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Body & Mind Changes

Our body is constantly generating new cells as cells are constantly dying off and being created.  When we build muscle, it is new cells being created in a way that benefits the parts of our body we need.  When our tendons shrink or elongate, our cells are being created in a way to adapt to the changes.  When we are not flexible, it is because we’ve told our body we don’t need to be.  If we’re flexible, it’s because we kept mobility and told our body to continue to grow in a way to preserve it’s flexibility.

Another way to look at cell generation is that most of the cells that made your body when you were a kid are now replaced.  That is to say that virtually all of your body is made up of cells that didn’t exist when you were a child – most cells are replaced every 7-10 years, some much more often.  It’s like a wave that comes and goes – like thoughts, our bodies are impermanent and constantly changing, literally.  Think about that, most cells in your body today didn’t exist just 7 years ago – in some ways you’re an entirely different person.

It’s quite clear the body acts this way – stretch everyday and you can slowly stretch further and become more flexible.  Lift weights everyday and eventually it becomes easy and you add more weight to get stronger.  What isn’t as clear is that the mind is exactly the same.  The brain in many ways is like a muscle – the more you use it for a given task, the easier the task becomes.  For example, habits are simply brain reps.  At first creating a new habit is difficult just as lifting a heavy weight is difficult at first.  But over time it’s easy to lift the weight, and over time the habit becomes so easy it is subconscious, meaning you do it without consciously thinking.

Learning is like resistance training for the mind – the more you actively learn, the easier it becomes to learn.  This is in part because your brain gets used to the strains of learning, but also that as you learn more, the easier it is to learn more because bits and pieces of what you already know combine together.

Reading is a task that is incredibly valuable, but at first it is quite hard.  In the age of infinite distractions, the only way one will read is if they schedule it into their day or have the motivation to read by realizing it’s utility.  After making it a daily task, it becomes easier, and because it’s easier, you often do it more.  It compounds.  Habits compound.

We are purely a product of our habits.  We can change, modify, create, and destroy habits as we become aware of them.  Habits are also always changing based on where you live, what lifestyle you live, who you’re with, your motivation, your work, your goals, etc.  It’s all part of the evolution of life – the changes we make and how we adapt to them.

By explaining life in a wave like it is, it makes it more clear the impermanence of everything in life.  As I’ve written about this before, the stoics, Buddha, and many others who truly paid attention to the nature of reality, being is just a constant state of the present, a state of impermanence.  By paying attention to the changes and adaptions of our mind and body, we can adjust for the things we want to adapt to and modify our behavior accordingly.

This post was inspired by a clear moment of realization of how well we as humans adapt.  After all, all life is in how we live it, perceive it, and adapt to it.  Adapting in the way you see fit is in large part what makes life satisfying.

The Stories We Tell

Everyone tells themselves stories, which form their identity, which shape their lives and how they live them.  A Christian missionary may tell themselves that their highest life priority is to spread the word of god to promote Christianity. A professional weight lifter may tell himself that weight lifting is fun and amazing and turning a career out of it is the best job in the world, and consider himself the luckiest man alive.  An American, with standard American values, may imagine working hard for most of his life to eventually retire to comfort with a nice house and family.

These are all stories, beliefs we have about how we see our role in the story we understand.  Most often the story is handed down from generation to generation, embedded in a culture we live in or that we’re raised in, and our role in the story is often a common role that others in our society play.

Our experience either reinforces our story and the role we play, or alters it, sometimes radically.  The realization many people have of discovering a story they believed wasn’t true can be moving.  Traveling to a different culture with people that have stories that differ from ours, sometimes drastically, can be enlightening.  Meeting a person that tells their story and why they do what they do can be convincing.  Nevertheless, everyone has a story – a picture they see of the world and how it operates, and the role they play within it.

Observing your story and your role can be useful.  Some stories cause more suffering than others, some stories are more fun than others.  Being open to new stories is challenging but can be rewarding.

The first step is identifying your story, realizing it actually is a story, and then deciding what kind of story you want to tell, and live by.  Though stories evolve, stories are seeded into us the moment we’re born and are clarified, or made complicated, through our experience as we grow older.  After recognizing that life really is just a story we each tell ourselves and each other, we can then choose to write the story as we wish.

