This is the last post by our guest blogger, Minette, who we have truly loved having. Her son did extremely well after his release, got a job and went on with life. This is a wonderful story of a trip she and her son took rafting down the Colorado River. Enjoy!
My friend had always told me “It will be alright.” And… It was. Several months after my son got settled, I asked him to join his old, but in shape from all that running I did to stay sane, mother on a rafting adventure down the Colorado River. I arranged a trip that stayed in the state of Arizona, a requirement for his parole. The trip was for five days, including a weekend. He didn’t have to take off too much time from work. The end of the trip was an uphill, nine mile plus hike on the Bright Angel trail from Phantom Ranch. This would be like the high adrenaline escapades he had with that group of friends he stayed with to avoid drugs when he was a teenager. There probably weren’t many trips he would like to take with his mother, but he was happy to accompany me on this one. I told him it was his job to make sure I was alright, just in case I had a problem. I made every effort not to have a problem. For over three months, I prepared by climbing uphill on treadmills in the gym and on every uphill location I could think of in town. I asked him if he was preparing, because it truly is considered a challenging hike with lots of 15-degree inclines. They say in the trip description, it is supposed to take between six and nine hours to complete that last hike of the trip. This was formidable, no fooling around! He said he really didn’t need to do anything, he thought he was in shape. But the truth came out shortly before the trip, he was hiking uphill for several weeks with one of his housemates. It’s true, you don’t need to do as much to get in shape at twenty-eight as you do at sixty-five, but it is wise to do something. And he did. He also prepared with all the stuff the concessionaire suggested we take for the trip. I prepared by buying a rain suit that I will definitely never need again, a hiking shirt and pair of pants made of magical material, so it breathes all by itself to keep you cool if you’re hot or hot if it’s cool.
Finally, the time for our trip arrived. We drove up to Flagstaff in his truck, stayed overnight there for orientation with the group and then headed to Lee’s Ferry in the morning in the group’s van. There the group of 24 people took off in two rafts along with five boatmen. I do believe I was the oldest person there, but not by much. There were several pretty, young ladies who were with their friends and then other young ladies and young men with their parents. There were couples in their fifties there as well. Some people were going the full length of the Canyon and some were doing half the canyon as we were. Off we went. I thought he would like to be on a separate raft from me. How many single young men want to be with their mothers? I was fine with separate rafts. Later we would be sharing the same tent anyway. But after our first landing and hike into a side canyon, I found he actually wanted to be in the same raft with me. That was fine with me too.
While the morning was nice, that first afternoon it rained while we were on the river. It was fun bouncing like beach balls on the edge of the raft as we went over some rapids, but the weather was not cooperating, it was cold. Luckily, we both had our rainwear to keep us cozy and dry. When we landed in the early evening, he was our lead on setting up the tent. He was a little like his father that he wanted things done his way. Then we joined the others for a delicious dinner prepared by our guides. I convinced him to sit out and look at the stars for a while as most of our companions turned in for the night. I love looking at the stars. When we finally went to bed, we walked back to the tent in the dark, but there was no tent. It was pitch black, but we searched the area with our tiny phone lights and could find nothing. We had weighted it down with clothes, but apparently not enough. I went down to the raft crew, carefully watching my step under the illumination of my flashlight and woke them up. The lead guy delegated the problem to one of the sleepy crewmen. He got his shoes and a bigger flash light, went back to where my son was and where the tent was supposed to be. After a few minutes of further searching, we found the tent blown away about fifty feet down a hill. Our clothes were found attached to the branches of several nearby bushes. We gathered it all up and reset it down at its original location and went to bed. We were not experienced campers, but we were learning. I could see the stars through the top of the tent. I stared up at them until I fell asleep.
