“They Call Me Groover Boy: But it isn't because of my dance moves. My life at
the helm of a Colorado River latrine raft.”
, July 2008,
IT'S A FIERY JUNE MORNING at Grapevine Camp, a
spit of sand tucked along the banks of the Colorado River,
deep inside the stone walls that frame the sub-basement of
the Grand Canyon. From the surface of the river, the walls
soar upward for more than a vertical mile, exposing
geology that extends 17 million centuries into the past.
During that span, the oceans have swollen and receded a
dozen times, the continents have slammed together and
cracked apart again, and a chain of mountains higher than
the Rockies has been heaved into the sky and reduced to
Philosophically speaking, this is some heavy shit. Heavy
enough to make a man perched on the bow of a humble
raft at the edge of Grapevine—a man now staring at that
staggering immensity of stone—scratch his head and
wonder what it all might suggest about his own place in
But that doesn't last long. Any confusion about where I fit into the cosmos is vaporized by the
arrival of a hefty steel box that two of the guides on this 19-day river trip are slinging onto the
aluminum deck of my raft with a rude, clattering ka-thunk.
"Heads up, there, my friend," warns Bill "Bronco" Bruchak, a boatman who's built like the beer
truck he used to drive in Pennsylvania. "Don't pull a muscle when you lift this thing."
"Yep," chimes in Mike "Milty" Davis, a small, cheerful guy with mischievous eyes and a snowy
white beard. "That is one enormous box of poop."
I seize the handles, heft the cargo, and stagger toward the tight space between the stanchions that
cradle my 12-foot-long, fiberglass-reinforced oars. Two identical canisters are already anchored
on both sides of the footwell, which is where I sit when I row this barge. The top of each can is
emblazoned with a strip of red electrical tape labeled FULL!!!
As I start lashing down the new can, I glance over at Monte Tillinghast, who's piloting the
second baggage boat on this trip, a kitchen raft that's tied up next to mine.
"Son, you do have a load there," observes Tillinghast, whose cowboy hat and surfer shorts make
him look like a maritime version of the Marlboro Man. "You know, you might want to think
about girth-hitching another strap onto that there—"
The author abroad the Jackass
(Photograph by Kurt Markus)