‘Go West’ Part 8: Celebrity Rockstar Boating

That?s what Brady Black calls the service he provides.

If you win a golden ticket, that is, if you win the Grand Canyon lottery, Brady is your man. The Grand Canyon lottery is the only way to get a permit to ride the rapids through the seventh wonder of the world.

The Colorado River before it enters the Grand Canyon. Viewed from Navajo Bridge near Page, Arizona.
The Colorado River before it enters the Grand Canyon. Viewed from Navajo Bridge near Page, Arizona.

Let me quickly explain that it isn?t the only way to do the trip. If you don?t mind someone else deciding when and where you will stop to hike, explore, go pee or camp for the night, and you want to get through the magic place as fast as you can, you can sign up for a commercial trip. A number of companies offer tours that range in length, price and method of propulsion from five to 13 days, from $3,000 up, from 6-person ?you-hold-the-paddle? to motorized 35-person rafts.

But if you want to just DIY, you gotta win the lottery. Then find Brady Black.

Until 2006 the National Park Service employed a waiting list to equitably hand out permits. My husband and I were on that waiting list for 13 years before we got to the top of it and launched our rented boats in 2003. At that point, the waiting list was 24 years long.

That was more bureaucratic delay than any federal agency could apparently get away with. So the system, after much discussion . . . well, after much arguing and yelling and nasty letters . . . was changed.

So now if you get a golden ticket, and you don?t happen to have five 18-foot rafts in your garage for the 16 people you are allowed to take with you, and you also don?t have the containers required by the park service to haul the solid waste every member of your party produces during the 16-21 day trip, nor the kitchen equipment: tables, stove, pots, pans, lids, cups, plates, spoons, knives, sieves, sponges, coffee filter etc., then just call Brady Black.

Moenkopi Riverworks
Moenkopi Riverworks

Brady started his career providing janitorial service to a ski area near Flagstaff, Arizona. A natural progression, once he caught the river-running bug and became a river rat, was to provide shuttles to river-runners. At least it fit with his schedule.

A decade and a half in and Brady Black?s Moenkopi Riverworks provides everything from forks, spoons, fuel, stoves, tables, coolers (pre-filled with solid ice), pfds, custom t-shirts, boats, oars, paddles, groovers, meals, menus and toilet paper to lodging at the ends of your trip. He and his ten employees will identify the culinary needs of each member of your trip, figure out how much coffee you?ll need, how much toilet paper (vegetarians need more.) Then he will pack it all in waterproof river-worthy containers, strap it into a boat and give you a push off into the current.

It?s what he calls ?Celebrity Rockstar Boating.?

“We go overboard . . .”

He actually said that.

“We try to beat everyone in every way.”

I am writing about him because he does such a better job than the company we rented boats from back in 2003. Our ?outfitter? dropped the goods, much of the food packed in glass jars (glass belongs on no river), forgot the tofu, leaving the vegan hungry (this has some side benefits) but also forgetting the entire inventory of food for Day 9.

Nope, not gonna name them.

A friend told me about how someone on a recent trip broke an oar stand the first few days of a multi-week trip.

Rowing the biggest whitewater in America (though not perhaps the most technically difficult) is not something anyone wants to do with just one functioning oar.

Using a satellite phone, a call was placed to Brady Black. Two days later, Brady, having cancelled the plans for his anniversary, hiked ten miles down horizontally and one mile vertically, down into the canyon with the critical part, meeting the party at water?s edge.

Then he hiked back out: ten miles out, one mile straight up.

I asked to meet up with Brady on my way back through Arizona, to talk to him about what he does.

He gave me an address and told me to look for a sign for a metal fabrication company. When I arrived at the 12,000 square-foot warehouse, I asked him about the sign.

He told me he was undercover. I was intrigued. What was he hiding from?

Land use permits? Local zoning laws? I looked around. It was an industrial part of town, within vibration distance of the train tracks. I had to ask.

Black confessed that he was just teasing. He goes by the book now.

When I had first met him, he had been providing shuttle service to a group of my friends finishing a 23-day river trip. He met us with a motor boat and offered to take some of us wake-boarding while we rowed the final stretch on Lake Mead to our take-out site.

How cool is that?

But now he is legit, with an inventory of 40-odd boats, outfitting 60 trips per year.

But he is still cool.

?Do you want to do an eight-day river trip in Mexico?? he asked me, pausing mid-sentence. ?We?re launching July 27.?

I briefly consider cancelling my trip to the Louis Armstrong music festival in New Orleans, where my 16-year-old has landed a gig with his jazz band.


By Maile

Maile Field is a writer living in Northern California. Born in Hawaii and raised in Montana, she earned her master of fine arts in nonfiction at George Mason University in Virginia. She encourages constructive criticism.