A BEHIND-THE-SCENES GUIDE FROM AN ESTHETICIAN/RIVER-RAT
I’ve been deep down in the most Majestic Ditch six times now, and have spent many nights of my life camped along rivers throughout the world.
Spiritually and physically, these have been some of the most sacred experiences of my life. Socially, they can be the most delightful or as awkward as the worst parts of high school. Some people know exactly how the system goes, while others are scrambling through each second. And there is a jagged juxtaposition between self-care/vanity necessary to feel your-self and minimize damage and the eye-roll you will receive from people who think it’s lame that you care while they deal with cracked skin and sunburns.
You can hide it sometimes, share it sometimes and say f*c it a lot of times while enjoying the comfort and glow. It is way less complicated than it seems and after a few days, everyone will want to borrow your stuff, so have plenty.
These tips are from personal experience. I have yet to deal with a serious sunburn or cracked-skin. And after a couple decades and hundreds of river miles and nights sleeping in my car, I kinda think my skin has held up alright....
First and foremost:
What’s the layout?
Where you are sleeping. Boat, Tent, Sand, Back of Car? What’s the food deal? What kind of bag are you carrying? What is your role? Do you know how to close a dry-bag?
Get these deets. Once you know where you will be sleeping/eating, keep it simple, efficient and save some room for treats. You need way less than you think and will enjoy each item you choose to bring way more.
I like thinking of my bags as "kitchen", "closet", "bathroom/bedroom", "library + art studio" and "daily-purse".
Make sure you have the basics including refillable hot/cold cups, water bottle, basic utensil-set and hot sauce. You should have hot sauce in your swag-bag. (Lil' Beyonce shout-out.) But I like hot sauce so I bring my own. I also bring small bottle of Apple Cider Vinegar for digestion. Bring your own snacks, avoid lower-quality sandwich meat, sugary treats and too much artificial stuff. Your body will have enough to deal with without an excess of bad snacks. Of course you'll have a few pringles, but it is easier to not have many if you have a substitute.
I bring a can of anchovies per day (I love them, they are good for your skin), good-quality beef jerky, a bag of carrots (keep in your dry-bag, they lasts forever and provide internal sun-protection), powdered hummus, and my own gluten-free tortillas. I also stash plenty of good chocolate bars and one good bottle of scotch. Pull these out at the perfect times. You'll know when.
On most river trips, the main meals are fantastic. Snacks and lunches are good as long as you avoid the mass-meat/dairy fillings. I don’t love the heaviness of the food that most river-goers like because then I feel sluggish, especially breakfast. But, that is personal. Think ahead, know what you like and bring easy items. Avoid over-eating.
Do whatever you need to do so that you can fully enjoy sleeping on the river or in your car, because this is some of the most beautiful sleep you will ever have.
SILK PILLOWCASE + COTTON SHEETS: Stuff your clothes in pillowcase and sleep in comfort. I recommend silk pillowcases. They weight nothing, dry quickly, hold a lot of stuff, help keep your hair from matting up so you don’t need conditioner or have to deal with unintentional dreadlocks, and they help prevent breakouts. Some people use t-shirts as pillowcases, but I found they cause serious hair-knots and you wake up full of sleep-lines on your face that take awhile to go away. Each night, put items you will wear the next day in your pillowcase.
I also bring a real sheets and cotton blanket instead of sleeping bag because I can't stand the feeling of sweating in a sleeping bag. But this is for warm weather and the luxury of a large raft. You may not get that much space.
The "BATHROOM" list is a bit complicated if this is your first time taking a trip with my tips + tricks. I promise this will way beat so many commercial options and that it has been tested by dozens of ladies and gentlemen on far-fetched trips.
Avoid any small plastic things you don't need, ingredients that have no place in the water, and minimize ugly labels that "clash" with the gorgeous world you are in while adding to your care, skin-health and the magic of experience.
-Pre-Moistened Cotton Pads: Take a large ziploc and add 4 or so cotton pads per day you will be out, and some to share. Add enough witch hazel and unfiltered sake to fully moisten (1:1). It's fine if you add too much. You'll use it. You can add a few drops of Geranium essential oil (this is the only essential oil I am ok with in strong sun environments). This becomes your PM cleanse + AM refresh. Pre-moistened towels don't biodegrade, and the ingredients are usually crap. Witch Hazel and Sake will keep your skin balanced and help prevent hyper-pigmentation and are a fraction of the cost.
