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Clarification of Self: Week 3 Spiritual Self (San Rafel rafting trip)

Updated: Aug 18, 2021

Week 3: Spiritual Self

Spirituality… What does it mean? What does your own personal spirituality mean to you? Does it look like organized religion, does it look like prayer or mediation, does it look like spending time with friends and family or solitude in quiet places. I believe that for many of us, it is all of the above. When spirituality is discussed we often think of peaceful times or times of calm. However, it has been my experience that my most impactful spiritual experiences have happened in my darkest days or the most adverse times of my life. Recognizing ones own personal spirituality is vital to understanding ones self. What is your relationship with God? Do you have a relationship with God? Do you even believe in God? Developing personal spirituality is not only rewarding but it brings a level of peace and wholeness that is found in no other way. Without an understanding or your spiritual self, you will have a hole in your life. This is not uncommon for many people. Most try to fill it with other “stuff”. Either physical objects like possessions or vacations only to discover that while it may fill that hole for a few days or few weeks, that inevitably it comes back. Understanding that this hole can only be filled by the spiritual is vital to clarification of ones self.

Personally, my spirituality is one of the most important aspects of my life and my personal self. I see my spirituality on several different plains. I am an intensely religious person who reads scriptures on almost a daily basis and tries to implement their teachings into my life. I go to church weekly and am very active in my church and religion. I have had more spiritual experiences than I can count while in church, reading my scriptures, or praying and pondering what I have read or listened to. However, having said this, I would say that some of my most special spiritual experiences have happened when I was not doing any of these. I attribute this to being comfortable with my own spirituality. It is part of me. It is not separate, but who I am. It is my belief that God can reach me at any time because I accept my spiritual self and am comfortable being in a spiritual mind.

My kids call it the rafting trip through Hell, I call it a special experience that deepened my faith and personal spirituality. I hesitated to share this story as it is long, but in the end felt like it was a perfect example of a combination of all my own spiritual self. This experience demonstrates that there are many different aspects of spirituality and how they can be very different but work to the same end. If you already feel like you have a good handle on your own spirituality, I hope this story adds to it. If you feel like you are struggling to recognize in your life your own spirituality, I hope this is a good story to help jump start that journey. Enjoy!

San Rafel rafting trip

June 2020

Some family friends and us decided to go camping at The San Rafel Swell and run the river/stream that goes through the Grand Canyon of San Rafel. This is a trip that our friend (Brian) and I (Grant) had done about 10 years ago with our scouts. It was a great trip. We camped at the swinging bridge campground by the river the night before, and then the next morning we drove up to a drop off spot at the beginning of the San Rafel Grand Canyon. The total length of the float trip on the water was 17 miles long from where we put in to where we take out. During our first trip we had planned it well. Because this is a desert area, going when the flow of the river was at its highest was very important. Due to our good planning with the scouts, we arrived when the water was at its highest and we all had canoes. The total time took us between 5 to 6 hours. We ate our lunch on the river at a spring and had a great time. Brian and I enjoyed it immensely and wanted to do this trip again with our families. After several years of talking about it we finally made it happen in June of 2020.

We arrived at the swinging Bridge Campground on Friday afternoon with high excitement and high hopes for the next day. We had a lovely night sitting by the fire, roasting marshmallows, and making smores. We turned into bed between 10 and 11 PM and awoke around 7:00 – 7:30. We made breakfast, loaded our lunches and water into a little cooler, loaded our tubes, canoe, raft and kayaks in the cars and headed for the launch site at the head of the Grand Canyon of San Rafel. Upon arrival at our launch place we saw what appeared to be 2 moms and about 10 kids pumping up tubes to float the river. We thought little of it and started to do the same. My wife and I making the trip in an old raft that we had that fit about 5 people. In the raft was my wife Marci, my daughters Lexi and me. Drake, Bridger and Hadlie were on tubes. Kimbrie was on a tube half the time and in the raft half the time. Our friend Brian was in a Kayak, his son Tyler and daughter in law were in a canoe, and his other son Landon and his girlfriend were in a kayak also. We launched at about 9:30 AM excited about our adventure for the day.

The river was fairly warm, especially for a stream and we were having fun, floating, splashing and playing. You could see that the water had dropped about 2 feet or so over the past week but we thought we would be just fine. We soon figured out how important those 2 feet would have been. In many places where the river widened, we would have to get out of the raft because it would drag on the rock on the bottom of the riverbed. We were concerned that it might damage the raft and did our best to avoid this. However, the water was muddy, and it was difficult to see the rocks at times. We brought a medium size cooler with us that had our lunch and water in it. I started to use it as a seat after an hour or so of sitting in the bottom of the raft. Sitting up made it far easier to paddle and it was more comfortable. After about 3 hours on the river, Lexi was getting very hungry and was making a significant plea for lunch. We decided to stop at this old abandoned mine about 6 miles in and eat lunch. Our original lunch place was at a spring that had some Indian writings. This place was about halfway. We assumed we were pretty close to this spot anyway and did not think much about stopping a little early. However, after Lunch, Brian and I looked at his map to try and see where we were exactly. We figured we were only about 1/4th of the way, much less then what we had previously thought. We decided that we needed to try and push it a little to make up some time, but we were not worried about anything and we were all still having fun.