“All stories are incomplete. Yet in order to construct a viable identity for myself and give meaning to my life, I don’t really need a complete story devoid of blind spots and internal contradictions. To give meaning to my life, a story needs to satisfy just two conditions: first, it must give me some role to play. A New Guinean tribesman is unlikely to believe in Zionism or in Serbian nationalism, because these stories don’t care at all about New Guinea and its people. Like movie stars, humans like only those scripts that reserve an important role for them. Second, whereas a good story need not extend to infinity, it must extend beyond my horizons.”
– 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari

The key is recognizing that how we live and what we belief is all part of the story we tell ourselves.  While through meditation you can more easily recognize thoughts as just thoughts and nothing more, through paying close attention to how we form our beliefs we can recognize how what we do is just part of the story we tell ourselves, and nothing more.  Then again, the story we tell ourselves is perhaps the most important part of our lives.

“Your world is the outcome of what you pay attention to”

Make your story a good one.

2018 Year in Review

It’s already that time of the year again where we look back on the last year of our lives and look forward to the next.  It is useful because it allows us to review what we did right, and what we can improve on in the future. You can see my previous years here: 2010201120122013201420152016, 2017 . Here’s a look back in what I did in 2018.

SUMMARY

  • Rang in the New Year in Colorado at some friends house (Sam/Bryce), in the latter half of January drove to Sante Fe, New Mexico to visit friends (Richie and Tracy) down there.
  • In early February, we went to Las Vegas for the yearly Super Bowl party with my brothers and friends.  A week later, we flew back to Bangkok after 8 months on the road.
  • In March we visited Nan Province in northern Thailand, and in the latter half road-tripped to Kanchanaburi to do a 10 day silent retreat, but ended up cancelling last minute to the the air pollution from fires.  All of March we did a 30 day challenge by only eating vegetarian.
  • In April we spent two weeks on Koh Tao learning how to scuba dive and celebrating Songkran.
  • In May I rafted the Grand Canyon with my friend Andrew and his family.
  • In June my girlfriend flew out to Las Vegas and we road-tripped for a couple weeks through Utah, visiting my brother in Salt Lake City, and then onto Colorado, attending FIBARK festival in Salida.
  • In July my friend Richard and I hiked some of the Colorado Trail.  We didn’t finish it due to some issues with my boots, but otherwise was a fun challenge.  At the end of July I helped Richard move to Boulder, and went camping at Long Draw Reservoir with my uncle Tim.
  • In August flew back to Bangkok, and after getting back to Thailand went to Koh Samet with friends for a weekend.
  • In September we visited Jomtien, Pattaya after a solid month of work/routine.
  • In October we visited Japan for the first time with friends from the US for 2 weeks.  After the trip I started the Stronglifts 5×5 program.
  • In November we spent 10 days on Koh Chang with friends from Australia.
  • In the second half of December, we spent a couple weeks in northern Thailand, where we currently are in Chiang Rai.

WHAT WENT WELL THIS YEAR?

Health: While at home, I stayed in a great routine of exercising daily, stretching daily, and eating well.  At the end of this year, I’m the strongest I’ve ever been, more flexible than I’ve ever been, and have been eating better than ever.  I’ve also ensured that sleep is high priority as all other aspects of health stem off of it.  I bought a sleep tracker in October to measure my sleep cycles and quality of sleep, and will continue to monitor and tweak things as needed.
Knowledge: Learned a lot this year, though missed my Goodreads book-challenge.  I ended up reading countless blog posts, listening to countless podcasts, read around 20 books, and had great, insightful conversations with people I’m lucky to know.  My top books of the year were: 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Harari,  How to Change Your Mind by Pollan,  Enlightenment Now by Pinker, and The Emerald Mile by Fedarko.
Social: I got the chance to spend a lot of time with friends this year, from rafting the Grand Canyon to hiking the Colorado Trail with friends, as well as visiting various friends around Thailand and the world.
Business: I launched several new projects this year, improved others, and learned a lot in 2018.  While my business grew, my main focus this year was learning more about the investing side of business and economics.

I think the biggest factors that affect the quality of life are: sleep, health, relationships, and freedom.  What derives out of these are meaning/purpose.  If you miss really any of these elements, it can make life not be enjoyable, so I think it is key to invest effort into improving each.

WHAT DIDN’T GO SO WELL THIS YEAR?

