Grand Canyon Paddlers Return to a World Changed by Coronavirus

Over the past week or so, I’ve shared a couple of stories about adventurers and explorers who went off the grid for awhile, only to return to a world that had dramatically changed thanks to the coronavirus. Last week for instance, I shared National Geographic photographer Pete McBride’s story of being on South Georgia Island in the Southern Ocean when lockdowns and border closures began to ramp up. Yesterday, I also wrote a post about a pair of climate researchers who have been living in a remote cabin in the Arctic for nine months and now aren’t sure when they’ll return. Now, we have a similar article that comes our way from The New York Times which shares a similar theme, only this time it is a group of paddlers returning from the Grand Canyon only to discover that a pandemic has broken out in their absence.

Back on February 17, a group of paddlers hit the waters of the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon to start an epic journey. Rafting the entire canyon takes approximately 25 days to complete under this guides adventure, which was led by experienced river guide Zach Edler. When they began the journey, the coronavirus had already left a major mark on China, but had only spread to a few other countries. It was barely on the radar for most Americans at that point, and the group of travelers didn’t think much of it as the embarked on what promised to be an adventure of a lifetime. While in the canyon however, they had no cell service, Internet access, or much news from the outside world. So while they were away, lockdowns started to occur, the virus began to spread rapidly, and situation went from being no big deal to a serious threat to the health of millions.

The paddlers completed their journey back on March 14, which seems like a lifetime ago now. As they packed up their gear, finished the expedition, and started to make their return to the world, they soon found out that things had changed dramatically in their absence. As they were met by another experienced river guide, the tale of what had happened began unfold, and the Grand Canyon paddlers weren’t sure what to believe. It all sounded like something out of a movie, with the world collapsing while they were away. That wasn’t far from the truth.

The entire article is a fascinating read and it brings a different perspective to the story that has dominated the news for the past several weeks. It seems hard enough for us who have gone through it to understand exactly how things have evolved. To have missed a large portion of it and then return midstream seems even more challenging. To get the whole story, you can read the NYT article here.