We round one bend, then another, and
there it is ahead of us: the long runway
of bubbling whitewater.
“Left forward! Left forward! Harder!
ALL paddle forward, ALL PADDLE!”
We enter the hydraulics just where she’s
aimed, as shockingly cold whitewater
begins pummeling us from all sides. Our
rubber duck nose-dives down a roller
coaster of whitewater, we bury our bow
in it, another rises up before us, and
I brace for the capsize. Then we pop
out, our boat awash, and Kelsey is still
shouting commands to line the raft up
to avoid the next obstacle as water meets
water with crashing power. “All paddle
backward! All paddle back! Stop! Now,
right forward! Right forward!”
The sound of the whitewater is deaf-
ening. We can barely hear Kelsey above
the roar of it. “OK, all paddle for-
ward! All paddle forward! Stop. LEFT
PADDLE FORWARD! HARDER!”
she commands. We skim around a mas-
sive boulder. She’s wielding that steering
paddle from the stern with enormous
strength. “All paddle forward! Harder!”
We’re paddling our hearts out now. One
minute it feels like we’re underwater, the
only thing holding us onto our raft are
our feet wedged under the floor straps.
The next, we’re back up, torrents of bub-
bling whitewater crashing over us.
And then … Upset spits us out!
INTACT! In my entire life, I cannot
remember ever experiencing this level
of adrenalin rush. Kelsey whoops. We
all scream and hug in excitement, raise
Clockwise from top:
The guides were
excellent at what’s
the Grand Canyon
geology and history.
Kiki, one of our
her great wood
oars. Dinner was
always hearty and
devoured! We all
dry out and set up
our paddles and slap them together. We
did it! We paddled through a Category
That night around the campfire,
giddy about our day, we’re united in
our new passion for the Grand Canyon
and how it has made us feel, well, young
again! Tomorrow, we’ll head for our biggest rapid of all, Lava, infamous for its
power to flip rafts and wreck havoc. Full
of turns and roiling whitewater, it’s the
rapid everyone who paddles down the
Colorado both fears and craves.
When we started this voyage, we
didn’t all know each other. We were
country people mixed with city people
and represented a spectrum of ages –
some fit as fiddles, some not so much.
Here, around a campfire under the stars,
though, in a canyon of immeasurable
beauty and with our muscles aching
happily, we were no longer lawyers and
grannies and salesmen and administrative assistants. We were explorers,
far from soul-crushing discussions of
politics, tabloid gossip, war, money. We
were sharing our fears and hopes with
one another, setting our imaginations
free to maybe even rethink our lives a
bit. Anything seemed possible out here
– all this from allowing this spectacular
American river to unite us in the ride
of our lives.
Bernadette Bernon, our editorial director,
lives in Rhode Island. She and her husband, Douglas, cruised their 39-foot sailboat, Ithaka, for six years. Now they enjoy
their Seaway 24 lobster boat.