To try and go faster we tied the 3 tubes with the kids onto them to the Raft. Marci and I paddled pulling the kids behind us so we could go faster. We arrived at our lunch spot about 2 hours later. We got out of the raft and decided to take a little brake and hike the ½ mile or so back into the spring and look at some Indian writings on the canyon wall. It was fun and cool, but when we got back to the raft, we knew we had to make better time than what were where making. We had been on the water for about 5 hours and we were only halfway. With the scouts it had only taken 6 hours to do the entire trip. The time was about 3:00 pm and we were all ready to be done. We decided to abandon the tubes and just tie them to the back of the raft. Drake, Marci, Kimbrie, Hadlie and I would ride in the raft. Bridger got into the Kayak with Brian and Lexie got into the canoe with Tyler and his wife so that we could row instead of pulling tubes or letting the nonexistent current take float us down stream. Drake and I started paddling so we could get to camp as soon as possible. As we started back on the river in our new positions, Marci and I started to talk about the two women and children we had seen pumping up tubes, and that we were concerned for them. We had been able to paddle at least some of the time and we were significantly behind schedule. They were at the mercy of the river current, which was slow. We were concerned that they were significantly behind us and with little support. 2 moms and 10 kids would be a lot to manage, especially because some of the kids appeared to be young.

We soon stopped thinking about the 2 women and children and started down the river. It was all laughs and fun for the first couple of hours, but by 5:00 PM we were all worn out and ready to be done. We finally came out of the canyon to more open area, but this made matters worse. The flow of the river has slowed even more because there was even less of an incline now than at the beginning of the canyon, and the river started to bend and twist like a big snake instead of heading in a straight direction. Drake and I had been paddling hard the hole time and because we had exited the high canyon walls and were in the more open part of the river, I thought that we were close. I was wrong though!

The second half of the river we had to avoid more rocky spots than the first. Every time I would feel rocks I would try and jump up or out of the raft to avoid damage to the bottom. Around 6:00 we were all getting very frustrated with how long it was taking. We came around a conner and I could see that the river was shallow, so I jumped out to not drag the raft on the bottom, but we started to drag anyways. I was standing in about 1 foot of water trying to pull the raft, my 17 year old son, who is 6 foot 2 inches tall jumped out to help me and landed in an unseen hole that was about 7 feet deep. He completely submerged. We thought it was funny but he did not and was quite angry. The funny quickly ended though when Marci and Kimbrie got out of the raft. As I pulled the raft off of the rocks, Marci and Kimbrie started to walk on what appeared to be sand bar. Marci quickly found out that it was not solid and suddenly sunk up to her mid-thigh in black mud. This scared her and she started yelling for help. Kimbrie took a step towards here and sunk up to her knee. I was dragging the raft, Drake was shaking off the water from himself, Marci and Kimbrie were stuck in mud and scared. Hadlie was watching not knowing whether to laugh or cry. Drake was closest to Marci and ran to her aid and helped her out of the mud. Kimbrie almost lost her shoe, but we were able to dig it out. They washed off and we climbed back into the raft 20 or 30 yards down the river to continue on the journey even more ready to be done than before.

Around this same time we started to notice that our raft had more water in it than normal. As we started to investigate we found that we had torn a hole in the bottom of the raft. The cooler that I was sitting on had pinched between it and a rock at some point and had torn a 2 to 3 inch hole in the bottom of the raft. Hadlie and Marci started to use a gallon zip lock bag to bail water out of it. I was starting to become worried as I knew that my family had reached the totally done, give up and die point, and we still did not know how much longer we had to go. Drake was getting angry. He was tired, his back was hurting from an injury he had sustained in sports, his arms were super tired from nonstop rowing and the tops of his legs were very sunburned. He was such a trooper though and did not complain and just kept going. However, he did later tell us how angry he was at God at this point. He and I had been rowing for 4 hours nonstop and we were exhausted. He kept asking why we were not being delivered and why God was not helping us. Not long after the mud incident we all said a prayer together to ask for help. We also discussed how God might help us at this time and that it maybe in ways that we do not see, but that we need to have faith that he will. Drake later said that he had no faith that anything would happen at that time. He was just angry, tired hungry and thirsty. By this time our water had run out. We were planning on being on the river for 6 to 7 hours and by this time we were pushing 10 hours on the river , with no end in sight!

