It’s mid-afternoon on a Thursday in early July, day one of my Grand Canyon Gay Rafting Adventure, and a long day it’s been. Yesterday Tom welcomed us individually to the hotel in Vegas then hosted an evening meet-and-greet in the lounge. Tom is tour director, openly gay, about fifty, moderately overweight, friendly, soft-spoken and kind, his psoriasis partially hidden by long fine hair the color of tarnished bronze.

As we ate pizza and drank beer at our private table in back, near the pool, Tom asked us to introduce ourselves and explain why we’d signed up for this expedition. I forgot names as soon as they were spoken, absorbing instead the voices and faces of the other guys I’d be with for the next eight days.

When it was my turn, I withheld my primary motive, that in addition to seeing the Grand Canyon from the river and making new friends, I’m also hoping for raw sexual experience. (Between you and me, I’ve embraced my original attraction to guys for only the past few years, and gay men where I live, in a small coastal town in South Carolina, are hard to come by. Occasionally I get hard and come by myself.)

We all turned in early for today’s 4 a.m. wake-up call, and by five like zombies we’d loaded our duffels into the belly of the bus, which was too large for so few guys. Most of us slept on the long drive northeast to the Utah-Arizona line, where we stopped at an isolated country store to stretch our legs, fill our lungs with dry piney air, take a leak, buy ice cream and pick up Cliff.

He stood at the front of the bus facing us to introduce himself, our gay skipper and Canyon guide. Now we were fully alert: Cliff is a handsome young buck, mid-thirties, who runs the river several times each summer then skis Aspen all winter. He has thinning flaxen hair, bright blue Scandinavian eyes and the body of a rock climber, which is how he got his nickname. Surely I wasn’t the only passenger imagining him naked and fully erect.

For the next thirty minutes, Cliff walked down the aisle shaking hands and chatting with each of us, charming me out of my skin while creating professional distance between us. Finally, in a barren desert parking lot at Lee’s Ferry the bus stopped beside the Colorado River where we transferred the contents of our duffels into the large dry bags Cliff provided.

Each man carried his gear down to the boat ramp where our guide’s unpaid “swamper” smiled shaking hands before grabbing each dry bag. He stacked and tied the bags down across the middle of the thirty-seven-foot motorized raft outfitted with huge twin pontoons left over from World War II. Then Cliff called us closer into a semi-circle for an orientation session, but first introduced Eric, a recent graduate of Arizona State. We applauded. Eric demurred admitting he still hadn’t found a real job. “What, this isn’t real?” Cliff asked. “A job that pays real money,” Eric corrected himself, laughing.

Disarmingly he added that he’s straight, but gay-friendly, and our good natured booing and hissing made him laugh out loud again. He has cropped brown hair like an early British rocker, and doesn’t seem to realize that, like Cliff, he’s also very attractive: five-ten, distance-runner thin, perhaps a bit nervous and shy amid so much errant testosterone.

Indeed, Cliff sounded like everyone’s older sister: “wear your life preservers at all times on the raft; drink so much water your urine runs clear, and urinate only into the river or one of the little plastic buckets I’ll distribute at each campsite then empty your little plastic bucket into the river; if you need to piss from the raft, let me or Eric guide you into the engine well, hang on to something beside your penis to maintain your balance and don’t piss all over the engine; also, don’t push yourself too hard in this harsh climate; again, drink so much water your urine runs clear, ’cause if you start bitching, that means you’re dehydrated, and nobody likes a bitch; always work as a team unloading and loading the raft for everyone’s benefit; take turns carrying the ‘honey pot’ and use as little toilet paper as possible so we don’t run out.”

“And guys,” Cliff continued, “as the river here is only forty-seven degrees, please don’t fall in; but, if anyone does fall in, please don’t laugh at his shrunken little cock when we pull him out, ’cause it could happen to you.” We were laughing now. “Seriously,” Cliff concluded, “welcome to the unbelievable Grand Canyon and have a fucking grand time!”

We applauded and cheered our guide and blushing swamper. Donning bright red life preservers, we hoisted ourselves up onto the raft and tentatively settled into three rows across the aluminum deck. Here we were, at the entrance to the Grand Canyon innocently pushing off from Lee’s Ferry into the blue-green Colorado River. Unreal!