I like to do 30 day challenges, and this year I only did 1 challenge which was 30 days of being vegetarian.  I also planned to do a 10 day Vipassana meditation retreat but was called off last minute due to the air pollution in the area.   I planned to do a yearly water fast, but also ended up skipping it due to starting the 5×5 program and wanting to see how far I could go with it. The only other real complaint I have this year is probably a bit too much drinking.  I’m well aware of alcoholism that runs in my genes and in my family, and continually work to ensure I don’t end up in a bad place.  Aside from that, I’m very satisfied with how this year turned out.

WHAT AM I WORKING TOWARD?

Last year I wrote that I’d work on my health, specifically on mobility.  This year I spent more time in the gym, stretching, and being active outside than other years.  Next year I plan to keep this going.  Going into the new year, I want to work on my handstand and doing more running.

Business wise, I plan to learn a lot more and launch more projects as I see interest.

Knowledge wise, I want to get more reading in.  With all the travel this year, my Kindle dying, and many sporadic nights of partying, my reading schedule took a hit.  I didn’t remain consistent, so I will work on this more in 2019.

I haven’t yet made many plans for 2019, but want to add a few adventures in.  Perhaps climbing Kilimanjaro, some epic hiking, or more scuba diving.  Looking back on life and how so much of it is unplanned and unexpected if you’re open to new experiences, I think 2019 will largely be driven by such sporadic adventures.

ALL TOGETHER

With 2018 over and the years flying by, I’ve strived to make each day a step forward in the shortness of this one life we all have, and share.  The fact that we will all die one day is what motivates us to do things, as we know we don’t have forever.  Sam Harris has a great short passage on it here which is worth listening to.  His Waking Up app is phenomenal, especially listening to the short lessons on various aspects of the mind.

I wrote a post on Optimism earlier this year.  There are many reasons to be optimistic, and that post may help.  I’d also recommend Pinker’s book Enlightenment Now, which Bill Gates said was one of his all time favorites.  Well worth the time.

You can see all of my posts from 2018 herehttp://www.patjk.com/posts/2018

Thanks for reading. Happy New year, see you in 2019!

Note: You can follow what I’m reading and things I find interesting daily on my G+Twitter and/or Facebook page.

12 Days in Japan

In mid October I flew to Japan with my girlfriend to meet a few friends flying over from Colorado.  I’ve long been fascinated about Japan for a number a reasons – namely their ways of thinking, their history, their rapidly declining population, the food, and the beauty.  It’s fair to say Japan is quite a unique place.

A few quick interesting things about Japan:

  • Japan has the fastest population decline in the world (people aren’t having kids) (?)
  • Tokyo is the most populous city in the world, with over 38 million people.  It also has over 900 train stations in the city (all are pretty much on time)
  • There are cuddle cafes where men pay a fee to only cuddle with a woman.
  • Japan has the 3rd highest GDP in the world.
  • Trains regularly train 320km/hr, making transport around the country very quick and easy.
  • Having crooked teeth is seen as a positive imperfection, so many people make their teeth crooked to look better.
  • Tipping is considered rude.
  • Japan has some of the longest working hours in the world. Nearly one quarter of Japanese companies require employees to work more than 80 hours of overtime a month, according to a 2016 government survey. (?)
  • Japan has the longest live expectancy in the world.
  • There are nearly 70,000 Japanese people over 100 years old, 88% of them are women.

To start our trip, we flew from Bangkok to Tokyo, leaving Bangkok at 2am and arriving in Tokyo around 10:30am.  After taking the train into central Tokyo, we went to the hotel and were told we couldn’t checkin until 3pm.  One thing to note off the top is how expensive Tokyo is – an average hotel will run $200+/night, and an above average can easily run $400/night.

After dropping off our bags, we grabbed something to eat at Shinagawa station and then ate back at the lobby of the hotel.  3 other friends were meeting us in Tokyo to travel together, arriving a bit later.  The 3 others coming from Colorado arrived in the evening and we grabbed dinner before calling it an early night.

One of the cool, aerodynamic high-speed trains around Japan.