Luckily we did have a some comic relief at times. The cooler that I had been sitting on was caving in from my fat butt, and it pushed down the inside of the raft where the hole was allowing more water to come in. We made the decision to abandon the cooler on the shore in shallow unmarked grave. Okay, fine, we just threw it into a bush where no one could see it, because at that point in time, none of us cared! This meant that I now had to sit on the front portion of the raft with my feet in the water. Most of the time this was not a problem, and actually helped me to determine how deep the water was and if we needed to get out. One time though, I tried to exit the raft in shallow water when my foot became caught on a rock and the raft knocked me down. During my fall I dropped my paddle. I knew how important that paddle was to us and so I leaped up and forward grabbing it in a perfect swan dive motion, all to the laughter and enjoyment of the rest of my family. I was not happy about the whole ordeal though. I had been dry and warm and now I was completely soaked again. It did lighten the mood though for a time which I was grateful for. I had one other incident not long after that one where I feel backwards into the raft. My feet were sticking up out of one side of the raft and my head and shoulders were jammed into the other side and I was stuck. I kept trying to role and move to free myself, but it was met with little success. Once again, my family laughed at me instead of helping. I must admit it was pretty funny and once again lightened the mood for a time.

About 30 minutes after we noticed a hole in the bottom of the raft, we came to a place in the river where we decided it would be better to take out the raft and walk it around the tight corner and swift current rather than try and paddle it. We knew if we tried to just paddle past this section that the likelihood of us capsizing was high. We all exited the raft and walked on the shore to avoid this catastrophe. There were some others floating the river who had pulled out at this section also that we began to talk with. We started sharing our experience and it was disclosed that our raft had a hole in the bottom. Graciously these other rafters offered some Duct tap to try and patch the hole. We dried off the raft as best we could and taped it and started back on our way. It did not take long to find out that the tape was not holding at all and water continued to flood into the raft. At that time Marci stuck her big toe in the hole to plug it. This actually worked quite well. She plugged the hole with her toe and Hadlie continued to bail water with the bag. Every once in a while, they would switch and Hadlie would stick her toe in the hole and Marci would bail water. It was not pretty, but it kept us from filling up with water and having to sit in a pool.

It was coming up on 8:00 pm and we still were not to Swinging Bride and our camp where we would take out. We were all looking down the canyon and pointing to a landmark and saying that we remembered it from camp and that we had to be getting close. That landmark would come and go and still there was no bridge. One of the most frustrating parts of this ordeal was you would almost get to a landmark, like a ridge coming down that looked like the finish would be just on the other side, but right before you would get to that landmark the stream would snake and turn and take you back in the same direction that you just came from, taking you farther away from where you thought the finish was.

At 9:00 I was starting to get very nervous. I was extremely grateful that Lexie and Bridger were far ahead of us, and most likely in camp, as they were in a kayak and a canoe, but the rest of us were still struggling more than ever. We did not have a flashlight and I was scared to be in the river in the dark. About this same time we passed some people that were camped by the river and I thought, finally we are close, but 15 minuets later there still was no bridge. At about 9:20 we came to a place where we could pull out. It was not the bridge, but we did not care! There was a man standing by his car looking down the river waiting for his family. Marci said in no uncertain terms, get out here! We will walk the rest of the way if we have too. I jumped out of the raft, and wouldn’t you know it, that darn river had to get me one last time. I tripped on a rock and fell as I tried to pull in the raft. This time though it left a big gash on my shin that started to bleed down my leg. But honestly, I did not care, we were out, and we were all happy about that. The man asked us if we had seen two women with about 10 kids in tubs? We told him that we had seen them put in and had been worried about them as they had no paddles or ways to move themselves through the slow-moving river. You could tell he was worried about them. We asked him how far away the campground was, and he informed us that it was still about a mile away. He hesitantly offered to give us a ride there, but I could see that he was nervous to leave that spot and risk missing his family. I offered to stay and watch for his family if he would take my wife and kids back to camp. He agreed to this, and I could see that this comforted him.

After this kind gentleman dropped off Marci and the kids, he returned, and we started to talk as I waited for Marci to come pick up Drake and I. He said that his wife and 5 kids and a family friend’s wife and 5 kids were still out on the river. He had expected them hours ago. He put on a front that he was okay, joking that they would just have to wait till 11:00 or so, but I could see that he was very worried. It was about 10:00 by now and completely dark. He said that the friend’s husband had started to walk down the river to try and locate them and had been gone for about 1 hour. I informed him that there was a horse trail that led back into the canyon. He was not familiar at all with this area and knew nothing about any trials or anything. I told him that I would return to help find them after I changed my clothes. He was very appreciative of this. My wife showed up right then in Brian’s son’s vehicle, since ours was at the drop off location still. Drake and I climbed in and we went back to camp. I changed my clothes, grabbed some flashlights, and told Brian about the situation. I did not eat dinner or anything, I just felt a huge urgency to get looking for them. Brian, Drake, Bridger and I grabbed some water, a couple of snacks and head lamps and headed back to the river to search for the two families. We spoke with the gentlemen again, he told us the names of the women so we could call for them, and at around 10:30 to 10:45 PM we headed down the old horse trail.

