Day three was Independence Day, and it was both my best and worst fourth I have had in years. We were staying another night at Lone Rock so we were excited to wake up to a morning without the tent-packing-grind. We had a Glen Canyon boat "expedition" to get to in Page, AZ that morning. Page is fifteen minutes south of Lone Rock but time doesn't work the same there. Most of Arizona doesn't observe daylight savings, so we had to leave to get to our 10am trip by 10am in Utah. Or something. We ate, we dressed, and we started the car. Tried to start the car. The car was dead, and because Page/Lone Rock time confusion we thought we had minutes to miss our trip. I ran around to our many neighbors in tents and RVs and asked for help and jumper cables until we found a group of guys who came to help us out. My favorite part of this a.m. bump was when a (still) drunk guy told me that he couldn't help, but "Your glass is half full!". The car was jumped- and we found out it was 8am in Page. Good enough.
Our boat tour was guided by a funny man named Brad. He had deeply tanned skin and gaps in his teeth that spit four streams of water and he wore a worn ball cap on his head. He said to call him "Brad, B-rad, or Brad the Dad". He was loud and friendly and reminded me of my own grandpa when he spoke and smiled. He was guiding this trip because he loved it. And you could tell by his preparedness on the trip and the genuine excitement behind every word he said. I'm not sure what kind of trip others had on different rafts. I would say they didn't get half of B-rad's amenities. Immediately he passed around a carbine clip of other worn ball-caps for others to use. He encouraged it, he told us "this isn't prom! dunk them in cold river water-you'll be glad you did!". He brought a bucket of the ice-cold river water into the boat and soaked handkerchiefs in it. He passed around a small spray bottled that he called "Rapids in a bottle" or something to that effect, and we all took turns spraying our sweating skin. I had layers of different sunscreen brands all over me, my own bandana around my neck (now drenched in ice cold river water), and Brad's "Glen Canyon" hat on my head (also drenched in river water). Our raft took off before the dozens of others and we all sat and listened to everything Brad knew about Glen Canyon. Which was a lot. He was an expert, using John Wesley Powell's Down the Great Unknown as his bible in life. He read excerpts from his book and told us about the journey and tragedy of Powell's two trips. He told us how deadly limestone can be and how the earth is made of these layers we see above the ground around us. Instead of eating and swimming with the other groups on the beach, Brad took our group to a more private beach to dip into the 40 degree water. I can still hear him repeating "How many times do you get the chance to swim in 40 degree clear water in the middle of the Arizona desert?". I went in to my knees. The water was so cold it hurt my skin. Slowly we all started to submerge into the water. My skin felt a thousand needle-pricks and I immediately got right back out- but not before diving completely under. When I got back out into the Arizona sun, my body was cooled and the air kissed my cheeks. After we piled back onto the raft, Brad lifted a bag with canned lemonade out of the water. We passed around lemonade and he gave us little cold bars of chocolate. He spoke more about the river, like a preacher would preach on Sunday. Close to the end of the trip Brad pulled the raft into a shady part of the river and pulled a guitar out of the chest in front of him. He played us songs as we sat, all wide eyed about the experience we were having. They were original songs, one about being a dad, another about summer time on the river. Before we all left the raft he spoke more about "river time" and what it means to him. Passing a lemonade to your friend, helping each other off of the raft. Living slower and caring for those around you. He told us all that he hoped we would live on river time even off of the river, before he thanked us and said goodbye. I don't think I'll ever forget Brad and I am so so glad to have stepped onto his raft that morning. We were so lucky.
After the trip and the bus ride back to Page, we went to pick up hot dogs and beer to celebrate the fourth the right way. We returned to our campground only to have our plans turned upside down. Many people had left, the weekend was over. On the bright side, our tent was where we left it. It was staked into the ground and it was still padlocked. But the wind had broken our tent poles which ripped the vinyl tent in a pre-patched spot. We reluctantly fixed one pole, sawing the fiberglass replacement piece with my pocketknife and re-threading them all together. Then we noticed the other one broken and fixed it the same way. When we finally finished we grabbed our floaties and opened our beers, dreaming of a floating fourth of July on Lake Powell.
