4. Michael Brown
“I guess the fear is still there for me,” I said. “The consequences feel so real, and I haven’t figured out how to block it out. I wake up in the morning, and there it is.”
“That fear and anxiety only gets in the way,” Harlan said,
“clouding your movements and reactions. Then, the next thing you know, you’re surrounded by massive chaos, and it overwhelms you. Instead, I think of it as surrendering everything to the river, and channeling your energy into perfect focus, just reacting and becoming a part of what the water is
When we reached Upset the next day, Harlan had everyone land and hop out to scout. Upset was already significant, but at this water level, 13,000 CFS, he said it got even trickier and more dangerous. He pulled me aside and spoke in a clear, measured voice: “Okay, It’s pretty spicy, but there’s a perfect line to snake it cleanly, although it’ll feel pretty counter-intuitive. The setup is everything. You enter left, and you keep pushing left into these lateral waves. They’re actually crashing off of the left cliff wall. Your brain is telling you don’t go over there, but you have to go left. That big hole Lonnie and Timmy were talking about is to your right, and it is violent; it’s a place you don’t want to be. You want to hit the lateral perfectly on the left, catch the current, and sneak by the big hole on your right. Bam. Done. You got this, E!”
I nodded, but in reality I just kept thinking about that “violent” hole that had subbed Timmy and where Lonnie had swam, the place where you didn’t want to be.
We got back in our boats. The safety guides paddled into position, and mercifully, as Harlan said, “Check, check …” the radios were working. “E, don’t let your mind get in the way here,” I heard Harlan’s soothing voice. “Your mind can be the barrier between you and the river, between thinking it and just feeling it and being there with it. If your mind gets in the way, then you’re defeating the purpose of what this experience is about.” I let his words wash over me, nodding, slowing my breathing, pushing the fear to the outside edges of my awareness.
“I want you to try something,” he went on. “Forget that I’m here, that I’m giving you commands to follow. Think of my voice as a line of communication to the water, as a conduit to the river. Allow yourself to feel the intricacies of the rapid. Envision the tongue, like a runway, as we drop in. Imagine the waves, the canyon light glimmering off them, foam and spray igniting in flashes of color and light. Feel the power of the big, green, beautiful waves. Try to truly be here, not fighting against it, not surviving it, but connected to this place. I’ll be right behind you to share everything that we’re doing.”
“Ok,” I said, listening hard to the deep rumble below and trying to feel the surface of the water through the bottom of my boat. I sat up, exhaled, and tried to pull some of the river’s energy into my lungs. Then we were paddling toward Upset. “Be clear, calm, in the moment,” he said. I focused on each paddle stroke, each riffle of the water, and the space between each breath. Time seemed to slow down just a bit as I dropped in…
From NO BARRIERS: A Blind Man’s Journey to Kayak the Grand Canyon by Erik Weihenmayer and Buddy Levy. Copyright (c) 2017 by the authors and reprinted by permission of Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press, LLC.