The trail goes close to the river for the first couple of miles and then slowly winds to the top of the canyon. It continues on top for a several miles before dropping back down into the canyon before the walls become to step. As we walked, we kept yelling the names of the women and listening in hopes of finding them. We could tell that the trail was starting to wind up towards the top of the canyon and away from the river. A couple of times we left the trail and walked down to be next to the river and would yell their names. With no response we would walk back to the trail and continue farther down the trail. We came to a point where the trail took a turn and really started to go up the canyon and I knew that it would not be much longer until we would be out of the canyon completely and on top. We discussed what to do but I felt strongly that we should go a little further. I pointed my flashlight up the trail to turn that I estimated was about 50 to 75 yards away. I said, let’s go to that turn so we can see down the canyon better. If we cannot see them or hear them at that turn, we will return and call search and rescue. We all agreed to this and continued climbing. We arrived at the turn in the trail and I looked down into the canyon and far out in bottom I saw a little red light. I pointed it out to the others. We started to yell at them calling out their names. They responded saying that they were the people we were calling. We made a quick plan. We left Brian at that spot on the trail so we could find it again and Drake, Bridger and I headed down a very steep ridge to meet them.

When we arrived, they asked what we were doing? I responded that we were looking for them. This surprised them some. I informed them that we had spoken to one of the husbands and he gave me their names. I let them know that we had seen them earlier at the place where we launched, and that some of our kids had tubes that we eventually had to abandon due to how slow they were going. We shared with them a quick part of how hard we struggled with paddles and a raft and knew that they were in far worse shape with no paddles, on tubes, and at the mercy of the nonexistent river current. I informed them of the horse trail ahead and that it was easy walking and fast once we got up to it. I could tell that they were beat. Of the 10 kids, the oldest was about 15 and the youngest around 7. I could see that they were tired, hungry and a little scared. Once they realized we were there to help them they were super happy and kept telling us thanks. The kids especially kept saying thanks for coming to help them. Luckily the one husband had found them, and was helping them walk out, but they were walking on an overgrown path by the river that was not really a path at all. It also followed the river which meant if they had followed it, they would have had to walk about 6 to 7 miles though willows, weeds and overgrowth with only one little red light. I’m certain that this would have taken many hours as I have walked through areas like that before, and it is not easy or fun. By taking the horse trail it would only be about 2 to 3 miles and easy walking. They had all deflated their tubes and the older kids and adults were carrying the tubes of the younger children as well as their own. I offered to carry a bag and a tub. At first the adults and older kids were reluctant to burden us with them, but we soon persuaded them to allow us to help them as they needed both feet and a hand to climb the steep ridge up to the horse trail. I then lead the way back up the steep ridge to the horse trail. I continued to encourage them, especially the younger children, letting them know that once they were on the horse trail it was all down hill and easy walking.

We all finally made it to the trail and started walking. Drake lead the way with his flashlight, Bridger and I were in the middle with our lights and Brian was at the end with his. This way we tried to provide light to all so they could see where they were walking. As we continued down the trial, I had time to ponder about the day and about the experiences that I had had. A very clear prompting came to me that said, I know that you had a hard day today on the river and I allowed that to happen. I needed you to experience that difficulty so that you would know that you needed to know how urgent it was for you to go help tonight. I had been praying for help for my little family and at the last moment that prayer was answered by a man standing by a minivan with an offer to take my wife and kids back to safety, back to food and water and rest at our camp. I am sure that we were an answer to his and his families prayers as we came out to find people we had never met, in the middle of the night, even though we ourselves were tired and exhausted. It was a very powerful spiritual moment for me. Later the next day as I shared this with my family my oldest son shared a special experience he had had on the trail also. He shared that while walking back he heard a voice say to him, “see, I told you it was all going to be okay”. He knew it was from God, answering his prayer.

We were able to get the families back to their car at about midnight. I still had to go pick up my raft that was left were we pulled out, and Brian and I still had to go pick up our vehicles at the launch point. Our ride there, Brian’s son, had to leaving at 6 in the morning to get back for a work shift so we had to go that night. Long story short, I did not get back to camp and back to my dinner until 2:30 AM. My wife was worried about my and felt happy that I was finally back. I told her that there would have been no way I could have slept knowing that there were two families, with little kids out on that river in the dark. Even though that was a very taxing day, it ended up being one of the most spiritual days also. I saw the hand of the Lord in my life, in my family’s life and in the life of others, and it felt so good.

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