Colorado River – December 13 – 31, 2009

Dumpster Diving on the Grand Canyon

By Will Volpert

We’re in a van headed to Flagstaff. We hired Ceiba, a company out of Flag, to pick us up at Diamond Creek and they’ve got a driver so of course we’re having a good time telling stories, hooting and hollering. Maybe sneaking beers here and there. Maybe. Over the past 19 days there has not been one moment that couldn’t make a great story. We’ve made great friends with each other. Most of us were acquaintances before the trip but now it’s just full on bromances and, hell, even a few romances.

Both my brothers are in the van. Matt is a student at UCSB, Skip at University of Oregon – we don’t get on the water together as often as we used to. My girlfriend Dana is sitting next to me. We’ve done quite a few multi-day trips together but nothing really prepares someone for a 19-day river trip so I’m ecstatic that she had loved it as much as I had. Everything other than getting to the river has gone perfectly. Dan Thurber, one of my favorite people to float any river with, had a major vehicle break-down in California. It seems that some gophers took a liking to the wiring under the hood. He had to borrow a van from a friend to get out, and arrived at Lee’s Ferry around 10 AM the day we were to launch. But that’s a whole other story. Other than that this has been a dream trip. Great people, great river – and really those are the only two things that matter.

In October I got a hold of the boys at Clavey and told them what I was looking for: two Kokatat dry suits. Over the last four years I have gone through eight other suits and I was ready to find a high quality suit that would last. I got Dana the Women’s Dry Suit with the drop seat and myself the typical blue/mango Men’s Dry Suit. Dana also got the Polartec Powerdry Liner outfit (often dubbed a “penguin suit”). These are sweet to wear underneath your dry suit. They keep you toasty and they’re comfortable. Our trip launched December 13th – which is a perfect time of year to ensure that your beer is always ice cold, but it’s also that time of year most folks don’t go boating because, well, everything is ice cold. With our new dry suits packed and our Avon Expedition in tow we headed to Lee’s Ferry.

We had the river to ourselves and didn’t run into another party until the afternoon of our ninth day. We had a great Christmas layover across from Deer Creek. The hiking was phenomenal, whitewater was plentiful… it was just one of those trips. Dana and I wore our drysuits the entire time we were on the water. They were comfortable so it just never seemed that bad.

Our last night camp was about a mile from Diamond Creek. In the morning we woke up and started putting things away. Dana and I didn’t feel like wearing our dry suits with only one mile to go, so we threw them in a black trash bag and into the boat…

Fast forward five hours and the van is pulling into Ceiba’s driveway. Our vehicles are here so we jump out and move them near the big trailer of mixed gear. All the equipment needs to be separated and put into the correct rig. While Dana and I are throwing things into our little trailer other folks are doing the same with their respective rigs. A few other people are throwing bags of trash into the back of one of Ceiba’s trucks, which then is driven to their dumpster where the bags of trash are hurled in. As all this is happening, the trash truck shows up (great timing, right?), picks up the now-full dumpster, lifts it up and over, sets the empty dumpster down, and then leaves for its next destination. Everything is going great.

Let me pause and tell you a few things about relationships. As Dane Cook says, there are two types: you can have a “great relationship” or you can have a “relationshit”. Dana and I have a great relationship. Regardless of the type of relationship you have, boaters in particular need to be wary of the DTI. This stands for Domestic Tranquility Index. This is an incredibly volatile index that shows exactly how tranquil ones relationship is – and it can change in seconds. For instance, if Dana is having a bad day and I do something nice, like buy her a chocolate snack, the index rises. But, if she is having a bad day and I eat the chocolate snack without asking her if she wants any then the index plummets.

Also, the DTI is tested when shit hits the fan. For instance, when, at this moment in the story, Dana says “Have you seen the drysuits?” this is an instant when shit is definitely hitting the fan because I know that the drysuits are in a black trash bag inside the garbage truck headed to who-knows-where.

We look everywhere. Maybe they weren’t thrown out, right? Alas, no one can find them. Dana goes into Ceiba’s office to talk to someone who might know where the trash truck is going. Nobody at the trash company picks up the phone, so she leaves a message. I’m pissed, Dana’s pissed, so naturally we blame each other for putting the most expensive articles of clothing we’ve ever owned inside trash bags. The DTI is plummeting and there is no bottom in sight.

Everything (well, you know, minus the stupid drysuits) is packed. It’s New Year’s Eve, we’re in Flagstaff, our group wants to party. Dana and I are going to look for the drysuits and meet everyone at the hotel. We take off headed down the road looking for a garbage truck. The DTI has now officially hit an all-time low. While we’re busy yelling at each other Skip calls me and says they were able to get the driver’s name and phone number. We call him. He says we aren’t really supposed to go through the trash, but he’ll wait to dump it until we get to the dump. We look the address up on Dana’s iPhone and hit the accelerator.

We get to the dump. The old lady at the gate quizzes us about what we’re doing. We try to explain but her response is “You aren’t allowed to salvage.” I tell her we just really need to see our friend, Patrick, the dump truck driver. She lets us in. We fly by the 5 M.P.H. sign and head into the abyss. I call Patrick, he tells me where he’s at. We find him and he says that we’re “lucky because it was a small load today.” The amount of trash is astounding. This would not be a “small load” in my book but, hey, I’m not a trash expert. Patrick, my new favorite person on Earth, gives us a hint. He points at a yellow bucket. “You see that yellow bucket? That was one load before your guys. So,” he says waving his hands in front of a four foot section in the middle, “your stuff is somewhere around here.”

Neither Dana or I have showered in 19 days. We dive into the trash pile. People throw out a lot more than just trash. There’s a lot of dog crap, two dead cats, and a dead rabbit. And that was just in our four-foot section. As far as we had come, as lucky as we had gotten, and as helpful as everyone had been, I had doubts we would find the suits. There was just so much trash. Too much. And, of course, it’s not like a black trash bag is an uncommon color. But all of a sudden I found a trash bag that was full of empty liquor bottles. These were bottles that had traveled down the river with us, bottles that had united our group and had helped build new friendships, and bottles that were now leading me to my sacred drysuit. I reached down, brushing aside more dog shit, and picked up a black trash bag.

In Flagstaff there are train tracks that go right through the middle of town. It’s New Year’s Eve and I’m at a bar with a group of friends I would never trade out for anything. Every time a train rolls through town you can get discounted “train shots”. Awesome, right? A train rumbles through town, we get train shots, and I hoist my shot high in the air. “To the river gods.” We cheer and take our drinks. Dana’s beside me. We’ve had a long day of ups and downs with the DTI but we’re right back where we started: the index is running high, we’re as happy as can be, and we have two awesome drysuits. Plus, hell, we’ve got a great story.