Updated: Jun 15, 2020
It was the middle of the night and it was freezing. I'd assumed the Grand Canyon was always warm, I certainly hadn't expected to be huddled in my sleeping bag, wearing every item of clothing I possessed, spending the night praying for the sun to rise and shower us with its glorious heat.
I was quite innocent back then. I didn't know too much about life outside of my own little bubble. I had decided the best way to remedy that was by quitting my job of 4 years, buying a round the world ticket and venturing out into the world.
A few weeks later I'd joined a group tour from San Francisco. Having already experienced the contrasting worlds of Yosemite and Las Vegas, I now found myself in that cold tent by the Grand Canyon where, eventually, our guide roused the group in time for sunrise; a sunrise that remains one of the most spectacular experiences of my life.
Later that day we left the Grand Canyon bound for a campsite beside the Colorado River for our final night as a group. Our guide suggested we each pitch our tents and then make the most of our free time before gathering for food; given just how much warmer it was here than at the Canyon my friend John and I decided to swim in the river. We pitched our tents in record time and ran for the water, the sun was out, it was glorious, nothing could go wrong.
We decided to swim to a small island about two thirds of the way across. I didn't realise at the time but John was a county swimmer where as I, carried away in the moment, had forgotten I swim with all the grace of a rock. This quickly became apparent as, no matter how hard I swam, I could no longer make any progress towards either the island or back to the shore. My arms and legs were beginning to feel like dead weights. I was struggling to stay afloat. Panic set in.
John had made it safely to the island but was unaware of my plight. In the far distance I could see jet ski's zooming back and forth, I tried to wave towards them but my arms were too heavy and I was too far away. In that moment I had a vision of the local newspaper back home with the headline 'Local idiot dies abroad'.
That shocking headline seemed to finally engage my brain; belatedly it told me to swim with the current, not against it. The current took hold and I used my dwindling reserves of energy to somehow edge towards a steep bank where several roots were protruding. I managed to grab hold of one - only for it to come loose and float limply alongside me, I couldn't believe it. Fortunately the next one took my weight enabling me to scramble out of the water and collapse, exhausted. I had survived.
Later, after stumbling back to my tent, I told John about my lucky escape. He too had experienced some difficulties on his return swim which, although not to the same extent, provided some measure of comfort. The rest of the group just seemed to find my story amusing, hardly the sympathy I'd hoped for!
To this day this remains my closest shave with and untimely end, i honestly don't know how I managed to find the strength to save myself, it definitely affected my confidence in the water for the majority of my round the world journey. On the plus side I have incredibly strong memories of a day I may have otherwise forgotten and, bizarrely, i now look back on it and smile.