Measurable in hundreds of feet, the low canyon walls on both sides comprised multiple stacked layers of burnt-orange and rusty sandstone. Puffy white clouds in the cobalt Arizona sky escort kocaeli reflected softly in the benign river. The raft’s engine was barely audible. At the helm behind us Cliff and Eric were smiling. Our journey had begun.

But after only forty-five minutes Cliff brought us to shore for a lunch break, and things finally got interesting. We unloaded one of the large, heavy, unfolding aluminum tables on which guide and swamper prepared sandwiches. The rest of us stood around on the narrow sandbar talking, watching the river flow past when suddenly from the back of the pack Aussie bolted past us naked diving bare-assed into the river, surfacing breathlessly.

“Fuck!” he shouted, “blocks of ice, mates!” And mindful of Cliff’s instructions, we only smiled at Aussie’s anatomy as he ran up hugging himself from the river to higher ground shivering right beside me. Instinctively I reached down discreetly patting his chilled buttocks, but he only shuddered turning away. About forty, Aussie looks and acts somewhat younger. He’s tan all over, average height with taut, sculpted muscles. He never combs his Just-For-Men dark brown hair. His long eyelashes look almost feminine when he smiles down self-consciously. I love his down-under accent.

Inspired by his fearless example, I turned to Tex-Mex asking if he’d take the plunge with me. Short, barrel-chested and hairy, the young teacher from El Paso shrugged saying what the hell. We both stepped out of our bathing suits, and Aussie joined our screaming charge back into the frigid river, all three of us surfacing instantly, hooting, scrambling back to shore, kicking water, laughing breathlessly, glancing down at the diminished sources of everyone’s polite amusement.

Liberated, heroic, standing naked on display among the others, we three caught our breath as the warm desert air dried us in minutes. We pulled bathing suits back on to eat lunch, then everyone reloaded the raft and we returned to the river rippling and lapping over long shallow diagonal riffles. An hour later we pulled ashore to climb rocks up to a one-thousand-year-old Indian dwelling preserved on a plateau. When I pointed my camera at a boulder scratched with pictographs, Aussie suddenly appeared in the background smiling in my direction then just as quickly ducked out of the photo.

Now we’ve set up our first campsite below Badger Creek Rapids. All nine of us passengers and Tom are sitting in a cozy circle on those low folding beach chairs almost impossible to get up out of. Cold beer is gradually reviving us as Cliff and Eric begin preparing dinner in their “kitchen,” both large folding aluminum tables placed perpendicular to each other, pots and pans stacked beneath and propane stove off to the side. A metal bin at the bottom of the raft will keep our food fresh and our beer cold for the next week.

We’re all tired but well satisfied, bantering, wisecracking, laughing or, like me, just spacing out as I ponder an odd perception: after being on the raft for only a couple of hours today, the opposite shore seems to be slowly moving back upriver. (At sixty-four I’m apparently the oldest guy on this expedition and the only one taking notes, to shore up a faulty memory.)

Behind our campsite, a rocky plain softened by mesquite and coyote willow slopes up to a vertical wall already darkened by shadow. Across the choppy green river, we face a midrise sandstone cliff the color and texture of rare roast beef. A canyon wren, invisible, calls in plaintive notes descending. Is she lonely in the fading sunlight? Hot wind blows down from either side of the canyon, fine sand coating us, and everything. Why bathe? We might as well be camping in a brick oven.

After an early dinner, we retreat to the metal cots we’d set up after landing here. The cots are scattered across the campsite as if we all want some privacy, but not too much. (Cliff and Eric sleep on the raft.) Longing for companionship I lie back on my cot closest to the river, feeling conspicuous in black Polo briefs, listening to guys walk back and forth behind me.

“Love your undies, mate!” Aussie calls jogging past. Smiling to myself, I only raise one hand waving the flirt away. The sun sets prematurely, a horizontal shadow creeping slowly up the opposite cliff. Though exhausted I’m kept awake by small bats swirling among the night’s early stars in the azure sky.

By day three I understand that the river and canyon change mile by mile as does my experience here. Yesterday, after bucking through steeper rapids, we stopped to inspect Redwall Cavern. From a distance it looked like a wide low gash in the pinkish-orange sandstone at a bend in the river, but as we approached shore and beached the raft, we all marveled at the cavern’s immensity — several thousand natives easily could have gathered underneath.

Everyone drifted toward the darker back of the cave until we could actually reach up and touch its cool ceiling. Standing beside Aussie I also placed my hand lightly around his waist, but kocaeli anal yapan escort he wordlessly stepped away. Had I been too forward? Am I trying too hard, hoping for too much? Maybe not: at our lunch stop an hour later, things again got interesting.