The next morning we caught a train to Kyoto for about 2 hours.  The train system in Japan, without a doubt, is one of the best in the world.  Some go upwards of 350km/hour, are clean and spacious, and are on time everywhere.  It is a remarkable achievement.  We arrived into Kyoto mid-day, took a shuttle to our AirBNB.  We then walked around the fish market, checked out a local brewery, and had some fresh sushi.  Kyoto was much larger than I expected, and reminded me of the streets of a city in America.  In the evening we explored some different bars and sampled a variety of Japanese beers.

The next day we took a train to the monkey park (Monkey Park Iwatayama) about 30 minutes away.  It was a short, fun hike, and got to walk around the hill top with lots of monkeys.  Afterwards we hiked back down and walked through the Fushimi Inari-taisha shrine, the infamous big red gates.  From there we walked to a couple other temples, and then caught the train back to central Kyoto.  We bought some food and drinks at a local grocery store, and headed back to the AirBNB to relax for the evening.

The following day was rainy, as expected, but we walked around early enough that we avoided the rain for most of the morning.  We went another nearby temple and pebble garden.  We then walked in the rain to a sake distillery and read about the history of sake and got some free samples – it was quite interesting.  In the evening we relaxed at the AirBNB with music and sake.

Overlooking Tokyo from Tokyo Tower

The following day we took the train back to Tokyo, arrived in late afternoon, checked into the accommodation, and relaxed.  The place had a rooftop patio, so we had sake on the rooftop and chatted about what to do next.   We walked around central Tokyo and explored, visited an owl cafe where you buy beer and pet owls (true story), and after ended up at American bar for some snacks.

The next day we visited Tokyo Tower for some great views overlooking Tokyo, and in the evening went to an infamous robot show.  The robot show is strange, but quite entertaining and they serve beer so overall it was quite enjoyable.  At around $80/ticket, it was expensive but worth it for the couple hours.

On our friends last day in Japan, we took the train to a massive outdoor market which had lots of food, souvenirs, and people.  There were a lot of Thai people, I’m guessing from a large tour group of something else but it seemed half of the people there were speaking Thai. We had lunch near there, bought a few souvenirs, and then took the train to Tokyo station.  We roamed around the massive park near the station and saw Imperial Palace.  It was quite a fun place to hang out.  From there we took the train to Akihabara to checkout some of the electronic stores.  We ended up in one of the countless claw machine stores playing on the machines for an hour (throughout the trip they were everywhere and we spent many hours in them).

Overlooking Sagami Bay from the hotel south of Odawara.

Early the next morning we walked around the park near the AirBNB (Shinjuku station), checked out of the accommodation, and grabbed breakfast.  The others heading back to the US had to make their way to the airport, while my girlfriend and I had a couple hours to knockout some work before getting the train to Hakone area.

In the afternoon, we took the train to Odawara station to stay in that area for a few days to relax, onsen, and explore the small towns around Mt. Fuji.  In the shuttle from the train station to the hotel, we may 2 other women from Colorado who had taken a bus from the Tokyo airport straight to the hotel and were relaxing for a week.

Taking a cable car over a sulfur mine near Hakone.

Over the next few days we did a loop around the area seeing Mt. Fuji (though quite cloudy), boating across Lake Ashi, taking the cable car from Gora, walking over the Mishima Sky Walk, and relaxing in the Japanese style resort overlooking the ocean.  Since tattoos aren’t allowed, my girlfriend had to hide her tattoos in order to use any public facility, but it worked out okay.  I was able to get a few hours of the sauna in and overall it was relaxing to be there.

I made a list of observations which make Japan somewhat unique:

  • Very few white people around – we rarely saw other foreigners walking around.
  • Toilets are very modern, often heated seats with auto-bum sprayers with varying pressures and temperatures.
  • Toilets are often in a separate room as the shower.
  • Everything is very organized and clean – all the way down to how stuff is placed on a plate, to positioned in a room, to laid out in a city.  Even with 38 million people, Tokyo isn’t super crowded and there is little to no trash.  Organization is clearly a key to their culture.
  • At the cashier, coins are automatically dispensed to the customer so the cashier doesn’t have to manually count coins.
  • When paying with a credit card, signing is not required (at least from my experience).
  • Vending machines are everywhere, for everything from drinks (hot and cold), to food, snacks, rice to toys.
  • People stop walking when they use their phone.
  • In trains you can’t talk on the phone loudly (there are signs showing this too).
  • Microwaves aren’t set on time but on temperature.
  • Trains are spacious, clean, have good wifi, serve drinks, have luggage space/locks.  Very well made and maintained.
  • 7/11 (a Japanese company) has high quality, healthy food.  Avocado, sushi, etc.
  • When you have trash, you are expected to carry it around with you.  Trash cans weren’t common to see.
  • The food quality of Japanese food in Japan seemed normal compared to Japanese food outside of Thailand.
  • Japan is expensive, $15-30/meal wasn’t uncommon, especially in tourist areas.  AirBnB was often $250/night for an average apartment in the city – accommodation is expensive (Tokyo is one of the most expensive places in the world – in 2013 it was the most expensive in the world).

