This is the story of what compelled me to say “yes” to sitting my ass on this boat—the Doc Brown--alongside the US Men’s Raft team in their 2nd attempt at rowing 277 miles, non-stop on the Colorado River through Grand Canyon, in hopes to achieve a new river speed record of less than 34 hours and 2 min.
Earlier this fall, while working out in the Mojave desert, I found myself saying to the universe that I was ready for a new challenge for the winter, something to sink my teeth into physically and mentally. A couple days later, a text came in from my good friend Kurt-- a member of the raft team. He asked: Do you have any interest in a speed run? I stood there baffled, and I replied: You can’t be a) serious or b) that desperate. Neither, he said, we think it would be a good fit.
In that moment there was a surge of blood gushing through my body, a swarm of butterflies banging around in my belly and a look of shock and awe on my face while my mind immediately filled with the image of running Lava Falls—the most powerful rapid in Grand Canyon--in the dark.
I was like, you’ve got to be kidding me! I casually mumble something to the universe about wanting a little project and next thing I know a friggin Grand Canyon speed run opportunity shows up at my door?! The prospect was totally overwhelming and the timing was absolutely unbelievable.
It reminded me of last summer when the Escalante River in Utah was running at a water level I had been trying to catch for 15 years and I could find no one available to go with me. In a moment of desperation I hollered to the sky: someone must want to go run the Escalante! Later that night I randomly mentioned it to a friend and sure enough, he had friends launching at 8 am the next day. I was like, you’ve got to be kidding me! So I packed the truck, drove all night, met my 3 new friends at the trailhead on zero sleep, and made that dream come true.
I figured if I was to put “it” out there, then have “it” delivered like a gift almost immediately then I had better accept it, no matter the effort required. Because if I didn’t, then what business did I have expecting any of my dreams to come true?
Two months later, there I was with the opportunity of a speed run, yet another timely gift, and how dare I not accept it, right? But to be honest, the speed run prospect scared the shit out me and I wasn’t entirely sure I had any business being on board. Or did I? I knew it was going to take everything I had in me, on many levels, to get ready and to be 100% full value for the team on game day.
Then, as I thought about it, it seemed to me that these types of projects are alluring to some of us because it is an opportunity to engage ourselves to the full extent of our being, and to not only test but to celebrate all that we have been working on and building upon throughout our lives to become who we are…like an expression of ourselves. We can express through actions, or through creations...
When I was contemplating taking my little Huppybar creations into the marketplace I asked myself okay, why? My immediate response was, well, why not? Well… I had no idea what I was doing, it would be really really hard, I had no money, and chances are pretty darn good it will ultimately fail. As it turned out, these just weren’t good enough excuses for me. I said yes to Huppybar because the product and the journey into the unknown were staring me so hard in the face I just had to see what was around the next corner. Regardless of the outcome, I was ready for the adventure.
So the speed run. Why? To me, the idea of a speed run was very personal and I had to seriously consider my relationship with Grand Canyon- a relationship I’d been building for over 20 years through countless adventures of all varieties—through river trips, hikes, wild canyoneering routes into the deepest, darkest hidden treasures in the most far-away corners of the Canyon.
And I had to ask myself, why the hell do we do all these crazy trips anyways? For adventure and time in the wild and with each other? Yes. To see and feel and experience and spend time in a place that we love, cherish, and can’t seem to get enough of? Yes. To challenge ourselves and push our own personal boundaries in some way? Yes. Because it makes us feel alive? Yes. And so to the speed run, with giving reverence to the Grand Canyon, looking to my inner compass and accepting this “gift” of the universe, I said “yes”.
And so after some ungodly number of hours on the rowing machine, countless squats and with 150 miles of river training with the crew--among many, many other preparations-- on January 9, at 11:55 pm with over 120,000 calories on board and 1500lbs of human on the oars, we slipped into the light of the silvery moon at Lees Ferry and into the arms of the Colorado River and Grand Canyon.
For 38 hours and 5 minutes we rowed, we laughed, we sang, we danced, we ate a lot of food. We did not cry, argue, set a foot on shore, take any shits, leave any trace, or sleep for more than 10 min. Nor did we break the speed record. We did however, have clean lines throughout the run and despite agonizing fatigue, sleep-deprived delusions, and frozen extremities, we managed to have ourselves a hell of a good time together. Oh, and we raised over $13,000 for Grand Canyon Youth—a local nonprofit dedicated to getting kids on rivers.
This was perhaps one of the most impactful river trips I’ve ever done. My pre-trip notion of wanting to see the place again for the first time was answered in ways I am continuing to process. Saying yes to this opportunity was most certainly one of the better decisions of my life.
The spirit of adventure, of the unknown, setting a goal, doing the work, and executing the endeavor, no matter the outcome, were root elements that guided this project.
It is when these chips of commitment, passion, hard work, and perseverance are cashed in for the high prize of adventure and accomplishment that we truly enliven our souls, enrich our character, and continue to fuel our dreams.
Most of the value of what I have so far in life cannot be tallied in dollars and cents or the size of my house or the value of my belongings. The riches I possess are measured in my story, the accumulation of dreams I have run down, rainbows I have chased, silver linings I have found, heartaches I have endured, friends I have made, and the triumphs and the tragedies that I have encountered through living by the will of my heart, mind, and soul. And always following that inner compass, and ultimately knowing when to say “yes”.
And to the men on the crew whom I hold in the highest esteem and am forever grateful to for their courage, optimism, perseverance, and friendship through one of my most treasured adventures
So be bold, be daring, try things you aren’t sure you can do, and go out and scare yourself a little.
Photo Credits: #1 Casey Montandon, #3 Rob Prechtl, #4 & 5 Stan Picture, #6 Rod Prechtl, #11 & 12 Rob Prechtl, #14 Deirdre O'Connell
For more on the Doc Brown and the speed run, visit our Facebook page: Rowing for the Record.
Or listen to my podcast with Brian Dierker on "Big Adventures with Brian Dierker"
Or stay tuned as I will post a blog with gory details :()))