We pulled up on a large sandbar with a small hill in the middle. Guys milled around under the hot sun directly overhead, pissing in the river, sitting in the dappled shade of hackberry trees as Cliff and Eric fixed ham and cheese sandwiches. Behind me Ricardo and Carey trudged up the sandy hill in their bikinis, and I instinctively knew what I’d find if I followed.

Ricardo is a tall, handsome, Cuban-born dentist from Miami, with dark curly hair and the physique of an Olympic swimmer: wide shoulders, tapered back, thin waist and perfect little butt. Like me he’s something of a show-off. He knows he’s gorgeous (unlike me), but he also happens to be very engaging.

Carey, his married partner, works in residential real estate. Whereas Ricardo is somewhat macho, Carey is the opposite: receding hairline of auburn waves, beautiful green eyes and a tan, thin, feline body. On the quiet side, he lets Ricardo do most of their talking. They complement each other well, like a regular couple, and apparently enjoy an active social life in south Florida.

As I reached the crest of the hill, my instincts were confirmed when I saw spread out below me four naked gay men. To my right was Paul, a seriously overweight assistant principal from Alaska who, I have to admit, I’ve avoided so far, especially when he has difficulty hauling himself up onto the raft. I mean, lose some weight. On the far side of a long narrow wading pool behind the sandbar, he sat alone privately splashing water on pasty blubber, and I don’t mean to sound catty, but he reminded me of a beached whale.

To my left, Ricardo and Carey had removed their skimpy bathing suits entering the wading pool side by side, holding hands, walking away from me toward Aussie, who was stretched out on the far bank leaning back on elbows.

The three of them smiled at something I couldn’t hear. Quickly I stepped out of my bathing suit walking in fine sand down toward them, the towering cliff above reflecting and intensifying hot sunlight in the dry air. Once again I was liberated, this time beginning to swell. As I entered the warm, shallow pool, Ricardo and Carey both flaccid, turned and rejoined hands strolling back toward me, dragging their feet sensually through the water.

“Pardon my arousal,” I called. They smiled back at me.

“No, we love it,” Ricardo said, and I walked right into his one-arm embrace.

“You guys are so hot,” I said against the Cuban’s warm, hairy chest.

“We’re going back for lunch,” Carey said proprietarily, and I pushed away.

“Save some for me,” I quipped, not intending the double entendre. Walking around them I continued toward Aussie who I could now see was impressively endowed and aroused.

But when he noticed me getting closer, he pulled one leg up obscuring my view. I got the message sitting parallel to him at a safe distance. Closing his eyes, he again tipped his head way back, obviously not wanting to talk, and I wondered if I’d been misinterpreting his outgoing frisky playfulness from the moment he ran naked into the river on day one.

At best, perhaps Aussie wanted to be only a temporary friend, nothing more, and that’s okay. I’m older, of course; too old. I’ll enjoy our friendship, however fleeting. I’ll adjust to reality. But my cock has its own agenda; still distended it was now emitting a fine web of pre-ejaculate onto my thigh.

Swiping the oil, licking it off my finger as a consolation prize, I pushed myself up, brushed sand off my ass, told Aussie lunch was probably ready, turned and walked back through the wading pool up the hill to my bathing suit, which I stepped into, deflated. From a distance I could see the lunch table already surrounded by hungry primates.

In the afternoon, we motored between higher and higher cliffs, listening for the first distant warning of a new set of freezing rapids, which are easier to endure midday when the sun penetrates the canyon walls down to the river. We wound through a section of wider canyon where the cliffs, walls and spilled boulders back away from the river in a long S-curve, a side canyon slowly opening to a massive jagged coliseum.

Later we beached and unloaded the raft, set up camp, drank beer in a circle, pissed happily into the river, drank more beer and ate dinner. Again I placed my cot in a semi-private yet still accessible place back from the river half hoping Aussie might visit. Later I took comfort in the realization that none of the other single guys had hooked up yet.

Today, after an early start, we stopped to hike one mile up a very steep, very narrow trail to inspect ancient Pueblo granaries that looked like a row of four large dark windows carved into sun-bleached sandstone izmit yabancı escort high above the river. But my bursting lungs couldn’t take the climb. Letting guys pass me as I bent over struggling for air, I returned meekly to the raft, where I was delighted to find Eric alone on deck catching rays in maroon Sun Devil gym shorts with a small gold pitch fork on the side.