-4oz Spray Bottle with 1 part Sake, 1 Part Witch-Hazel: Used as underarm spray, skin rashes, extra cleansing.
- Tooth-Brush/Paste: One good quality brush and a tiny travel. Keep one in Bathroom bag, one in daybag.
-Biodegradable Soap: Dr. Bronners is a go-to, though I think it is way too alkaline for skin. It works for washing clothes, scrubbing feet, cuts/scrapes, etc. Tiny bottle should last just fine.
-Skin and Sky AM/PM Travel Set + Refill Pouches: Seriously. This is so much of what these products were created for. Keep the small bottle in your daybag, and the refill pouches in bathroom bag. Bring enough to share. Use haed-to-toe to protect, regenerate, calm, hydrate.
- Tinted Zinc-Based Sunscreen + Lip-Balm: I like Vapour Beauty with a powder sunscreen over the top for face, and KettleCare Organics Environmental Defense for lips. Yes, I apply a light dusting of "make-up". I feel better and prefer this to most sunscreen.
-Emu Oil: I understand if this is weird to you, but, it is one of the most versatile and conscientious oils available. I use it daily, and on river-trips I bring a larger bottle. Check your sourcing. Laid in Montana is my favorite. It is a perfect all-around spot moisturizer, wound-healer, barrier, etc.
-Small Jar of Raw Honey: Raw honey is a favorite skin wash/mask/soother. Nothing chills burdened skin as well, plus you can use it to sweeten your tea.
-Hair Stuff: Wide-Tooth Hair Comb, cloth ponytail holders, scarves, beenie, etc. Hair is an issue on multi-day trips of any kind. Know your hair, and have a plan.
- Foot Pumice, Sleeping Socks + Washcloths/Handtowel: I swear to you, this will make a difference.
- A few pre-rolleds: For moments alone and moments shared.
-Extras: I like a couple pairs of earrings, a shiny gloss for evenings, two fun nail-polish colors for sunset boat bonding, nail-clippers, tweezers and a small mirror.
More tricks. Excuse the ramble. You can't put this kind of insider knowledge in a list.
AM OUTFIT: You’ll see a lot of leggings and tank-tops (and the rashes/sunburns that follow). The "Outdoor Cool-Girl" outfit of tank-top/ leggings/down-jacket is cute as can be but those materials are not great for skin well-being. The desert and water are harsh on skin. You want to have flowy cover during the day and a breathable camp outfit at night. I HATED putting on leggings my first trip because my skin hated it. From there on out I brought loose cotton pants/skirts. Long skirts.
Throw on a bathing suit so that you can jump in anytime. The water in the Canyon is actually frigid so this won’t happen often, but that moment when you jump in is magic. Layer this with a long-sleeve button-up shirt and easy to put-on/take-off skirt or shorts. I go to thrift stores and buy old-man style shirts or over-size tunics. Fancy-label outdoor stuff isn't my go-to, and the collection I have rarely gets used. You want your chest and arms covered so you don’t need as much of the nasty sunscreen that causes rashes and environmental disturbances, . I strongly dislike and don’t believe in most sunscreen so I prefer to cover up without looking lame than to put my faith in some large bottle of toxic goop. Loose-fitting Board Shorts, Button-Up or Easy Sundress during the day. Anything you can easily move in and do what you need to do. (p.s. Here's a trick, wear shirts backwards. You get more chest coverage).
FEET: PLEASE TAKE CARE OF YOUR FEET.
They can ruin a trip.
In Camp: Flip-Flops
Overnight: Lotion + Socks
I stopped carrying hiking boots. Most river hikes, including the most complicated, you can do in proper Chacos. People in socks and hiking boots were miserable and full of blisters. I was fine because I had worn-in Chacos. A lot of the narrow crevasse + chasm exploration is easier when you take shoes off and feel the grip of your feet so you’ll want a carabiner to hook your Chacos to your back-pack. Also carry a really light-weight pair of socks in case the sun gets too harsh.
I strongly disliked Tevas on the river. (Sorry Teva. You were my first, but on rivers I don't love you.) For me, the velcro rubs poorly, and they take on a serious stank while leaving blisters. I recently sent my Chacos to a beloved for her first trip, with all confidence that I just saved her feet.
Keep a pair of easy flip-flops in your day-bag. I promise you will want them for stops and at camp.
