She had never seemed well. Always quiet, she was pale and subdued. She was the very last of the group of twenty-eight that I got around to meeting. It turns out that I never got to meet her.
She was 65, the mother of three children. She had come on the eight-day Grand Canyon rafting trip with her husband of 48 years. They apparently were inseparable at home. Sweethearts since age 15, married at age 17, on the trip they were always curled up together at the back of the boat.
(We encountered beauty...) On the fourth day she was more languorous than ever. At the lunch break, we put ashore at a little side stream that emanated from a small waterfall 200 yards up the shallow, rock-strewn stream bed. Everyone waded up to it to stand under the warm plunging water.
I was last off the boat. I could see that she was having trouble getting up the stream bed. It was only ankle-deep to the left, but the bed sloped off very gradually to the right into chest-high still water. She seemed caught up in that gradual slope and couldn't get out of it. Further and further to the right she went as I came along, into deeper and deeper water. It was odd. Absolute safety in water only inches, not feet, deep lay a few centimeters to her left.
Suddenly she was in water up to her chest and she seemed flustered. I reached out a hand for her and brought her back to the shallow side. Her husband was twenty feet ahead, waiting for her. Neither one spoke a word to me.
Then she was having trouble manipulating the shallow part of the stream bed so I extended my hand again and guided her a few steps to her waiting husband. I went on ahead to partake in the cascading shower of the waterfall and when I returned, she was seated in six inches of water, resting, while her husband stood guard over her.
She died four hours later.
(...and danger on our journey.) Later I heard that reportedly, she had a bad heart. But she had undergone a battery of tests in preparation for the trip, a stress test, an MRI and others, and passed every one of them.
The Colorado River where it passes through the Grand Canyon, with its boiling rapids and broiling heat, is a harsh taskmaster.