Overall, it was a great trip.  I’ve long wanted to visit Japan and explore a bit of the culture.  I’d like to go back and explore the autumn and winter there, and perhaps do some skiing.  The culture is incredibly unique and society seems well thought out and rational, unique to few places in the world.  It will be interesting to see what becomes of Japan with the population and work environment issues.

Small Improvements

We overestimate what we can do in a day and underestimate what we do in a year.  This is because we are creatures of instant gratification.  That is to say, when we do something, we want to see the result shortly after.  The problem is that many things in life don’t have quick results, so we need to driven by enjoying the process or trusting the process is working.  In fact, most of the good things in life don’t have quick results – being healthy is a lifestyle over longer periods of time, saving money to retire happens over a lifetime, and building good relationships take experiences over time.  Delayed gratification, or delayed results from current action, is an important piece of life worth recognizing.

As defined, “”Delayed gratification, or deferred gratification, describes the process that the subject undergoes when the subject resists the temptation of an immediate reward in preference for a later reward. Generally, delayed gratification is associated with resisting a smaller but more immediate reward in order to receive a larger or more enduring reward later. A growing body of literature has linked the ability to delay gratification to a host of other positive outcomes, including academic success, physical health, psychological health, and social competence.”

Delayed gratification, that is putting time and effort into something where the results won’t show for a period of time, is a positive trait of the human condition.  It means foregoing the instant gratification for a more longer term satisfaction.  It means passing on the donut and its instant gratification to live a longer, more healthy life.  It means saving more money now than buying a new car today.  It means being physically active today even if you don’t feel like it. Some more examples…

  • Going to to the gym once may make you feel great that day, but if you only go once the results are minute.  However, going daily for 2 months adds up to a lot.  20 pullups a day isn’t much, but in a month that is 600 pullups which is a lot and has an effect.  Going to the gym daily for the delayed gratification of a lifetime of good health is a huge benefit.
  • Writing 1 paragraph a day isn’t much, but consistently writing a paragraph each day for a month adds up to a 30 paragraph piece.  The delayed gratification of writing daily but after months seeing all your work and improvement in writing is gratifying.
  • Reading 30 minutes a day isn’t much, be amounts to between 20-40 books a year, which can have a drastic impact on your understanding, and therefore the outcome of your life.

Putting in the daily repetition is arguably one of the most life changing things you can do, because you are what you repeat (you are your habits), and a lifetime of repetition of anything will greatly change the outcome.

In the infamous “Marshmallow Experiment” in the late 1960’s, psychologists at Stanford performed various studies on delayed gratification…

In these studies, a child was offered a choice between one small reward provided immediately or two small rewards if they waited for a short period, approximately 15 minutes, during which the tester left the room and then returned. (The reward was sometimes a marshmallow, but often a cookie or a pretzel.) In follow-up studies, the researchers found that children who were able to wait longer for the preferred rewards tended to have better life outcomes, as measured by SAT scores,[2] educational attainment,[3] body mass index (BMI),[4] and other life measures.[5]

Source: Wikipedia

James Clear wrote an excellent article “40 Years of Stanford Research Found That People With This One Quality Are More Likely to Succeed“, which goes into more detail on delayed gratification and the Marshmallow Experiment.

Success usually comes down to choosing the pain of discipline over the ease of distraction. And that’s exactly what delayed gratification is all about.

In his article he further says…

The studies above do make one thing clear: if you want to succeed at something, at some point you will need to find the ability to be disciplined and take action instead of becoming distracted and doing what’s easy. Success in nearly every field requires you to ignore doing something easier (delaying gratification) in favor of doing something harder (doing the work and putting in your reps).