If you really want a pair of Ugg type boots and are willing to give that space, I get it.First thing in the AM and last thing PM I often crave them. UGG itself isn't a great company as far as ethics are concerned. I wish Pamela Anderson would relaunch her sustainable, ethical shearling boot line. Until then, I saved the space.
- First thing in the morning and during stops, grab your day-bag, find a little nook by yourself, and exchange a couple minutes of social time for self-care.
-Carry a scarf you can easily get wet to cool-off-wipe-off and a sarong to cover yourself during the high-sun times of day. Instead of mass amounts of sunscreen and leading to all kinds of water pollution and skin rashes, cover yourself, keep your skin chill, protect the critters and look cool.
CAMP-ARRIVAL + PM
One of the things I’ve noticed when you arrive at camp is there is a bit of group-think, a human desire to stay together. Veer out of this. Solo time is so rare on trips and YOU HAVE TO CLAIM IT WHEN YOU CAN. Know everyone has their own thing going. You do not have to stay with the herd. Get your stuff out of the way so it doesn’t cause anyone any issues, know what your responsibilities are, then GO FIND YOUR OWN SACRED SPACE.
The most precious time in the Canyon for me is that hour or so at the end of a river day away from the group (i adore the group! But...solo time is precious), find a spot alone and connect with the River Banshees (I don’t care it they were imaginary). Grab your bathroom bag, throw in a few items such as clean panties, comfortable sundress, hoodie or cozy oversized Sweater (most people will have down-jackets. I hate the feeling of fake fabrics and prefer something cozy.) Grab your journal, whatever else you need, and go pray in your own way.
Take a stroll, find your nook, which may be on the river or up a canyon. Remove the day’s layers and use the washcloth to refresh yourself, and pumice to refresh feet. Once the day’s main layers have been washed off, apply raw honey to any areas that have been exposed throughout the day as an anti-inflammatory treatment and let sit while you enjoy your time alone, be it 45 seconds or ten minutes. Mix some honey with river sand for a face + body scrub. Rinse all off.
Apply a little SSB Body Serum to your hair, comb and and put into a braid, then take care of your face, chest, arms, hands and feet, the areas that get the most damage. (SSB needs to be part of this. It even works in the ends of your hair)
By the time you get back to camp, the energy will have settled, the laughter will be in the air and there will probably be a few dishes that need to be done so get to it. (Always be the person who does dishes. No one else wants to but it guarantees time to yourself).
It’ll feel like you’ve been gone for a long time but from experience, no one really noticed. Someone may say something like “Are you wearing lipgloss?”, usually someone who wants to borrow some, or is slightly jealous or wants to make-out with you. Either way, it is because you look refreshed and glowing and remembered to bring some lip-gloss. After the first few awkward days, I started saying “Yep. want some?”
Refill your bevvie, say hi, make sure your stuff is set up before it gets dark. Do you know where your headlamp is? Is your bed set-up? Your items for the following day? Toothbrush? Water Bottle filled? Don’t be the person who loses things or has to scramble. Take care of yourself. Know what you need. Get your zone in order and then go chill! Enjoy!
Before bed, wipe off your feet/hands with a scarf, towel or whatever misted with the sake/hazel, then apply a thick coating of Cellular Luminosity Overnight Body Creme and put on socks. For full 19 day Canyon trips, a light cotton sleeping glove is nice to. Clean any wounds, apply liquid bandage.
These are the most sacred moments of our entire life. If you are lucky enough to get a few minutes by yourself in a protected river canyon, be so thankful. Kiss the sky. Hug the Earth. Apologize to all the critters for the difficulties we cause. Allow yourself to feel the full emotion, be it joy, grief or the combination we don’t yet have language for.
Absorb it all.
EXTRA ITEMS TO CARRY (I will keep adding to this list as I think of it. One day this will be a real guide).
Batteries/Camera (remember there isn't power)
Dishwashing Gloves (hands do not want to get wet again after a full day in the water)
For the record, I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE a Grand Canyon trip with AZRA and don't like how long it has been since I've been down there. Soul is calling. The guides are naturalists, botanists, power-houses, story-tellers. For Salmon trips, Lewis and Clark Trail Adventures and Tarkio Kayak Adventures are soul-good.
Get outside. Know how precious it is. Cherish and use your voice to stand up for it. You are the adventure. Keep it real.