Wednesday, October 1, 2014

3 – JEANNE MOONS THE KAYAKERS -- “Grand Canyon Rafting – A Dozen Little Stories”

It’s the second question everyone seems to ask, right after, “How was your Grand Canyon raft trip?” Once the concept sinks in of having slept out in the open with creepy-crawlers for seven nights and bathed each day in the cold, muddy Colorado River, what follows is: “But where do you go to the bathroom?”

That question also may be the biggest source of anxiety for first-time rafters, particularly those of a certain age or a certain gender.
Some 27,000 people every year float through the Canyon on trips ranging from days to weeks. That’s a lot of shit. And it’s not like there are porta-potties along the way, and the time is long past when visitors could safely bury their poop in the sand and burn their toilet paper. Thanks to demands of the river’s professional guides, since the 1970s the National Park Service has required that all wastes be hauled out. The old wilderness travel mantra, “Take nothing but photos; leave nothing but footprints,” is working in the Grand Canyon. Visitors see not a trace of litter or illegal toilets.

At camp each night, a toilet is set up nearby, discretely placed to be shielded by boulders or trees. “You’ll have the best bathroom wallpaper of your life,” Boatman Art had promised at the start of the trip. He was right about that, but I never got the idea that anyone took their time in order to savor the views. The portable contraption consists of a big metal box with a regular toilet seat atop. On the path leading to the toilet, a wash station is set up; if the toilet paper is missing, the throne is occupied. Each morning, the now much heavier box is closed up and two guides muscle it back to the raft, where it is stored below deck until evening.
(Credit: Dell Sculthorp)
That all sounds nice and neat, and for the most part it is. But remember – we had 32 people pooping in that one box. We learned a new concept, which I trust needs no further explanation: “crowning.”

After a few days of learning the routine, figuring out when the lines were busiest, and who you’d best not follow, Eva discovered that all she needed to do before nature called was say to our boatman, “Hey, Art. I hear it’s crowning.”

Art would sigh and slump his shoulders, resigned to his duty –  “All right” – then head off to tamp down the crown of turds.
Peeing was another matter entirely. The rule was simple – you pee in the river or the adjacent wet sand, and never in the dry sand or in side-streams. And you better be peeing a lot in that hundred-degree-plus weather. Art warned us that 90 percent of all illnesses and even injuries in the Canyon stem from dehydration. So we drank and drank and drank – mostly water but other liquids, as well – all day long and far into the evenings. To stay hydrated.

Jeanne and Ann "hydrating."
How do 32 people find privacy to pee in the river? It turned out that privacy was an evolving concept over the course of the week. Early on, normal modesty ruled, with people wading waist-deep into the river or walking far down the beach to be alone, particularly those who needed to squat. As days wore on, however, Boatwoman Ann-Marie’s advice seemed more appropriate: “If someone’s watching you pee, you’re not the one with the problem.”

That’s all well and good, but try telling that to poor Jeanne. During a lunch break on the beach, she had been advised by Eva: “Just down around those rocks, there’s nobody there. No one can see you.” So that’s where Jeanne headed. And that’s where she was squatting, calf-deep in the water, pants down, bare ass pointing riverward, when five guys in kayaks rounded the bend.
Now the problem with standing in the river is that often the bottom is a vacuous mix of sand and silt. Jeanne tried to stand to pull up her pants, but her feet had sunk so far into the sand that she couldn’t get her balance. It must have been quite the show.

An hour or so later, our motorized raft caught up with the kayakers. “You want an encore from the women?” I shouted as we passed them. Their smiles were their answers. That’s when I noticed that several of them had GoPro cameras affixed to their helmets, having likely immortalized Jeanne’s moon.

 The story of Jeanne mooning the kayakers may have prompted some of the women on the trip to take up Boatwoman Ann-Marie’s offer to teach them how to pee standing up. I watched them one evening all head into the moonlit water next to the raft for their lesson. They seemed excited by what they had learned, but I’ve not asked for details.

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