now have the tools needed for kayaking big water safely. Overall, on this practice run, I paddled about 50% of the river  and about 70% of the big rapids, including Granite and Hermit. After Granite, I told my team, "you know it's a good one when you dry heave after it." So anxiety is still present, perhaps diminishing just a bit, but I'm pushing forward anyway. Now I have about 16 months to continue preparing for one of the biggest adventures of my life. Check out this video from our trip. And please leave a comment here on my blog if you like what I'm doing! Many thanks to my sponsors at Mountain Hardwear, Scarpa, Leki, Werner Paddles, WRSI helmets, Northwest River Supply, and Neptune Comms! And thanks again to Fred at Azra, who runs a fantastic guiding service. Reach! Erik