If I can get personal here … My very first Grand Canyon raft trip was a Hiker’s Special 7 Day Motor w/ Hike In. I had just started with GCW, had never been rafting before and was super nervous! I trained to get ready for the 8-mile hike into the Canyon, listening to “The Emerald Mile” by Kevin Fedarko on audiobook as I went on practice hikes in the ponderosa pines in Flagstaff. I remember my co-workers laughing at me when, a few days before the trip, I brought in my entire backpack with everything I was bringing on the trip and laid it out on the floor in the office so they could critique my packing. Do I really need a bandana? (Yes.) Should I bring my Leatherman multi-tool? (No.)
Then the day was finally upon me. I drove up to the South Rim with my co-worker Sarah and her friend Rachel (who is now a full-time river guide with us). I decided in Flagstaff that I wasn’t going to bring my phone on the trip because I didn’t want to get it ruined so I was texting with Sarah’s phone to my wife: “ok, driving up now,” “At the South Rim, so beautiful,” “Wish you were here!!” We met up with another GCW river guide for dinner at the Bright Angel Lodge and I tried not to ask stupid questions while we ate. I had a friend who actually had a cabin at the South Rim so I stayed there; after dinner we went to check it out and I quickly realized that my friend didn’t have any semblance of a clock in the cabin, which means I had no alarm clock (remember I left my own phone in Flagstaff) for my 5:00 a.m. wake up!!! I was freaking out. Luckily Rachel graciously let me use her phone. We practiced and set the alarm over and over again because, using a new phone, I wanted to make doubly sure that it worked. I could not sleep in and miss the trip!!! Rachel and Sarah left and I was alone to think about what I was forgetting to pack and if that dang alarm was going to work. Finally, I was able to fall asleep, just to wake up every 45 minutes or so worried that I had overslept and missed the trip. Tossing and turning all night, I finally fell asleep around 4:00 a.m. — just in time for the alarm (that worked) to wake me up at 5:00. I rushed over blurry eyed to the Bright Angel Lodge lobby and started the hike down.
The hike was great, even on no sleep. We then met up with Troy (our trip leader), Chris S., Ted and Matt S. Knowing this was my first trip with the company, they welcomed me with open arms and made me feel super comfortable (I think they could tell I was nervous). We rafted just a little bit that day and got into camp early so Troy could give us our orientations. I clumsily set up my cot, ate an incredible dinner and settled into my sleeping bag. Lying there on the first night, I let all that stress I had before the trip slip away. As the entire Milky Way Galaxy revealed itself above, I gently fell asleep, not worrying about an alarm.
Just like our normal passengers, I quickly realized and fell into the routine of life in the Grand Canyon. Up early for breakfast, pack your bags, load the boat, raft, raft, raft, side hike, raft, lunch, raft, raft, raft, side hike, raft, camp … By day two I felt like a pro, knowing how to set up the cots, knowing how to load the boats, how the dishes work. We did some AMAZING side hikes — things that, to this day, I haven’t done on one of our regular-season trips. That’s what makes the Hiker’s Special trips special — you have more time to explore the Canyon. April usually gives the Grand Canyon a great opportunity to show off its spring wildflower bloom too. You’ll see things, and go on hikes, you won’t see the rest of the season.
Taking off my marketing hat, I really love this trip. And that’s not just me trying to sell it. I think the bang for your buck on these Hiker’s Special trips, the time of year, and getting to explore more of the Canyon make these trips an opportunity not to miss. And maybe I’m a little sentimental too.