In the Heart of the Canyon

ISBN 13: 9780230772298

In the Heart of the Canyon

 
9780230772298: In the Heart of the Canyon

The temperature is over 100. The rapids are some of the largest in North America. Water levels are rising. And JT Maroney, veteran river guide, is leading his 125th trip down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. For the next two weeks, his 13 passengers -- strangers, mostly -- will paddle, row, swim, ride the rapids, eat gourmet meals, sleep under the stars, and learn a lot about geology. They'll learn a lot about each other, too -- perhaps more than they want to know. Allegiances form, and likewise dissolve, in the course of an afternoon. JT's decision on the first day to adopt a stray dog further complicates the group dynamics, leading to a series of fateful mishaps, one of which will alter the course of many lives.

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Book Description
From the author of The Abortionist’s Daughter, a gripping new novel about a rafting trip through the Grand Canyon that changes the lives of everyone on board.

Meet Peter, twenty-seven, single, and looking for a quick hookup; Evelyn, a fifty-year-old Harvard professor; and Ruth and Lloyd, river veterans in their seventies. There’s Mitchell, an overeager history buff with no qualms about unstaging the guides with his knowledge. There’s Jill from Salt Lake City, wanting desperately to spark some sense of adventure in her staid Mormon family; and seventeen-year-old Amy, so woefully overweight that she can barely fit into a pup tent, let alone into a life jacket.

Guiding them all is JT Maroney, who loves the river with all his heart and who, having made 124 previous trips down the Colorado, thinks he has seen everything. But on their first night, a stray dog wanders into their campsite, upsetting the tentative equilibrium of this makeshift family. Over the next thirteen days, as various decisions are second-guessed and sometimes regretted, both passengers and guides find that sometimes the most daunting adventures on a Colorado River trip have nothing to do with white-water rapids, and everything to do with reconfiguring the rocky canyons of the heart.

Elisabeth Hyde on In the Heart of the Canyon

This novel was born on July 6, 2002, when I got thrown over the back of the paddle boat in Deubendorff Rapid. It’s not the biggest rapid in the Grand Canyon, but it’s no trickle either, with fifteen-foot waves colliding against each other in angry perpetuity.

We’d had an extensive briefing on the first day of the trip about what to do if you fell out of the boat. Breathe at the crest, not the trough. Trust your lifejacket. Point your feet downstream. These days, the Park Service allows training swims in baby rapids, but in 2002 such swims weren’t permitted, so you had to learn by, well, falling overboard.

We were on Day 8 of our trip, and with a dozen or so big rapids behind us, I was in a kind of “Hey, cool, another roller-coaster ride, and have you guys noticed my shoulder muscles lately?” mode. But before I knew what happened, we were careening into a wall of water at the wrong angle, and our paddle captain’s scoutlike commands turned into war cries. “LEFT TURN!” he yelled. “Come on, paddlers—LEFT!” But it was too late. The boat reared up like that last scene in The Perfect Storm, and down I went.

It was like my first labor, in the sense I completely forgot all the instructions. There is really no way to practice having a baby or swimming a rapid until you just do it. My journal later notes the “ferocious texture of bubbles” along with some force repeatedly smashing me down without letting me catch some air. Oddly, I also noted that the water wasn’t cold—which wasn’t true, for the Colorado River below Glen Canyon Dam runs a brisk forty-two degrees. But it was important for me in that adrenaline-laced state, because I’d spent half the trip being afraid not of drowning but of being cold. So here I was, getting maytagged—but at least I wasn’t cold. Phew.

I really didn’t fear for my life. I probably should have—this is big water—but drowning deaths are rare on the Colorado River, usually a result of someone not wearing a life jacket. Since I was wearing mine, I never thought I would drown. There was only one moment of true panic, when I needed air so badly I was about ready to inhale the river itself. Yet I trusted my life jacket to bring me back up, the same way I trusted my obstetrician all those years ago when he told me to push. I’ve lived long enough to know that you can do everything right and still lose, but my trust in a small piece of orange foam got me through that swim with a sense of exhilaration so strong that for months afterward I couldn’t go to sleep without replaying the swim in my mind, a kind of perverse lullaby.

John Irving once said (paraphrasing one of his own characters) that as writers we have to “get obsessed and stay obsessed.” I was so obsessed after this swim that I came home and immediately enrolled in a whitewater kayaking class, announcing my intent to kayak the Grand Canyon. (No thanks, said my lower back.) I wrote long goofy poems, subscribed to rafting magazines, and peppered my office with snapshots of the trip. Gradually I realized this obsession had to be channeled into a novel.

And so JT found his way into my world. And Evelyn, bless her neurotic little soul. And Amy, with all her body issues; and Mitchell, who while I was swimming Deubendorff was probably reading everything he could on John Wesley Powell. I give great thanks to this party of travelers. If it weren’t for them, I’d still be in that kayak class, ruining my back while trying to master an Eskimo roll. —Elisabeth Hyde

(Photo © Joan Simon)

About the Author:

Elisabeth Hyde is the author of four previous novels, including the top ten bestselling The Abortionist's Daughter. Born and raised in New Hampshire, she has since lived in Vermont, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Seattle. In 1979 she received her law degree and practiced briefly with the U.S. Department of Justice. She teaches creative writing and currently lives with her husband and three children in Boulder, Colorado, where she is currently at work on her fifth novel.

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