“How’s it going?” he asked, raising his head, squinting and smiling.

“I think I’m too old for this shit,” I huffed, and he laughed.

“You’re not old,” he assured me.

With that bit of encouragement I warned him I wanted to skinny dip, stepped out of my bathing suit and plunged momentarily into the frigid Colorado beside the raft, hoping the icy water would simultaneously revive me and chill any possible arousal, especially as Eric, alone, seemed more accessible, dare I say vulnerable.

Stepping quickly back onto hard-packed sand I glanced at the raft, slightly disappointed to find Eric lying again on his back, hands under his head, smiling only at the sky, eyes closed. Turning to face downriver I let my skin dry in the heat until I could step modestly back into my bathing suit to face facts: our sexy young swamper, so lean and sinewy is untouchable, strictly off-limits.

But Eric did take notice when I pulled myself up onto the raft. As we were alone for the first time, I sat close enough to feel his presence without triggering the inevitable defenses, casually noticing his gray eyes watching me, a dark mole below his right cheekbone, his cropped brown hair curling around under each ear, the dark conical nipples small as pennies. Boyishly he pulled his knees up near his chin clasping hands around bony knees, his thin legs lightly laced with hair.

“So, you just graduated,” I said necessarily looking away.

“Yeah,” he sighed; “now for the real world.”

“What are your plans?” I asked facing him, and he smirked.

“Problem is I don’t really have any.”

“Ah, you’ve graduated college just the way I did,” I said; “without direction.”

“What’d you end up doing?” he asked.

“Well, the Vietnam War was a good incentive to stay in school,” I recalled: “I got an MA and ended up teaching for forty years.”

“What’d you teach?” he asked.

“Literature,” I said; “creative writing.”

“I majored in English,” he said.

“Good for you,” I said.

“So, who’s your favorite author?”

“I like E. M. Forster.”

“A Passage to India,” Eric mused.

“Very good,” I said.

“I love that book,” Eric smiled.

Was I elated by this conversation? No. I should’ve been, but my mood in fact was sinking like a stone tossed into the river. I mean, I’d been initially stunned by Cliff, who wouldn’t know me from Adam but for this expedition. I’m still trying to dampen my presumptuous infatuation with Aussie, who wants nothing more than superficial friendship. The fat guys on the raft turn me off. I turn off the younger guys. Ricardo and Carey are exclusive.

And here was this intriguing young man with whom I actually have something in common, only I’m old enough to be his grandfather.

A while later, the rest of the guys returned and Eric stood then jumped down to the beach to help Cliff with lunch. After motoring a couple more hours we found that several other rafts had pulled up at our next stop, the conjunction of the Little Colorado, which flows bright turquoise from a side canyon into the main river.

We hiked single-file up along a path to a giant bolder from the top of which a few of the younger guys plunged into the warm pool below.

Cliff showed us how to step into life preservers like bulky, bright red diapers for floatation. Along with the other nudists — Aussie, Ricardo, Carey and Francis — I stripped before stepping into my life preserver then, one by one, we tipped backward into the much warmer water and began drifting downstream feet-first like turtles on our backs.

Francis, by the way, is a former priest from Boston who now resides (or hides) in rural Connecticut. A fallen Catholic myself, and former altar boy, I’m a bit guarded around Father Francis, as he radiates a guilty hint of scandal.

Not only that, but he revealed yesterday on the raft that he’d never been with gay men before, and I was tempted to ask, what about boys? But I bit my tongue. He’s not a bad guy, just sort of paunchy in his mid-fifties. I don’t even want to describe the former priest nude.

As I floated merrily downstream behind Aussie, gazing up at towering canyon walls against the cerulean sky, I spied a line of young guys and gals hiking up toward us.

Casually draping my bathing suit over the swollen penis sunning against my thigh, I smiled back at them as one by one they discovered our mostly naked flotilla.

“That looks like fun!” a tall athletic girl in shorts and bikini top called down to me.

“You have no idea!” I answered, raising both arms religiously to the sky, hopefully diverting her attention.

A few hundred yards farther down I had to laugh when Aussie scrambled bare-ass up the weed-covered bank hurriedly pulling on his bathing suit. Laughing wickedly with me he began jogging up the path to jump back in. Dressing quickly, I followed, still laughing.

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