Grand Canyon Rafting: A First-Timer's View

Kirsten Kraklio

Early this summer, I was standing in a store aisle, trying to decide how many bottles of sunscreen to purchase for my weeklong Grand Canyon adventure. I asked the employee next to me for her opinion. She looked me up and down, laughed and said, “You probably need one for each day.”

Apparently, as a freckled, pale redhead, I wasn’t exuding Grand Canyon readiness. But I didn’t care. I was doing my best to ignore internal fears and what-ifs. This summer marked my sixth in Arizona since moving from Iowa, and I was embarrassed to admit I hadn’t yet visited the Canyon. When my Great-Aunt Heidi casually mentioned last fall that she was organizing a motorized river rafting trip with her friends, I was immediately in. What better way to see the Canyon than by going through it?

In the months leading up to our trip, I purposely didn’t do much research. I bought all the necessary equipment they tell you to buy (although, really, less is more on these trips), but otherwise, I wanted to experience the Canyon for the first time with my own eyes and no expectations. I did, however, purchase The Emerald Mile, thinking it would be a great book to accompany the trip. (Note to anyone thinking they’ll do the same: Maybe save the book for after you return safely, rather than starting it the night before.)

My trip started at the end of June, before water from monsoon storms turned the Colorado its current brown color. It's been a few months since then, but I’ve thought about it every week since. There’s nothing I can write that hasn’t already been written or said about the Grand Canyon’s beauty, but to me, the magic of the Canyon goes beyond the sights and sounds. It’s the connection of people.

Our tour group included 22 people — some families, some friends. Our ages ranged from early teens to late 60s. In the six days we spent together, I never heard bickering or fighting. There was no talk of politics. No one knew what was happening on Twitter or Facebook. No one was distracted by work emails. Instead, we learned about satellites, courtesy of our two new friends from NASA. We learned stories of former river runners, thanks to our current ones. We learned how to work together to efficiently load and unload rafts. We shared stories of home and dreams of the future. We shared sunscreen — lots and lots of sunscreen.

There are countless blogs and guides on the internet that will tell you what to pack or how to prepare for such a trip, so I’ll be brief with my advice:

  • Don’t pack clothes for every day — you will wear the same shirt and pants multiple days, and that’s OK.
  • Do wear protective clothing — I packed UPF pants and shirts, in addition to my two bottles of sunscreen, and came out of the Canyon as pale as I went in (but with a few extra freckles).
  • Don’t forget to check for ants at your selected camp.
  • Do splurge for the river guidebook so you can follow along with your trip.
  • Don’t fear the groover. (OK, maybe fear it a little.)

Finally, do add a raft trip to your bucket list. Immerse yourself in the beauty of the Grand Canyon, embrace the lack of connectivity with technology, and enjoy the company of friends, family and strangers. Leading up to the trip, and even in the beginning days, I told myself and others that this was the trip of a lifetime. But on the last day, and in the days since, I’ve realized it can’t just be the trip of a lifetime. I need to experience the morning shock of the Colorado River and the sight of the sun setting on the Canyon walls again.

Even it if it takes me another 26 years to get there.

— Kirsten Kraklio

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