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Grand Canyon float: a trip of a lifetime

Phil NylandSpecial to the Post Independent
Special to the Post Independent/Phil Nyland Tom Bonomo, of Cottonwood, Ariz., rows through the House Rock Rapid as Steve Menefee holds on during their trip down the Grand Canyon last month.
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Tom Bonomo applied in 1987 for a permit to launch a river trip on the Grand Canyon. Little did he know it would become a trip of a lifetime, but not until April 2005.While he waited, he watched his boys graduate from high school, get jobs and get married. And he waited. He worked about half of his 30-year career and prepared to retire. And he waited.Finally he got a short reply letter 16 years after applying for the permit, directing him to list several dates over the next 2-3 years when he would like to launch. Tom chose a date soon after his retirement three years later – sort of an 18-day retirement party.Why wait for such a thing? It’s a trip to a place that engulfs you physically and mentally. Thoughts of work, family, bills, PTA or the latest twist in Michael Jackson’s trial are closed off by the high canyon walls.

Tom recruited three relatives and his two boys, then filled in the rest of the group with skilled rafters and few of their select friends. I was one of the friends. Think of the odds. With around 7,500 private permit holders (as of 2004) waiting to launch, and around 260 launches approved per year, it takes about 16 years to simply float down river and camp on the sand. That’s a long time to wait.I got lucky.Luck aside, there is still the issue of planning, purchasing, and preparation. So much preparation, I didn’t think it would end. For me, I planned and prepared every day for three months.

For Tom, it was much longer. He chose to hire an outfitter to provide our group with nearly everything needed: rafts, equipment, food, and a shuttle to and from the river. We provided our own sleeping bags, tents, clothes and personal supplies (read: beer). And let me tell you, to be self sufficient for 18 days, a group of 16 rafters needs a lot of supplies (beer). Our outfitter cost was over $14,000. Beer alone cost around $700. A trip like this has to be broken down by the numbers – number of total miles divided by number of days to equal number of miles to travel each day, gallons of water needed, number of bowel movements to figure the number of rolls of toilet paper. Don’t ever think dirt-bag rafters and kayakers are dumb – this stuff requires math skills.Despite the formulas and preparation the Grand Canyon is a magical place. With place names like Matkatamiba, Vulcan’s Anvil, Elves Chasm, and Phantom Ranch, you forget formulas, and to a certain extent, the world. The walls confine your vision and senses to the canyon. We had no horizon, only upriver, downriver, and the two canyon walls that soar from 2,000-3,000 feet above for 225 miles.



Any sense of real time is lost to a sense of “river time,” where every day is a Saturday or the Fourth of July, and tomorrow will be as good as today. Sure, I looked at my watch now and again, but the date and time meant nothing after the first few days. We got in the habit of asking each other what day it was because we’d forget. The answer: “It’s the Fourth of July!”So I did get engulfed in the Grand Canyon. Deeper than any experience I’ve ever had. Like the depth of the canyon itself. I kept my “canyon glow” for a while. Work, meetings, traffic and hurried people have taken a toll, and the glow is down to a flicker of what it once was. But the trip changed me – it changes everyone I know. I see their faces light up and their spirits soar when we share Grand Canyon memories. It is a trip of a lifetime.


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