Kayaking more than 220 km along the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon is a top performance in adventure sports.
Violent rapids can turn a kayak in a second and overwhelm even experienced paddlers. Lack of access to supplies – or even a simple exit from the canyon – increases the mental and physical challenges of a journey that can last for weeks.
Eric Carlson, owner of the Allstate Agency in Lakewood, Colorado, has made four river trips. In his most recent year 2018, he helped lead a blind military veteran on a one-of-a-kind journey through the sucking water.
Team River Runner
Carlson volunteers with Team River Runner, a non-profit organization founded in 2004 to help injured and disabled veterans realize the social, physical and emotional benefits of kayaking. He joined the group in 201
In early 2020, the Allstate Foundation donated $ 500 to Team River Runner to further support Carlson's volunteering.
"When I looked at [Team River Runner] I thought it would be good," Carlson said. "I do not regret that I did not go into the service, but I feel a little that I should have it. If I can give back to veterans, I feel it's the second best thing to serve my country.
An Ambitious Effort
In 2013, blind kayaker Lonnie Bedwell took over the Team River Runner to tackle a more ambitious journey on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. The successful effort led to the trip in 2018, where five blind kayakers would try the trip led by 15 sight-seeing kayak guides and supported by offshore staff.
One of the blind veterans was Spc. Steve Baskis. Baskis joined the US Army in 2007 and was deployed with the Fourth Infantry Division. On May 13, 2008, an improvised explosive device struck his armored vehicle. The explosion drove splits through his nerve and caused permanent blindness. Baskis also lost his sense of smell and suffered nerve damage in his left hand.
After recovery, Baskis threw himself into adventure sports. He has ascended Mount Kilimanjaro; cycled from Ottawa, Canada to Washington, D.C.; and run half marathons.
"I wanted to strive for some form of normality and life and I strived for many different things the first year," Baskis said.
He joined Team River Runner 2009, paddling only in shallow water.
"I had a hard time with that," Baskis said. "I was not sure I would continue to run it. I was just trying to remind myself to rehabilitate my body.
But over time, the Basque Country improved and began to deal with some watery rapids. The trip 2018 came into focus and Baskis started working with various guides through rough water.
"[For] a blind athlete or recreationist like myself, everything is a team effort," said Baskis. “Every time I go and do these things, there are key people that you are on the same wavelength with. Some people just understand and are calm, relaxed and can provide good instruction and communication in situations where it is absolutely necessary to have clear, concise communication.
Baskis and Carlson met on the South Platte River near Denver and quickly formed that bond on the water.
"He said: & # 39; As a blind person we really feed the voices of others. If a guide gets nervous, you can tell with their voice, ”Carlson said. "Even though we had a tough situation, he never felt I was nervous or scared."
Invited by Baskis to one of his water guides on the Grand Canyon trip, Carlson could not agree quickly. For two years they crossed the whole country and trained together.
"We hunted big water to get him ready for this trip," Carlson said.
Parts of the Colorado River may be smooth, but others are extreme. American Whitewater, a non-profit association representing whitewater enthusiasts, classifies rapids according to their complexity from Class I, the simplest, to Class V. The latter are "extremely long, obstructed or very violent rapids" where "rescue is often difficult, even for experts. " Both class IV and V rapids are found on the Colorado River voyage.
"The raging water and the uncertainty about where it will draw you, and how you will react, it can make you think twice about what you" You do, especially if you are not right (guide) ", said Basque.
The trip took place in September 2018. Sponsors helped cover $ 150,000, a cost that was increased by the need for significant support. A trip along the Grand Canyon portion of the Colorado River usually requires adventurers to take everything with them into the canyon. In this case, large commercial fleets, manned by expert rafters, drew supplies.
Carlson was impressed by the team's first attitude, when 32 people navigated down the river for 14 days without any major conflicts or accidents.
"I have to trust a lot of the people I work with," said Baskis. "Some people may think I'm doing something ruthless as a blind person. to work together and be safe. "
Carlson continues to volunteer for Team River Runner at his local rec-center. He has a small child at home with his wife in addition to running his agency, but would welcome the opportunity under the right circumstances to take part in another journey.
"If that happened, I would throw my name away to be a guide again almost immediately," he said. "But the stars have to adapt."
Photo Credits: Google / Sandy Russell Creative