When Alyson Adventures' Zach Moses suggested I join their "all gay male 8 day whitewater rafting/hiking tour of the Grand Canyon" I gamely agreed, thinking that an invitation made by a naked guy poolside at the Island House in Key West would be soon forgotten. Three days later, he called to confirm my place in the last tour of the season. When I shared the news with my husband (whose work schedule would keep him from joining me) he said, "You? You're going camping? In a place with snakes and scorpions, and no bathroom?" I replied archly that Zach must have sensed my essential ruggedness, but my husband's humming the theme song to Green Acres stayed with me throughout the trip.
Happy to report my return alive, I saw no snakes or scorpions. I did see what might be the most uniquely beautiful place on/in earth. The Grand Canyon--I had always assumed it to be just a distended ditch--is the only place that literally deserves the words "gorgeous" and "awesome". For eight days, we drifted past soaring stratified rock exposing the geology of hundreds of millions of years. At night I slept naked beneath only the brilliant and forgotten blanket of stars and streaking comets. I met and bonded with a group of remarkable men who kept me alive in the high places while gently coaxing me out of my comfort zone and into adventure. This is the first installment of my account of a life-changing trip that I hope you will experience for yourself. (They also offer lesbian and mixed trips.)
Packing for the Canyon is refreshingly minimal but very specific, with Alyson Adventures listing everything you will need, including: sun block, sun glasses, water bottle, hat, fast drying gear, water sandals, sarong (more on that to come) and a square kerchief/bandanna that would replace kleenex (soggy and useless in your pocket after the first slap of the rapids) and would sometimes be dipped in the water and wrapped over heads baked by the relentless sun. Oddly, none of us could recall the hanky color codes indicating sexual specifics! When my light blue kerchief went down the river, a fellow traveler gave me his dark blue spare and I wondered if my sexual identity needed to follow suit, but how? With no phone or internet, the onset of Google-withdrawal symptoms was immediate and more frightening than any indigenous critters.
Alyson's Darin Hollingsworth, who would be with us throughout the excursion, met us in Las Vegas on the evening before our pre-dawn bus ride to Lees Ferry where we would meet the two young (and straight) guys who were our "River Guide" and "Swamper" (junior guide), and board the motorized pontoon that would carry us through 278 miles of alternating majestic silence and thunderous rapids.
At Darin's orientation, I was relieved and delighted to find that my traveling companions were cordial, lively, intelligent, humorous and of various sizes and ages (early 30s to 60s). This trip, while not for the delicate, is not restricted to the triathletes and gym bunnies among us. When I asked the group how they would describe their bodies on hook-up sites, their response was immediate and unanimous: "height/weight proportionate". As a group, we could be described as alert scramblers, intensely curious about people and places, sturdy, daring but sensible, and appreciative of the earth's beauty. At dusk one evening, as I sat beside him at the campsite, Darin, who has hosted several groups of gay men through the Grand Canyon, added another essential descriptive. He told me that he always loves watching the men on this trip rapidly sink into their natural playfulness. If you have lost track of your ability to play, the Grand Canyon is where you will rediscover it.
On "Day One" as we got into our life vests while standing beside the raft, small objects and their fastenings got all our attention. A wide brimmed hat is indispensible, but did you remember to tie it securely under your chin? Are your sunglasses strapped around your neck? Is your water bottle clipped to a rope? Is your spf 50 lip balm clipped to a belt loop? Is your waterproof camera clipped and strapped around your neck? Is your kerchief knotted? We were less than a mile along when our River Guide shouted "Have a hand hold!" and the first set of rapids showed me what all the fussing was about. Alyson doesn't call this trip "Splash!" for nothing.
To book a tour, go to Alyson Adventures.
(A version of this report appears in the current issue of South Florida Gay News as "Tales of the Canyon - Part One")