But the key takeaway here is that even if you don’t feel like you’re good at delaying gratification now, you can train yourself to become better simply by making a few small improvements. In the case of the children in the study, this meant being exposed to a reliable environment where the researcher promised something and then delivered it.

You and I can do the same thing. We can train our ability to delay gratification, just like we can train our muscles in the gym. And you can do it in the same way as the child and the researcher: by promising something small and then delivering. Over and over again until your brain says, 1) yes, it’s worth it to wait and 2) yes, I have the capability to do this.

Over the years I’ve come to realize one of the best skills in life is time management. Managing time enables you to consistently make small gains, daily.  Small improvements make huge gains.  Time passes whether we make small improvements or not, hence why it’s important to manage time now and continuously.  Building habits enables us to spend our time more effectively, and live better lives.

Because we can’t predict the future or change the past, all we can do is focus on the moment and the day to day activities that makeup our lives.  Striving to be better than yesterday adds up to many small improvements each day which compound day after day, month after month, years after year.  We didn’t evolve to understand compound interest, but we can use reason to know it is incredibly powerful.  As James Clear says, “habits are the compound interest of self improvement.” The aggregation of marginal gains – small improvements add up to dramatic changes.  On the same token, small bad habits can add up to a massive decline in well being.

Aristotle once said “we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then is not an act but a habit.” Let’s make each day a better day than the last.

If you liked this post, I’d recommend checking out Jame Clear’s new book “Atomic Habits“, and watching his talk, 1% Better Each Day.  You may also enjoy reading “The Power of Habit“.

17 Days Rafting the Grand Canyon

This is a trip report of a trip from May 14th-June 4th, 2018 – rafting the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.

Earlier this year I had the privilege to be invited on a private rafting trip through the Grand Canyon. So, on May 12th, I flew from Bangkok to Denver, arrived late in the evening, woke the next day to prepare gear and see friends/family, then the following day headed south towards Flagstaff, Arizona to raft the Grand Canyon.  A busy 24 hours to say the least.

The first stop was Salida, Colorado to help pack up gear and meetup with the group.  We spent the following day driving towards Flagstaff, camping an hour outside in Navajo National Monument under a clear night of bright stars.

We woke early and arrived into Flagstaff, met up with the rest of the group coming from California and Las Vegas, and packed/loaded the trailer.  Unpacking vehicles and coordinating how to repack things onto the trailer took most of the day.  There were 8 people going on the rafting trip: my friend Andrew, his brother, his dad, his aunt, his 3 cousins, and me.  A few other family members were there to help pack and checkout the area.

When everything was loaded, we grabbed dinner and drove the 2 hours to Lee’s Ferry, the put in spot to start rafting the Grand Canyon.  We spent a few hours preparing the rafts and loading them, then resting by the river eating dinner, and eventually sleeping under the stars along a trail to the campground near the river.  Many others were camped out all over the trail.  There were several large commercial, 35 ft+ pontoon boats packing nearby, but we were the only raft group for the day.  Each day the park limits the amount of people who can put in, and if I’m not mistaken, it is 1 private group each day, plus whatever commercial limits there are.

The put-in at Lee’s Ferry facing downriver

The next morning we woke with the sun, did the final preparations on the boats, and left mid-day after the ranger checked out gear and lectured all the people departing from Lees Ferry that day (was probably ~40 people).  We had a few lifejackets that didn’t meet the quality needed so had to rent some from the outfitter, which they luckily had nearby.  We saw a dory boat being loaded off a trailer the following morning as well, which reminded me of the “Emerald Mile” (see below).

From the beginning,  it was stunning scenery.  Even from Lees ferry it is a remarkable backdrop with the tall, red canyon walls shading the put in point.  We had 3 boats across 8 people, 18′ rafts plus 2 extra kayaks.  Andrew mostly kayaked the canyon, while the other 7 of us split amongst the 3 rafts and rotated at the oars. It was a strange feeling leaving Lees Ferry, as the water was so calm and peaceful, but in just a few miles up stream, it would get a lot more violent and intense.

The first day was mostly calm, getting into the routine of rowing and switching, getting comfortable with where to put water bottles and sit, etc.  The canyon walls were stunning for the entire 17 days straight, it is hard to describe and really quite hard to capture in a picture how remarkable the canyon is.

