Stuck on the river |

Stuck on the river

Open Space
Derek Franz
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO

In a way, I’ve been on the river from the moment I said yes.

Events have been set in motion. Everything is only a matter of time now.

When a person gets an invitation to fill a last-minute vacancy on a Grand Canyon river trip, and when his boss promptly tells him to take whatever time off work, the universe is pulling him somewhere. So I said yes.

Now the canyon lies at the bottom of every thought, at the edge of my world, like a great, shimmering drain where all things must pass. What lies beyond it I can only imagine. It’s only weeks away.

My comrades have been planning this for months, even years. I’ve got some catch-up to do. Half of them I’ve never met.

Meanwhile, I have jobs to tend to and a sore muscle to heal in my arm. I have to be ready to kayak big water. The muscle is a minor injury but it bothers me when I try to sleep.

I’ve been down in that deep, deep canyon before, and I’ve heard the echo of even the smallest rapids on its walls from far away as I backpacked along stretches of the towering corridor. I hear the tumultuous water now, in my heart as I try to rest my mind.

The fan blazes in the stale bedroom, but I start to sweat. Suddenly the routine world around me is at a distance, as if I’ve already crossed some chasm into another reality I may never fully return from, if at all. That’s why I want to go; that’s why I’m scared to go.

“Have you considered that you could die?” my girlfriend asked the other night.

Yes, I have. It’s not to be dramatic. Odds are good I’ll be fine. It is a place where accidents happen, however, and it’s folly to believe there is no chance of misfortune.

There is risk, but when stars shove you in a direction, only a fool wouldn’t follow his heart. I feel very lucky to seize a random opportunity. Yet I can’t deny that I wish for more.

There was another kayaker invited just before me. I could have done the entire trip but the other man committed to doing the bottom half of the canyon practically minutes before I could respond. That means I will be with the expedition for the first week and then have to hike out to a car waiting for me on the south rim while the man takes my place. I can’t blame him for accepting his own opportunity. Still, I wish for more, as always.

There is another interesting coincidence about the timing of all this.

Last spring, I spent months applying to a reputable writing program in Canada. One of my editors encouraged me to go for it and it seemed like it was meant to be. Then I received a rejection notice. My future felt like it was sinking before my eyes.

I was planning to spend three weeks in British Colombia in the fall. At the moment of rejection, it was all I could do to remind myself to keep my eyes open and look beyond the setback. A week later I was saying yes to the Grand Canyon, which wouldn’t have been a possibility if things had gone according to plan.

At this time, an adventure like this might be the best thing for my writing. It’s been years since I set out for something that feels so big. I feel like a hobbit, packing his bag in the final, crucial hour – it’s near midnight as I write this.

There is so much to tend to, so much happening so fast. It’s hard to keep my head from swirling as I navigate the chaos. As soon as I get into that channel of ancient bedrock, though, all will be at peace. Society’s world will be at my back, and there will be nothing left but my human body passing through raw, wet folds of Earth.

There is never going back. Surrender to life, paddle the best you can, and remember – you’ll always want more.

– “Open Space” appears on the second and fourth Friday of the month. Derek Franz writes for the Eagle Valley Enterprise and lives in Carbondale. He can be reached at

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