It was April, which can often bring strong winds in the Canyon. All day the wind had been testing the strength of our boatmen and women as they put their backs to the wind and rowed, earning every inch of river gained. After a long day in the elements we were all relieved to put our feet on land and set up our camp. The campsite had a picturesque sandy beach and, like all campsites along the river’s edge, a spectacular view of the Canyon wall. What it did not have, unfortunately, was shelter from the wind, and it was too late in the day to find another site.
With the wind as a constant companion, I grabbed my gear and found myself a prime stretch of real estate close enough to the shore to make my evening bathroom run easy. As I was setting up my tent, a strong gust of wind ripped through camp. I heard a loud crack as my pole snapped, releasing my tent like a bull ready for a rodeo. As I tried to ground the thing, I watched a fully built tent somersault its way toward the river’s edge like a runaway child, followed closely by my frantic new rafting friends.
This was going to be an interesting night.
The wind made dinner a short affair (would you like sand with that?), and as soon as the sun slid behind the Canyon wall, we made our way to our tents. With the grit of sand in my teeth, I zipped up my tent, eager for some much needed sleep. I crawled into my sleeping bag, closed my eyes, and instantly the sound of the tent walls whipping in the wind became deafening.
We all face challenges in our day-to-day lives…but there’s something about traveling and being on an adventure that makes us more accepting of these challenges. In a new environment we are often more open and less resistant, which makes it easier to overcome obstacles and keep our sense of humor. Our challenges become part of the journey, part of the story we get to take home and share.
Wind is admittedly not my favorite element. That night the wind came in bold spurts with wicked timing. Just as I was about to drift off to sleep, a huge gust would come and fiercely shake my tent. At some point, exhausted and delirious, I began to do what desperate people do: I bargained. I asked the wind for forgiveness for whatever I had done that day to upset it, and I tried to negotiate, promising I would be really good the next day if only it would be quiet for a few hours. Mid-negotiation a gust came that was so hard it brought my tent stakes up, collapsing the back of the tent and startling me from my half-conscious state. We obviously didn’t have a deal.
With my tent half collapsed on top of me, I was so tired I actually considered leaving it, but I quickly realized that breathing was difficult with a tent on top of my face. So I climbed out of my tent in the dark of night, pounded the stakes back in, and repositioned the rocks, all the while continuing my negotiations with a few curses thrown in to show I wasn’t going to give up that easily. I repeated this ritual two more times that night, and at one point in the moonlight down the shoreline, I noticed my new friend, Chris, doing the same thing. Somehow this made me feel a little better. Each time I returned to my sleeping bag, I was hopeful that the wind would let up, but I finally had to give in and accepted my fate.
The wind, fat and satisfied by its night of chaos, finally retired to its resting place just as morning’s first light began to chase away the dark. Before I could drift into sweet morning sleep, the call for coffee was sent out to camp. I had no idea if I had slept at all that night, but there was no snooze button for this wake up call. As I climbed out of my tent, the first thing I saw was the soft, golden light illuminating the Canyon wall, and it filled my heart with joy. The second thing I saw was a collapsed tent down shore, poles askew, with what I guessed to be Chris lying underneath. I had only known Chris for a few days, but I knew he had a great sense of humor, and I couldn’t help but smile as he climbed out from under the folds of his tent.
I headed to the camp kitchen area for a cup of much needed coffee, and by the looks of my fellow rafters it seemed that no one had slept well. As we all crustily gathered, there was good cheer in the air as the sun continued to dazzle us with light. We all commiserated with each other about our windy night but I was surprised to notice that no one was complaining. Stories were told – the best was Chris’, whose tent had actually flipped with him in it – with laughter and lightness. I knew if I had had a night like this at home there was no way I’d be waking up feeling as light and laughing as much as I was that morning. What was the difference?
Days later on our hike out of the Canyon on the Bright Angel Trail, I mentioned this to Chris and he gave me two great answers: expectation and community. One of the things that he didn’t expect on his Grand Canyon rafting adventure was a good night’s sleep, and so when it didn’t happen it was okay. Waking up to a group who had a shared experience and being able to laugh together made it fun and created a sense of connection.
I added my own answer: adventure. When I signed up for the trip I knew it was not going to be a vacation in the traditional sit-on-the-beach-and-read-novels sense. Going on a Grand Canyon river rafting trip is an adventure, and this framed my entire perspective of the experience. I took everything that happened – from a wild, wind possessed tent, to peeing in a bucket in the back of a boat, to getting an ice bath from the rapids – with adventure as my frame. This made all the difference, and I found that laughing and acceptance effortlessly replaced resistance and complaining.
As I said goodbye to Grand Canyon and began my drive home, I thought about taking this frame of adventure and letting it shape my day-to-day life. What if we woke up every morning and said to ourselves, “Are you ready for an adventure today?” How would this set the tone of our day? How would we see challenges if we re-framed them as part of the journey? If we took our expectations, as Chris did, and shaped them into the frame of adventure, would we be able to see things with fresh eyes? And if we remember that we are part of a tribe, a tribe of brave adventurers who get up every day and face what may come, would it help us to feel more connected?