We stopped at various spots to hike into some canyons and cool sights.  Andrew’s dad had rafted the canyon 5 times prior in the early 1980’s, so he knew a lot of the geology and features to explore.

The policy at the canyon is leave no trace, meaning we have to bring out everything we bring in, including human waste. This meant we had to mount a toilet seat onto an old military ammo cam, or “groover box”.  We also had to urinate separately from the groover, which meant we had a bucket we had to piss into simultaneously while shitting.  It was a slight challenge but got used to it after a day or two.  The pee could be dumped into the river as long as it only went into the water (and not the beach), but the poop had to be carried out in the groover boxes. I’d say we had some incredible scenery for taking a shit, to say the least.  Often we put the groover box facing beautiful canyon walls or beautiful sunsets overlooking the river – it was almost magical.

It took a couple days to get into a sort of routine, but it worked out well. Each day the same people got on the same rafts; this way those people knew exactly what was on the rafts and where it was.  It also meant that we had somewhat of a routine for setup and takedown.  For example, one raft had the kitchen tables and the tarps underneath to catch any waste, another boat had water buckets for washing dishes and hands, and another boat had groover boxes, etc.  Each night one or two people would setup the bathroom while others started cooking and preparing the chairs.  We ended up having quite comfortable settings and great food.  There was no rain, clear skies pretty much every night, and excellent temperature.  I didn’t use a tent once, and just slept on my sleeping pad with my sleeping bag each night, it was perfect.

While Andrew kayaked most of the trip, I joined a couple times in some of the calmer water, as did others.  The normal routine for the day was to wakeup with the sun, pack our gear, eat breakfast, pack the kitchen and repack the boats, pack the groover, and row around 20 miles, stopping for lunch midday.  We’d typically be on the water in the morning by 8:30am and be off the water around 5pm.  After getting off the water, we’d setup the kitchen and groover, and setup our camp site.  We’d rotate cooking each night – 3 people would cook one day, the other 3/4 the other day.  Whoever didn’t cook would setup the bathroom and then have some down time.  We had a speaker so we had some good music, and we had a lot of bags of red wine which was also nice.  We’d typically be in bed by 9pm most nights after a good dinner.  Most nights I’d stay up chatting with someone about the stars – it was beautiful.

Where the Little Colorado meets the big Colorado River

Throughout the trip, there were several dry bags that were ruined when mice chewed tiny holes in them at night.  Most of this was caused by leaving food in the dry bag at night.  Also during the nights, we had a UV light which would turn scorpions bright glowing white (this was Tim’s idea and it worked like a charm).  It was fun walking around and seeing tiny 2-3″ scorpions, mostly on the rocks.  One night we saw a 5-6″ one, though hidden in a hole in the rocks.

The water flow in the canyon runs between 7-15,000 cfs (cubic feet per second), depending on the day and release from Glen Canyon Dam upstream.  We were told the release times from Glen Canyon Dam, and as the trip progressed and we got further from the dam, we had to calculate how long it would take for the increased water levels to reach us.  We then planned our how tie the boats for the night to ensure the boats didn’t ensure up too far on shore or too far off shore.

For the first 4-5 days of the trip, I didn’t take notes, and have limited pictures.  On the 22nd of May, I started writing a bit. Here was the dairy I made during the trip, with some added notes along the way:

May 22 – Was a long day. Camped at Kwagunt Creek Rapid just below Mile 56. Great spot. Burritos for dinner with canyon in backdrop. Remarkable. Last night slept at mile 38 at Tatahatso Canyon. Nice spot. Saw huge 6″ scorpion with UV light.

Yesterday saw arc and huge cave like thing – Redwall Cavern. Hiked into Dolomite, and Shinumo Wash. Stars out are very clear, can see milkyway.  One of the clearest nights I’ve ever seen in the sky.

Typical evening setup for dinner

May 23: A lot of rapids. Nearly flipped on a class 2 as Alberto bumped boat in front of us and put us into a hole. Recovered though Alberto ejected.  The other boat had a jacket and solar charger get lost to the rapid (or ripple). Camped after Nevills Rapid, mile 76.

May 24: Dave’s birthday, made a cake and had a little celebration. Camped at mile 94 above class 8/9 Granite rapid. Yesterday the first rapid drained me and went into a hole sideways. Also stopped at Phantom Ranch – lots of hikers there – was the most people we saw all trip, felt a bit strange being so far from civilization yet seeing so many people. Overall challenging but fun day.