The next day the weather was better. The sun was shining, the canyon walls were beautiful with a variety of colors and formations. We took a hike deep into a canyon full of sedimentary rock, and we had to angle this way and that to avoid tripping and falling. I don’t know about everybody else, but I was focused on not getting hurt, so I could make that hike up the canyon at the end of our trip. I did not want to be the one to call a helicopter to get me out of there. After a mile or so of carefully watching my footing, we reached a lovely waterfall. We each took turns standing under it to enjoy the cool water after our exertions on the trail. Everyone snapped a picture. We hung out there for a while, thrilled by the thought we were deep in the canyon. Only a few people have the opportunity to get here. On our journey back to the rafts, we saw a few deer. Back on the rafts, we splashed through more rapids, laughing as some of us, depending on where we sat, got soaked and others were completely dry. I enjoyed getting wet. My son preferred to stay out of the water. The dry ones would take pictures as the waves of water rose up to almost drown the others. But that was part of the fun. Between the challenging rapids, we would admire the beautiful red, orange, brown canyon hues, chat among ourselves and listen to the guide describe the canyon and the stories of the people who explored it. We stopped at an enormous cavern that probably gave shelter to sojourners centuries ago, and then a few hours later stopped for another hike. This time, I decided to stay by the rafts, and let the others walk on. I can hike at home but sitting alone by an eternally rushing river for a while held more enchantment for me. It was beautiful and special. A memory I’ll cherish.
We went a little further down the river and started to unload our packs for the evening. My son was taking the heavier loads, so he was a little behind me. I was chatting with a fellow traveler about how nice the day was, and he commented to me that he had spoken with my son for a while on the raft and on the hike I missed. He said my son was a real nice young man. He had no idea how much and for how long I had hoped to hear words like those. I hadn’t realized it either until he said them. But that was exactly what I wanted and needed to hear, and it was the truth. He is a nice young man, we have turned a page, heck, we have almost closed a book. I am grateful for that.
That should be the end of this story, because that is the most important part of it. But I can’t finish until I let you know, about our trip up and out of the canyon.
That night, my son and I watched the stars again, and we saw several satellites. We were sure we saw an UFO, too. It came out of nowhere, made the strangest acute angle turn and flew away. The next day, the guides said they believe they have often seen UFOs on their many journeys down the river.
We took off for Phantom Ranch. Staying overnight at this iconic location was a bucket list item for me. The area is lovely there, an oasis, with several different trails running nearby. The cabins are functional. We had two rooms with a bathroom. We bunked with people who had been on our trip. The front room had six beds and the back room had four. All of us shared the bathroom. After leaving our stuff in the room, I took an easy hike on a trail adjacent to the main building at the ranch. My son went with some of the other kids to a high bridge we passed on the river. Dinner was served in the main building. It was a delicious beef stew. All the food served was either grown there or brought in by mules. These same mules went back up the canyon with bags visitors to the Ranch needed hauled up. We set our bags, except for our backpacks filled with what we needed for our hike back, out after dinner.
Phantom Ranch is a universe all to itself. You would think it would be a great place to watch the stars again, but the canyon is so narrow there that the steep canyon walls cut off the sky. You can only gaze at a very narrow band of the heavens filled with stars.
The next morning, we gathered to start our hike up. As one should, I decided to use the modern-day conveniences available at the ranch, aka, the toilet, before scaling the canyon with its limited facilities. The others started to take off. Wouldn’t you know it, these miracle pants I bought come with a unique snap to close the pants. For the life of me, I could not make that snap work when I got out of the bathroom. I was standing there for a full ten minutes playing with it, feeling like a fool. The tour provided a guide up the trail who was supposed to stay with the laggards. That was me and my son because he did not abandon me as I struggled with this stupid snap. Eventually, the guide who was a female, a pretty one at that, offered to help me. I felt like a five-year-old starting kindergarten. She got it closed immediately. We started up the hike, way behind the others. My son held up his end of the bargain, he did not leave my side. He made sure I was fine. Eventually the others stopped at a resting point and we caught up. We stayed there for quite a while, not wanting to leave before our guide said we should go. Once she did, my son and I moved ahead and stayed ahead. All that preparation paid off. There was no problem moving up that mountain. With just a couple of miles to go, I could see I would not have a problem. I told my son he could go ahead. He moved quickly up the mountain at his own pace. He beat me up to the top by a good half hour, but I was no slouch either. I beat the other adults in the group by over an hour. They found us at the top, at the Grand Canyon Lodge having a well-deserved cold one. It was not an easy climb, but we made it from the bottom to the top on this trip and, in at least for now, in this life. For that, I am grateful and I am grateful for this wonderful trip with my son.