Twig Adventures

GC Prep and Day 0

February 14-17, 2024

To begin this long adventure, I took a direct flight from Miami to Phoenix, utilizing some miles for a free one-way ticket on American Airlines. I also enjoyed a free checked bag as an AA credit card holder, because oh my did I have a lot of crap to bring along for this trip. I managed to fit it all into 2 bags, which was really quite incredible considering how much the other participants brought. Not surprisingly, my ultralight backpacking experience came into play. The typical rafter approach is to bring copious amounts of gear to ensure a comfortable experience…after all, the raft carries the weight during the day. But considering how much lugging and packing of said gear is still involved each and every day, I ended up being very happy with my minimalist approach (more on that later).

My gear for about 20 days (minus food and drinks)

I built in a few extra days to visit my Number 1 Trail Angel Jon, a friend that had seen me off, in-between and at the end end of so many of my adventures (PCT, AZT, GET, MRT, HDT). I’d visited him nearly every year since 2018 and felt a stay at his beautiful adobe house in the Tonto forest was integral to a good adventure. I spent a few days playing around the desert (McDowell Mountain Regional Park) and prepping for my rafting trip. I scored a brand new folding chair for $5 at the nearby Goodwill, but not all items there were such a good deal…

Maybe someone’s idea of joke: a rock for sale. Ironically, Arizona is chocked full of free ones, especially in the Grand Canyon. It may in fact be the rockiest of all 50 states.

Jon was very generous to drive me all the way up to Flagstaff on February 18th, the day before our migration to Lee’s Ferry. It was a nice drive ‘the back way’ through Paysen and Pine, then on past Mormon Lake. We crossed the Arizona Trail several times, so it was fun to reminisce about the trail. In the afternoon, I joined most of the rest of my party at Moenkopi’s RiverHouse, an abode we chartered to rendezvous prior to the official start of our trip. Moenkopi Riverworks was our outfitter, who supplied us with a ‘Door-to-Door’ package. This included 5 rafts, a 2p ducky (inflatable kayak), all our food, kitchen supplies, fuel, drybags, and lot of other random gear I never knew we needed. Most people rented drysuits but I bought a used one on ebay for cheap and planned to resell it after the trip. The package also included shuttles to and from the put-in/take-out points, plus help setting up the gear and breaking it all down. All I had to bring was my personal gear: quilt, thermarest, tent, clothes, electronics, etc.

It was fun to finally meet most of my party in person. We had several zoom meetings prior to the trip but this was my fist time even seeing some of the members. I’d paddled with only 3 of them in Florida before: Rob Cava, our trip leader, Charlie Arazoza, and Chris Carl. Rob put out the call to join his trip on an everglades paddling group listserve that I belonged to. That was back in October 2023, just as I was finishing my Hayduke ramblings…at Lees Ferry. Given my very recent experience of hiking and a bit of paddling through the Grand Canyon, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that I should commit such a trip. Everyone else in our party was either related to Rob or friends with him in some way…his wife Daniella also happened to be the mayor of Miami-Dade county…no small thing. Unfortunately 3 weeks away from her very important position was too long for her to be able to join us, but I learned later that she had been with Rob for many other adventurous whitewater excursions. She had even broken her wrist on a Yampa river trip the year prior…what a tough lady, both politically and physically. I arrived just in time to join 9 others for shopping forays to gear stores, Goodwill, and the grocery store. More quantities of food, drink and clothes were bought, even though we all had so much already. At the end of the day, we went to a Mexican restaurant for dinner and toasted to good fortunes on our trip.

Me, Lucas, Dania, Charlie A, Cleave, Chris, Rob, Tina, Magnus, and Leo

Day 0, Sunday February 18th, 2024 Flagstaff to Lees Ferry

On overview map of the area we covered, courtesy of the Far Out’s not just for hiking trails.

I enjoyed a pretty restful night at the Riverhouse, sharing an upstairs bedroom with Dania. Everyone was awake early to finish packing. Stuff was spread throughout the house, presenting a pretty chaotic scene. Three more members joined in around midnight, after late flights from Seattle and Boston. The late-comers were Charlie N, Lana, and Laura. They didn’t have the benefit of prepping the day before and were rushing to sort through their gear. Two shuttle drivers arrived at 9 am and we began loading all our personal gear. After another prolonged stop at a grocery store to grab lunch and last minute provisions, we were finally making miles to Lees Ferry. We arrived well after noon and began the daunting task of unloading and setting up the rafts. An ungodly amount of things then went into them…mostly coolers, ‘captain’s boxes’, water jugs and 19 days worth of food in 20 some very heavy ammunition “ammo” cans.

Sometime during the long afternoon, a NPS ranger dropped by to check our permits, IDs and and safety equipment. He was very friendly and chill, much to our relief (we’d heard some not so nice chatter about a few rangers on the FB page…probably just a misunderstanding). Ranger Steve then gave us a briefing and answered questions. He even offered for us to camp at the boat ramp, which is generally not allowed. From my many nights of taking advantage of free structures and a simple set-up, I saw this as a fine option. There were picnic tables (to sleep on), nearby bathrooms and even a water spigot. But others didn’t seem keen on the idea, preferring to load all the remaining gear and shuffle another 100 yards downriver.

This turned out to be a mistake, at least in my opinion. The site was very scruffy, dusty, small, and kind of a pain to get in and out of. We arrived just as it was getting dark, and everyone scrambled to unload and get their camps set up. I didn’t want to hunt for a site, so I popped my tent right next to the kitchen. One of the shuttle drivers stayed with us to show us how to set up, use and maintain the 3 kitchen tables, propane heater, 4 burner propane stove, utensil holders, drying racks, handwashing stations, water filter, dish washing buckets, pot boxes, and everything else under the sun. By the end of the presentation, I was cross-eyed and ready for bed…and we still needed to cook dinner! Buggers and franks came out pretty fast and we hurriedly washed all the dishes. Most people then set about star gazing, enthralled by their first view of a truly dark desert sky. I instead crawled into my tent, already exhausted and dreading the idea of dealing with so much gear everyday. It prompted me to make a small bag of some of my own items to leave behind, just to sooth a bit of my anxiety. My thru-hiking experience truly ruined me: once you’ve experienced the light of minimalism, it’s really hard to go back. “The stuff you own ends up owning you.”

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