May 25: Hit a lot of big rapids, rowed a couple class 8s and 9s (scale on Grand Canyon is 1-10, 10 being the most difficult). Learned a lot and improved confidence. Had a beautiful camping spot at Garnet Mile 114. Saw many lizards throughout the trip.

May 26: A few more big rapids. Hiked up two different canyons. Camped after a rapid in a rocky spot. Layover day tomorrow so we can hike. Mile 134, Tapeats. Stayed up and chatted with Curran, and saw mice running around. Lots of lizards here too.

May 27: Camped near Tapeats Creek again, hiked all day (steep, full day, but beautiful). Crossed the creek twice to Thunder falls – incredible views up there. On the way back, Dave, Alberto, and I stayed right of the creek and got back to camp an hour earlier.. Amazing hike with stunning views. See many other hikers. Mile 134 still.

May 28: Raft 3 miles and hiked up Deer Creek. Then 11 miles to 145 mile to camp. Great spot with big beach. Olo canyon camp.

May 29: Wake up and get ready, Andrew and Dave and Drew go climb. I read on the shade. Then we raft to Matkatamiba Canyon and hike there. Camp at 156.5 mile at Last Chance. Tomorrow will be another short day and we hike Havasu.

May 30. Hike Havasu. Nice waterfalls, good hike. By crazy coincidence, I run into an ex-girlfriend from Thailand who was hiking there (hadn’t seen her in years).  Perhaps one of the craziest coincidences I’ve ever experienced.  Camp at Mile 158.7 on rocks. Very hot.

Hiking up to Thunder Falls

May 31: Raft quickly to near Lava falls, camp mile 178. Drink wine by water, then hike. Get stuck at cliff, Andrew climbs it with Dave at top. Amazing stars, satellites, and shooting stars.

June 1: Wake up and run Lava rapid (class 10) early. Flip boat and go through two rapids off boat. Row all day, 27 miles. Camp at mile 205. Great spot with great stars.

June 2: camp at 239. Long day of rowing. Sandy camp. Windy too.

I did some kayaking with Andrew on the last days, running through a ripple or two and almost flipping.  The water became much more calm the last couple days and the canyon walls began to decline, eventually ending up a slowly moving, super wide river, which is now Lake Meade (down 120 ft from 20 years ago).  It’s a bit scary to think of such a water drop in just 20 years.

On the last night, we played frisbee on the beach and drank some wine.  Throughout the night we could hear the sand bars falling into the water.  We woke early the next morning, rowed for 15 minutes to Pearce Ferry.  Once there, we spent a couple hours unpacking, deflating and folding the rafts, and loading it onto the trailer that was shuttled to us at Pearce Ferry.  We then grabbed an early lunch at a diner in the closest town, and then to Las Vegas.  Half of the crew drove back to Flagstaff, while others went back to Las Vegas.

Overlooking the Colorado River

Overall the trip was remarkable.  It is an intense adventure, with more remarkable beauty than almost anywhere I’ve seen in the world. The combination of incredible weather, steep canyon walls that are billions of years old, crystal clear skies at night, and amazing company, it is the trip of a lifetime. And one I’d love to do again.

Sleeping under the stars for 2 weeks without any insects or rain at a comfortable temperature surrounded by the marvels of the grand canyon is beyond explanation.  Going to sleep with the sun and waking with the sun made for good rest.  It was interesting how easy it was to wakeup at 5am not tired, as if I sleep indoors it is much more difficult.  It just reassured me the value of being outside and how we as humans evolved to wake and sleep with the sun, not be indoors shaded all the time.

I recently finished reading the book “The Emerald Mile” which documents the history of Glen Canyon Dam and the ability for humans to control the Colorado River, and is based around the story of the fastest boat ride through the Grand Canyon during the summer flood of 1983.  Three guides decided to get on an infamous dory boat, named “The Emerald Mile”, during the high water floods of 1983 when the water level went from 15,000 cfs to 90,000+ cfs.  In turn, they set a new record for the fastest trip down the canyon, around 38 hours (it took us 17 days).

It is an incredible book and well worth reading, especially before or after a rafting trip down the Grand Canyon.

To see all of my pictures from the trip, click on the Google Photos album here.

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