Eric Carlson, Part of the Steve Baskis paddling team
I am on my way home from spending twelve days in the Grand Canyon. This trip is by far the most amazing expedition that I have ever been on.
Last January I received a call asking if I would like to be part of Team River Runners’ dream of leading 5 blind kayakers down the Canyon. I was shocked and speechless by this question. After a few moments, I was able to process what an incredible opportunity I was invited to do, immediately giving an affirmative yes.
Over the next six months, I trained with Team River Runner (TRR) in West Virginia, Colorado, and Idaho. During this time, I met close to a hundred of the most gracious people volunteering their time, homes, and vehicles. They would feed us, shuttle us, care for us, and give us places to stay. More importantly, they believed in us and what we were trying to accomplish.
For our trip down the Grand Canyon we had 15 guides for the 5 blind kayakers. We were in what we called “pods”. One primary guide and two support guides were paired up with each blind boater. I was Steve’s primary guide, while Mike and Ken were our support guides. I would lead Steve through each rapid by voice directives, yelling “HUP!” and he would follow me down the rapid without the use of sight. Mike and Ken would follow Steve through each rapid and yell tip right or tip left to make minor adjustments as he made his way down each rapid. They would also be there to take over guiding Steve if we happened to get separated. Our pod and the others worked together throughout the summer to perfect this choreographed river dance to safely guide those in our care.
On September 1st, 2018, we showed up to Lee’s Ferry full of excitement to start our grand adventure. We knew this was bound to be a special trip, yet we were nervous as we had no idea what was going to unfold once we were in the canyon. We did have 3 large rafts with motors on them and 4 guides from AZRA to support us as we made our way down the canyon – just in case anyone wanted to tap out for a spell.
After we officially launched, it didn’t take long for the nerves to wear off and within the first day we all realized we had the perfect crew to be successful.
As worked our way down the Canyon, we ran the rapids in the roaring twenties – punching holes in House Rock, Hance, Horn Creek, Crystal and Lava. We rode giant 25-foot waves on Sockdolager, Granite, and Hermit. We cried tears of frustration, joy, and laughter. We had multiple swims (including myself). We hiked slot canyons and saw places like Red Wall Cavern and the Nankoweap Granaries. We slept under the stars and in the rain, ate amazing food and played music every night. We consumed mad amounts coffee and even had a few sound lasers (don’t ask).
In the end, we were beyond successful, we kayaked 226 miles from Lee’s Ferry to Diamond Creek. We had no major injuries, just a few bumps and bruises. I could not imagine doing this trip with a better group. They are the most caring, loving, and encouraging people I have ever met. I am so honored and thankful to have been invited and accepted into their TRR family.
What I learned on this trip, is that you don’t have to change the world to accommodate people with disabilities; nor do most of them want that. We need to change our attitude and realize they are capable. We need to encourage them and give them opportunities for adventures.
I challenge each and every one of you that is reading this, that the next time you run into a veteran or somebody with a disability to go up and talk to them, get to know him or her, become friends and invite them along. I know it’s not always easy, but you might give light to someone in a dark place and may even save a life.
Thank you to Joe and Lonnie for making your dream reality and allowing me to experience it alongside you! It was humbling, and I have never been so honored. I also want to give thanks to my sidekicks – Mike and Ken, I couldn’t have done it without you. Steve, you are amazing. It was my pleasure watching you grow as a paddler and run rapids that most sighted paddlers won’t attempt, and you conquered them by solely trusting your guides. There are no words to explain how impressed and proud I am of you. To the rest of the pods and crew, it was a delight to work with you. I am proud to call you all my friends now. Lonnie said it best, “I’ve got your six.”
Steve Baskis, Blind Vision Team Member
**Please be warned: Steve takes out his eye prosthetic in this video**