Just before we made it to the water, a very drunk man approached us. Now friends and family, I know the situation sounds scary, but we were smart and we stayed safe, camping around families and locking our tent at night with the pocket knife inside. This drunk man, maybe 25 or so, asked Celeste and I if he could have our beers if he swam across the cove and back. Across the cove was incredibly far. Like trained-swimmer far, and this guy was clearly not a trained swimmer. So we didn't know how to respond. I clarified, "That side? These beers?" I thought he would deliver the punch line at some point but he never did. I finally just said "If you swim there and back we will each give you one of our beers" to get to the point. He said okay and walked back to his truck with another man and a woman, we walked towards the lake, both incredibly confused. The situation was too strange so I was rapidly trying to make sense of it. We went back to our tent to make sure that they weren't trying to take our attention away from our things while we watched the man "swim across". I'm not sure what their actual plan was but this seemed likely to me so we sat back at our tent, a little freaked out. A truck pulled up to us with a family inside. They disclosed that the man and his friends were acting strange all day, asking others for food and odd things from their RVs. We told them what was said and they told us they would return after they watch the fireworks in Page. Just as they were telling us of their plans to notify the Park Rangers, the man started walking towards our tent. He approached us and asked what was up with the guy in the truck. In order to keep the situation calm, the man in the truck explained that he was asking us about our car because we asked them for help earlier that morning . They drove off and things got weird. The man wasn't raging around whiskey drunk. He was far far passed, in a place where he was just completely delusional and likely incredibly dehydrated. He acted suspicious and questioned us, asking me to lift the hood of my car so he could see the "car trouble". Celeste and I were both on edge, we were both nervous. There was a moment I realized I was much to close to him and I stepped back and asked him to leave. I told him I know he is just drunk but we are two women and he isn't making us feel safe. When he asked if we were alone I lied and told him our boyfriend's were up at the bathroom and would be back soon. I repeated that he needed to leave. He mumbled something and walked towards the truck back to his friends. Not yet at ease we packed valuables into the car and grabbed the pocket knife. The other man approached us at our tent and sit down next to our car. My heart beat quickly as he walked our way. He said nothing but "Of course" as he sat down, mumbling something else about doing something to his brother. I immediately asked that he go away. And again. I explained that we did nothing to his brother and we would just like to be left alone. He was very drunk too, but maybe less than his slurring brother. He hovered a couple of minutes more, looking at us with a distant disapproval and said something about "just trying to be friendly" before he walked back to his truck. In what seemed like seconds after he made it back, three park rangers pulled up behind them. More and more rangers in different vehicles pulled up and we sat at our tent watching the situation. Even a patrol boat pulled up to the shore. The two men were arrested and spent the night in jail. The rangers cleared the beach and we made a tentative decision to float before it got completely dark, trying to take back a little bit of our day. We were still a little nervous but also scorned by our stolen fourth of July. It's difficult to explain the feeling of being approached by a strange man, intensified by being so many miles from home, even more intensified by being in the middle of nowhere. I thought about how they could have truly just been drunk and failing at being friendly. I thought about how their female friend remained on the beach in the truck feet away. I thought about them climbing into our tent at night. You're safe until you're not, and being alone in the middle of the desert left us drained and nervous that night. It was different than the strength and independence we felt at other times out on the road together. We made sure we were safe by talking to the ranger, we slept with the tent locked and our belongings stowed safely in the locked car.
It is my immediate instinct to explain how "fine" I was. How I "can handle it" how we did "handle it". I want to tell my parents and my loved ones that it wasn't that big of a deal and it didn't scare me. But it scared me. That night I had the hardest time sleeping. We went over our options before bed- leave or stay. Leaving felt just as nerve-wracking, driving through the dark Utah desert at night with no place to stop and stay. The family we spoke to earlier was camped nearby, as well as other families surrounding us. Staying made the most sense. Celeste was anxious and I put my best game-face on to put her at ease. It was likely that we were going to be fine, I knew, but neither of us could forget that he noticed we were alone. It was difficult to return to feeling safe. It kept us on our toes for the rest of the trip. But it is all apart of traveling alone...as women. I became very aware of that during this situation. I wouldn't be scared if we weren't women. This wouldn't happen if we weren't women. I can't stop because of it. I can hear my family now, saying "This is why! This is why you shouldn't travel alone!". But I will not be afraid to leave my apartment to avoid all of the drunk strange men and the people who want to prey on my "woman-ness", my "weakness". If I didn't take the risk to travel as a woman (sans man), I would've never drank an ice cold lemonade on raft in Glen Canyon with Brad the Dad. I wouldn't have met a man who told us how he would rather be no where else than rafting "the crease of god's palm" with us on the best fourth of July.
Photographer on the road