Editor’s note: The printing of the October 2018 issue of Via Verde was funded by the advertisements and sponsors found below.

From the adrenaline rush of riding nature’s water coaster, to the tranquility of stargazing in the least light-polluted region of the U.S., rafting down the Colorado river felt like the ideal outdoor discovery trip. This rare experience is normally reserved for people with private boats who can enter a lottery two years in advance, or large group vacations costing a few thousand dollars for a week-long trip. I was fortunate enough to experience a program with the Grand Canyon Youth, whose mission is to enable youth to experience the beautiful Grand Canyon for a reasonable cost. GCY, a nonprofit, has four different river rafting trips in Arizona, Colorado, and Utah, open to any high schooler under 18 years old. And, I was even more excited about this trip, as I was on the first ever Cataract Canyon trip operated by this company.

Life on the river for the first few days was slow and relaxing, a nice change from my busy life as an intern at a tech startup in the month leading up to the trip.

On an average trip, a group has around 15 students made up of a mix of experienced rafters and newcomers. However, since our trip was experimental and more difficult than average, the entire group had already done at least one rafting trip. Two participants were even river guides in their hometowns. I was the youngest of the group, as most of the students had already finished high school.

Our trip took us 100 miles down the meandering Colorado River from Moab, Utah down to Hite, Utah, a small town halfway to the Arizona border.

Each day on the river was different. The first two days we traveled on still water, so we had more time to relax. We could jump into the water at anytime, play football, or even paddle board on an inflatable stand-up paddleboard we brought along. Although playing around is fun, the real reason we all came on this trip was to experience the unique rapids that are only found on the upper Colorado River.

On day three, we arrived at the intersection of the Green River and the Colorado River. The added volume of water brought in by the Green River resulted in renowned rapids for our last two days. Most people chose to stay on the rafts, which is what I did on my first day, but sitting traveling the safest route with a guide trying to keep all the materials dry isn’t the most fun. On a kayak, you could choose how much adrenaline you got on the way down due to your freedom to decide what route you were going to take. I learned so much about rafting because of my best friend on the trip, a guide on his local river in the Rockies, who had useful tips and tricks on how to choose the best route when white

water rafting. But after many hours of talking on the river, he convinced me that flipping was the proof that you were stepping out of your comfort zone and making the most of the week-long trip. I was a little scared at first, because of a briefing we had received at the beginning of the trip about the risk of foot entrapment, where your legs get caught in a vacuum caused by the current flowing in between small rocks, but those thoughts were quickly drowned out by the thought of radically flying down the river at full speed, dodging rocks left and right.

The last three days were packed with adventure, during an ongoing pursuit of dangerous but tubular kayaking.

After a long day on the river, we would find a beach that would remain dry overnight and set up camp. We did have tents, but we often slept under the stars on clear nights. We had a few different jobs that everyone would rotate through during the week. My favorite was helping out with the cooks to prepare a delicious meal. Dinner is always something to look forward to with meals including seared salmon, ratatouille and tuna salad. In the evening, we would always have activities and performances. From playing frisbee, to playing the guitar (yes we brought a guitar down the river), to swimming upstream while taking a shower to not drift downstream, we had a blast. But it was at night, when there were no activities planned, that I had the most enjoyable time. A few of us would talk, staring out into the starry night, making deep connections, until we knew that if we didn’t go to bed we might not make it out of the canyon in one piece.

The experience of going on a trip in the middle of nowhere, appreciating nature, making new friends and having fun, is something that I loved and can’t wait to experience again. I was able to let go of all the day-to-day stresses, while meeting new friends that love the same things as me. I will always remember successfully navigating the meandering river, a feeling that I have know nature can magically provide.